With An Audience of a Billion, CRE Industry Adopting Social Networks for Business Outreach
Commercial real estate brokers and companies are slowly shrugging off their aversions to social media platforms and are engaging more frequently in online marketing, information gathering and client building.
While late to the social networking scene and still in a fledgling state of using websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, many in the CRE industry have started trying to harness their reach in hopes that one day it will lead to deals and dollars. At the same time, many others still refuse to join the fold and flat out state they will resist until they're the last ones online.
"Clearly social media is still a divisive issue in commercial real estate - the difference in sentiment between enthusiastic adopters and major detractors parallels the sentiments in other industries driven by client relations, such as nonprofits and law firms," said Angela Brown, external communications manager for CoStar Group. "What is interesting in the similarities is the fact that many of the perceived challenges involved with social media are not insurmountable - platform selection, time management and measuring ROI are actually relatively simple with a bit of education and practice."
"I also think there is a misperception out there that social media is a magic wand that is meant to replace traditional relationships. It doesn't work that way," Brown said. "It should be seen as an inroad to establishing new online relationships and as a bridge to building offline relationships."
Brown and Coy Davidson, senior vice president of Colliers International - Houston will be hosting a live webinar on costar.com entitled Social Media for Brokers next Wed. Feb. 29 at 12 noon EST. The two will tackle many of the issues raised in our survey and techniques for success in social media. Register here to participate.
In preparing for that webinar, CoStar updated an informal poll it did a year ago to find out what successes, challenges and strategies the industry has adopted in the past year.
"The commercial real estate industry still seems to be trying to get its arms around the basics of social media," Brown said. "It is not surprising then that the default use of social media is marketing and public relations - social media lends itself to broadcast messaging and people aren't quite sure how to use social media for business development purposes and that's the sweet spot. Promoting news and listings are one thing, but people want dollars and sense. That's why education and information are so important. Most marketers and salespeople know how to evaluate ROI for traditional channels like email campaigns and phone calls, but measuring social media return is a special skill."
CRE marketing and communications executives have become huge advocates for social media.
Amy Schenk, marketing manager for Cassidy Turley in Cincinnati has the firm all over the Internet on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and is researching the use of Pinterest.
"Over the past year, I have seen a huge increase in CRE professionals accepting social media and becoming more open to utilizing it for business," Schenk said. "The CRE industry as a whole is very conservative and set in its ways of operating and therefore usually follows behind other industries when it comes to adapting to new business tools. However, it seems there is finally consensus that social media is here to stay which created a sudden rush to become involved."
"Referrals are a huge source of business in CRE and social media is all about referrals," Schenk said. "By sharing, tweeting, posting, liking and pinning, people have built a universe of over a billion people that could be referring your services. At Cassidy Turley we have found social media to be a vital part of our CRE business development, customer service and marketing platform. The statistics prove that it's critical to have a place in the social media arena since it is now where the majority of people spend their time to socialize with friends and business acquaintances, find the latest news, research companies and professionals, and share information.
Gail Donovan, Director of Communications at Ariel Property Advisors in New York, said commercial real estate professionals will be more effective if they can reach a wider audience of buyers and sellers.
"We believe in reaching members of our target audience of current and potential clients and investors by using the communication tools they are most comfortable with. For this reason, we use a full menu of delivery options -- email, mail, fax, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS news feeds, and LoopNet," Donovan said. "At Ariel Property Advisors, we see social media as another distribution tool with which to sell properties for our clients, share our research, and market and brand our firm."
Alicia Miller, director of marketing at Rock Commercial Real Estate in York, PA, said social media allows instant conversations to take place.
"We have had direct property inquiries and referral leads come from social media," Miller said. And "social media is a wonderful way to pitch news to media and promote clients successes."
"Brokerage advisors use their own LinkedIn accounts for social networking and as a referral source. Marketing uses LinkedIn and Twitter to communicate settled listings, ratified leases, available properties, changes to available properties, client success stories, CRE research trends, team updates and successes and carry on conversations regarding CRE interests, both local and national," Donovan said. "We currently integrate several easy to use tools that allow marketing to monitor, publish and analyze our social media channels allowing more time for content creation."
Caitlin Luebbe, lease and marketing administrator for Ironwood Investments in Shoreline, WA, said social media can be an advantageous method of expanding your network, increasing brand awareness, and deepening your customers' sense of brand loyalty, especially if your company's drivers are aimed at directing business to your company website.
"A focused online marketing strategy that's aimed at effectively engaging commercial property owners and real estate investors within the target market can help a company to access hard-to-reach market consumers and generate favorable word-of-mouth advertising," Luebbe said. "Every post and blog update is ultimately an opportunity to reinforce your company's official brand and corporate identity and differentiate yourself from the competition. Such online activity also helps to positively impact your placement in organic search-engine rankings and make sure that you get noticed on sites like Google."
Real estate executives and brokers too provided feedback on their individual experiences using social media. We present those here.
In short, I feel strongly that social media impacts my business in four major ways: it boosts visibility, fosters relationships, leverages media dollars, and builds brand equity. Recently we connected with a new capital source looking to invest in distressed properties as a direct result of a "re-tweet" from one of our followers on Twitter. The principals of our firm, Kinetic Companies, take a very hands on approach to using social media. Our biggest challenge has been training brokers, stakeholders, and employees to "think before they click" and recognize the impact blast style via social media messaging has on our company brand.
Joel Moyes, Principal, Kinetic Companies, Phoenix, AZ
An Everyday Tool
Our team currently uses multiple social media mediums as both an informational gathering tool as well as a way to build awareness of our brand / market activities that demonstrate good implementation of our service lines. We regularly rely on social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for everyday activities in order to improve our business development and maintain existing client awareness. I do not believe you can quantify the gains on a specific basis as our experience has been more abstract as a research tool in-order to connect dots or some type of PR regarding information about an industry sector.
Albert Ellis, Senior Associate, Colliers International, Southfield, MI
Finding Us in New Ways
Social media is changing how America does business. It has a greater effect on the millennials, and Gen Y that are the early adopters when it comes to how they are handle consumption. At Velocity Retail Group we use social media to reach the smaller growing percentage of the population that tweets and follows. But we still have to rely heavily on traditional methods because so many in the industry, mostly baby boomers are obtuse to the newer tools. One of the main successes is the power of the Internet and search engines allows people to have access to the information that we put out there on blogs, tweets and our Facebook page, and LinkedIn and enables them to find us in ways that were not as likely before.
Dave Cheatham, Managing Principal, Velocity Retail Group, Phoenix, AZ
Connecting with Information
I am a newbie to social media. I use it but try not to let it run my life. I use social media (Twitter) to feed information which I find interesting and important to what I do. It has allowed me to connect with some pretty interesting information sources when I need information.
Greg Rutten, Principal, GRu Ventures Inc., Del Mar, CA
Success Is Measured by Amount of New Information
Social media has enabled me to casually "meet" new CRE members and have enabled me to exchange meaningful ideas and find information about trends, fact, articles and information about software products that I may have never been aware of or known about the capabilities of the same. My successes have been measured by the advice, information and experiences that I have shared and received by others in CRE, that I may not have had access to before.
Howard Applebaum, President, Corporate America Realty & Advisors, Rutherford, NJ
Keeping Track of Contacts
Social media provides an easy way to see what people are up to and a great way to get introductions to people you may want to meet and discuss things with. I have used it to make people aware of new listings and real opportunities I have. But mostly I use it in just getting my name out and letting people know what I do. I have over 600 LinkedIn contacts and release information to them on a very selective basis. Undoubtedly the biggest challenge for social media in a business application is the lack of time most people have to learn something new.
Ray Rosado, Broker Associate, Cassidy Turley Fuller Real Estate, Denver, CO
The Interaction Shows You're Interested in Your Clients
Social media isn't important just to CRE but to any business looking to expand their client base and reach more customers. As far as social media directly relates to CRE, you aren't going to find a head of real estate for very large companies that will be following you on Twitter or something, but you can use social media as a way to keep clients more updated on the news and trends in the market place as well as deals big and small that have closed in the marketplace. Lastly, I think the more you have your own social media interacting with your own client's (because they almost 100% will have their own as well), it shows that you are interested in their expansion and their business doing well too.
Joshua D. Arcus, Broker & Managing Director, The Siderow Organization, New York, NY
In my area of specialty (multifamily), I figured out early on that social media is a great tool for generating buzz about a particular property. Using my Facebook page, I have been able to secure additional listings or at least generate conversations with owners and lenders regarding either the property I am highlighting or one of their properties near mine. I don't think it will ever replace direct communication but it will reduce the need for paid advertisements.
Kevin Rocio, Broker, @properties, Chicago, IL
A Foot in the Door
I am an avid user of LinkedIn and use it to actually drive business not just see how many contacts I can get. Whenever I am trying to break into an account I will try to research LinkedIn accounts to see who works at that company. I'll scan through each employees profile and look for common ground. Once I can find common ground, reaching out is usually easier. I also reach out on the phone, not through LinkedIn as it's so much warmer. I simply use LinkedIn to do the research, not to try to conduct business. This can be an excellent way for tenant/landlord rep brokers to get their foot in the door with companies they are trying to secure business with but don't know many employees.
Marty Busekrus, Senior Associate, CBRE | Capital Markets, Boca Raton, FL
As Close to Free Advertising as You Can Get
I am an active blogger as well as contributing columnist to the Savannah regional business journal. The ROI in social media specifically, being recognized as a local industry expert, is by far a better investment than the traditional route. That is the great thing about social media, if you have the time to commit, it is as close to free advertising and as you can get.
J. Rex Benton, III, Principal/Business Manager, NAI Savannah, Savannah, GA
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