Jerry Lyons, Managing Director of Property PR Expert, says, “In my opinion the clue’s in the name social media – it should be social!” So it is not about broadcasting information, but more about creating a dialogue and establishing relationships with other users. He advises anyone starting out to “ask a question – what do you think of this development? What do you think are the chances of an interest rate rise? Start a conversation.”
Social media is about telling, not selling. Don’t be afraid to show some personality and think about what content suits your market. Jerry Lyons, Property PR Expert.
For instance, independent agents can use social media to engage with other small businesses in their area. Carla Bradman, marketing manager at Paramount, says estate agents often network offline, and social media “is about building those relationships offline too; with your coffee shop, the place you buy lunch, all the small businesses you and your staff use.” That may not immediately bring sales, but it makes any agent look well connected, and promotes the brand more widely than advertising on a portal can do.
Choosing interesting local businesses and following them on Twitter and becoming Facebook friends ties agents into their local community and links you all as experts on the area – and at the same time spreads their name around through other businesses’ linking to them.
Twitter can be particularly good for expanding an agent’s audience. Carla says, “The nature of the platform is a lot more open to engagement,” and retweeting – followers who like an agent’s content enough to send it out to their own followers – can vastly increase the number of people who see a particular tweet. (Equally, of course, agents can look for interesting content to retweet themselves, whether that’s a newspaper report on property prices or a local celebrity talking about why they like the area.)
Beresfords, a family owned 13 branch agency in Essex, were the winners of the Negotiator Awards 2014 Online Marketing Campaign category and they use social media extensively along with e-magazines and blogs in their marketing activity. Tweeting twice daily (at least) to over 2000 followers, they talk about local events as much – if not more – than the properties they are marketing. One recent tweet suggested followers join a local Health Walk, while another supported a local football match. It’s all about building your profile in the community.
Jerry Lyons also points out that social media isn’t just a way for agents to get their message out. It’s also a way for them to do their research. “Twitter is a great way for agents to gauge the local mood. Look for local hashtags (used to tag a message for its content), he uses #brighton to find out what’s going on where he lives, and says “It’s a good listening tool.” It can also provide advance notice of what competitors and developers are up to.
An agent’s social media doesn’t need to be restricted to property content, and certainly shouldn’t only carry listings.
Christopher Walkey at MarketMe says that sales and marketing should take up no more than 30 per cent of social media postings. He suggests including content such as old photographs of the area – what’s changed since Queen Victoria? – or themes such as house price rises. Jerry Lyons agrees; “It’s about telling not selling,” he says, “Don’t be afraid to show some personality.” They should also think about what content suits their market – media aimed at young homebuyers can be quite flip and amusing, or focus on interior décor and style, while an agent dealing mainly with professional landlords would want to deliver a more authoritative voice, since, “buy-to-let investors want to be as well informed as possible.”
Paramount hit the jackpot with a blog post that highlighted five small museums close to their office. Norwich agents AbbotFox also use social media imaginatively, with a mix of content including surveys from the press, favourite local pubs, whether estate agents should wear suits, and tweeting every Monday evening in #norwichhour in which local businesses share anything that interests them, from gigs to management training (the Twitter feed is linked with local indie station, Future Radio, so participants get two loads of media exposure).
Short of ideas? Competitions always go down well. Paramount ran a competition in which people were asked to take the Paramount tote bag, printed with a quirky map of Hampstead, on holiday and take a picture of it there. Photos were posted on Pinterest and tweeted with the hashtag Whamplanet – getting 4,000 followers on Twitter – and a monthly prize for best picture was doled out.
Carla Bradman says “It was a really really fun campaign, and it’s not finished – even now, people are still liking and retweeting those photos.” The campaign also got Paramount shortlisted in the Guardian small business showcase, with national print coverage – and cost very little; indeed, the great thing about competitions is that they enable agents to get other people to generate content for them, practically for free!
Pinterest is the the perfect medium for estate agents! When people are looking for a property, they’re looking for a dream, a lifestyle – you can share all kinds of very visual content, interior decoration, garden designs all sorts! Carla Bradman, Paramount.
However, the world of social media can be confusing, as it’s always in a state of flux. Facebook has thrived while the other early mover, Myspace, has sunk without trace; meanwhile, new media keep arriving, and it’s difficult to tell which ones will be winners. Different media have different audiences, too, so there is definitely a reason for trying more than one; Facebook and Twitter attract consumers, for instance, while LinkedIn attracts a professional crowd interested in issues such as interest rates and the lettings market.
Paramount also uses photo sharing site Pinterest, which is missed by many agents who are active on other networks, with boards (photo folders) on such subjects as home cinemas, Open House London weekend, and storage solutions. Carla Bradman says, “It’s the perfect medium for estate agents! When people are looking for a property, they’re looking for a lifestyle – you can share all kinds of very visual stuff, interior decoration, garden designs, and so on.”
Jerry Lyons thinks video can do even better, and has discovered an interesting new medium, Periscope. “It’s on my agenda to have a look at. It could be good, as it’s video content, like Youtube, but with more interaction, so viewers can ask questions while the broadcast is going on.” An agent could, for instance, hold a property advice clinic live over Periscope.
Is it just ego?
Not every agent is convinced. Ray Jacobs of Chelsea Square says “We went through a stage when we thought social media would be quite important. But we’ve found concentrating on real world events, like a charity cricket match we’re sponsoring this weekend, and having a raffle for a cricket bat, is more practical and has more effect.” He suspects some agents enjoy the positive ego stroking they get from Facebook ‘likes’ without really assessing whether social media is delivering business.
However, Carla Bradman says, social media and the ‘real world’ can work together. For instance, when Paramount staff took the ‘icebucket challenge’, although it was mainly a Youtube based event, the local newspaper also turned up to cover the chilly dunking. “Social media only has its full value when it’s locked into other marketing activities,” she says.
One of Jerry Lyons’ clients uses social media intensively to promote his blog, but he also has it printed as a column in the local newspaper. “Once you’ve got something to bang the drum about,” Lyons says, “then you want to let Facebook know, tweet it, do the same on Instagram, LinkedIn, wherever you are – it’s social media content. And you want to let the print media know too.”
The bottom line
Social media can certainly attract attention. But does it win business? After all, maintaining Twitter and Facebook accounts does take a certain amount of time and effort.
Those looking for definite data will be disappointed. Unlike advertising, whether in print or on portals, there’s no good way to measure the impact of social media; it is more a long term, brand-building exercise. Jerry Lyons says “You can have a rapport with people who might become clients, or might give you a referral,” but warns agents not to expect overnight results. “It’s all about having a long run-up,” he explains; “You have to start planting the seeds.”
But social media has one potentially huge advantage for the independent agent. Carla Bradman says that Paramount couldn’t compete with the corporates on advertising spend, but “social media gives smaller agencies the channel to compete on equal terms with the big guys.” By using a bit of imagination and creativity, a local independent can get its name out there, for very little hard cash. And that has to be worth doing.