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Social Media Won’t Be Social For Long

Marshal McLuhan is often attributed with the phrase “Perception is Reality”.  Never have truer words been spoken, particularly in today’s web driven world.  McLuhan is also credited with this, an excerpt from “The Gutenberg Galaxy”, written in 1962:

The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.

Obviously, McLuhan had a pretty good handle on the future of media and information in digital form; his prediction was 30 years ahead of it’s time.  Social media is nothing more than the latest frontier, led by the exploratory flagship Facebook.

There’s a mistake that’s being made by practitioners such as you and I, and that mistake is assuming the direct connection between client and service provider is really a 2-way street.  Agents who figure this out before their competition are going to find themselves as the top agents in their local markets, while others grumble about how it’s being done.

Why It Won’t Be Truly Social

Let’s look at the social media campaigns of other businesses.  Ford Motor Company now spends 25% of it’s advertising budget on social media.  At no point is a tweet to @ford going to Alan Mulally, nor is the consumer expecting such.  Twitter and Facebook fan pages are a communication platform between client and company rep, but at it’s core it’s no different than the old chat boxes on a company website.  The same holds true for real estate.

If you can grow your business through social media (and you should), that’s great.  Bear in mind, however that social media should be treated no differently than the old direct mailers and flier boxes on properties.  As an agent’s business grows, they hire someone else to worry about that sort of thing.

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Hiring Makes Sense

Look at the business models of top producing agents.  For an agent that sells 100+ homes per year, they require supplemental staff in order to make that sort of business volume sustainable.  Additional agents to show properties, administrative staff to process contracts, etc.  They’ve developed a highly refined method of sales, and it involves human capitol in order to make it all run smoothly.  For agents running that sort of business, it’s only logical for them to hire an additional position to develop and manage a social media campaign, allowing someone to dedicate themselves to developing blogs, fan pages, videos, twitter feeds, etc.

Perception is Reality

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you are the one directly engaging with the client through the web.  What matters is the perception of personal service.  People don’t want to talk to robots, unless they’re cool ones, like C-3PO.  Odds are that he’s out of the budget, so real people are the next best thing.

The point here is that you DON’T need to create it all, or even run it all, but you do need SOMEBODY who can do it for you.  I don’t hold out much hope for companies that offer to write your status updates instead of you, but the cost of a web savvy college student or intern is an attractive proposition.  Best of all, if they work out, you should be able to eventually hire them on full time.  As long as there is a real person on your side of the media platform, directly communicating on your behalf, you can effectively execute a robust social media campaign.

Why Solo Agents Find This So Hard

For a solo agent, there are only so many hours in a day, and the learning curve for social media can be steep.  There’s also a deep sense of self-satisfaction involved, along with a common assumption that if you don’t do it yourself, it’s not really social.  The challenge for these agents is to understand that there is no shame (or glory) in having someone else run a campaign.  It’s no different than paying a company for property flyer designs, website layouts, or business card templates.

It can be hard to make the decision to let someone else handle your campaign, I completely understand that.  That being said, if you’re finding success through social media, you MUST remember that our business is selling homes, not chatting online.  We (should be) using these fan pages, feeds, and videos to generate business, but don’t get wrapped up spending all of your time on marketing rather than selling.  Social media is not a sacred cow, just a golden goose.  Be prepared to hire a caretaker as your business expands, or you’re going to quickly find yourself once again spinning your wheels with not enough time in the day to keep up.

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(photo courtesy of intersectionconsulting via flickr cc)

Written By

I'm a Realtor in Southern Maryland. I grew up surrounded by the RE business, spent time as an actor, worked as a theatrical designer and technician, and took the road less traveled before settling down in real estate. I run my own local market website at https://www.somdexpert.com and when I'm not at the office or meeting clients, I can usually be found doing volunteer work, playing with my 3 rescued shelter dogs (Help your local Humane Society!), or in the garage restoring antique cars.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Matthew Hardy

    January 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    > What matters is the perception of personal service.

    Poignant — to those who believe the world has been remade.

    • Jonathan benya

      January 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

      Exactly. It boils down to how you approach your business model. Are you happy selling a fewhimes each year, or do you want to excel? As more agents step away from personally running their feeds, opting instead for a media manager, the less efficient a solo agents message will become.

  2. Derek Overbey

    January 6, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I understand your point Jonathan but I feel a large majority of agents are not in a financial position to handle additional headcount. You mention “Top Producing” Agents who are in a position to bring on a media manager (and I know some that are doing just this) but they are the exception. Most agents are in this business alone in all facets and must find a balance of selling and marketing.

    I also have to disagree with you on this statement:

    “Let’s look at the social media campaigns of other businesses. Ford Motor Company now spends 25% of it’s advertising budget on social media. At no point is a tweet to @ford going to Alan Mulally, nor is the consumer expecting such. Twitter and Facebook fan pages are a communication platform between client and company rep, but at it’s core it’s no different than the old chat boxes on a company website. The same holds true for real estate.”

    You are correct, Alan Mulally is probably not getting the @ford tweets (but it has happened in the past), it’s more likely to be Scott Monty or someone on his team. But the point is we are talking about a multi-billion dollar corporation, not an individual agent. The agent needs to cultivate a relationship on a much deeper level than Ford, Starbucks or Coke ever will. You can’t compare a $1.50 Coke, $5.00 latte or even a $13,000 car to the largest single purchase a person will make in their lifetime. The trust needs to be on a totally different level and social allows that to happen. It’s not just “another” marketing channel and it will become even more important in the next 3-5 years.

    Social has opened the door for agents to really present themselves as local experts and help them build relationships much higher in the sales funnel. We have never seen a platform that allows for the type of connections that are currently happening. Especially in real estate.

    I just don’t think you can take the social out of social media because then you are just left with media and we all know how that turned out.

    • Jonathan Benya

      January 6, 2011 at 2:32 am

      Derek, you make some great points here. I’m not sure I agree with you, though. Companies like Coke and Starbucks aren’t using twitter in hopes you buy their beverage tomorrow. They don’t care if you choose Coke or Pepsi with lunch tomorrow. They care about brand awareness and loyalty, much like an agent does. The only people who are following these companies are people who already like the product and are likely to use it. I follow pepsi, but I hate coke, so I have no reason to follow them.

      I think that as an agent you can easily reduce your personal engagement to your network and let someone else do the legwork. I’d bet you could do that AND increase your business stream. I’ll give you two examples that I have seen agents successfully do.

      1) Agent X runs a local information fan page on FB. The page is optimized to generate leads while providing a free local information and communication network. Let’s call it “I love our city!” So, ILOC has a few thousand fans, and Agent X decides to ask the fanbase if anyone wants to join as an admin to help monitor the page. Agent X finds a fan with little/nothing better to do with their time, and suddenly someone who loves the area is now contributing (without pay) to the page and Agent X can spend little to no time on the page without losing the fan base or lead stream.

      2) Agent X also happens to be a solo agent. Because their time is precious, they put an ad in the local paper at the nearest college for an unpaid internship in online marketing. They select a student who is studying marketing (and who quite possibly knows more about social media than the Realtor) and they use the intern as their primary blog writer. While the student may not be a real estate expert, they can certainly write articles about local events, translate market statistics into posts, etc.

      Social media has replaced the magazine and newspaper ads for me, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people who read this site. What strikes me about the argument for/against hiring out others to handle your social media campaign is that it’s really the same argument that agents have had for the last 20 years about hiring other agents to handle your business and becoming a team. Remember the arguments about how having an assistant show houses for you was a bad idea? Agents that (successfully) let others do their legwork converted a sales average of 20-30 homes a year to 100+.

      One question for you Derek, I want to better understand what you mean when you say “It’s not just “another” marketing channel and it will become even more important in the next 3-5 years.”.

      I agree, it’s going to become more and more important, so no argument there. How is it not just another marketing channel though? If you want to make it personal, cool; but at the end of the day the goal is to do more business through it, right?

  3. Agent for Movoto

    January 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Fantastic post. At our brokerage we definitely allow ourselves some solid social media “face-time”, but never at the expense of time or focus on our real goal, which is to give our buyers a great real estate experience.

  4. hermanchan.com

    January 12, 2011 at 2:03 am

    i always thought power house PR man howard bragman said perception is reality. it is a chapter in his book “where’s my 15 min”…but after some wiki-ing, you are right, McLuhan coined it first. thanks for correctifying me

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