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You Should Integrate Social Media Into Traditional Database Marketing

May 18, 2010

Posted by

Nelson Zide

Nelson Zide, CRS, CRB, LTG, SRES is Senior Vice President, ERA Key Realty Services in Framingham, Massachusetts and has been in real estate since 1978. He has been a senior instructor for Massachuset Read more

Social media are “viral.” Your communication goes not only to “friends” you’ve picked up from earlier messages, but, often enough, to “friends” of the people who received your fi rst message, then to their “friends,” and so on, exponentially—if the topic and tone appeal to them.

Everywhere you look these days, someone is Tweeting, discovering old acquaintances and making new “friends” on Facebook, or connecting with a host of previously unimagined contacts on YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and other “social media” networks now linking individuals across cyberspace.

 

Although most of these networks connect people mainly for non-business purposes, they have the potential to become an additional element in our traditional database marketing effort. In fact, many Realtors® are already testing this potential. So I think the rest of us ought to do the same, beginning by familiarizing ourselves with social media and then deciding whether and to what extent we want to integrate them into our overall marketing program.

 

If we don’t at least look into social media, test some of them out, and they turn out to be productive, our businesses are likely to suffer down the road. We’ll have failed to take advantage of additional ways to communicate with our referral resources, prospects, and clients, ways that may become more and more important in the future.

 

At the same time, we mustn’t embrace them too closely right away at the expense of our tried and true programs, as some have done to the detriment of their businesses—until we’re absolutely sure the new ways are productive.

 

TRYING THEM OUT

 

When I couldn’t ignore all the talk about social media any more—and the claim that it could be the wave of the future—I thought I’d better have a look. Maybe it was a passing fad, but maybe it would be useful. So I read up on it, took a class, and even sat through seminars from “gurus” (who are, by the way, only beginning to test the utility and effectiveness of social media themselves).

 

Next, I set up a Facebook account that includes my personal and professional profiles. Then, I sent a message to a Realtor® acquaintance asking him to be my “friend.” I found out that he was already a “friend” of a Realtor® out West who wanted to see the Red Sox during a coming visit to Boston. My “friend” referred the visitor to me, knowing I’m a Sox fanatic with season tickets. I told the Westerner what he needed to know, and warned him to avoid “obstructed view” seats. A few months later, he asked me to help with a relocate from his region to Boston. Although this is the only hard business that I’ve had so far thanks to social networking, the experience persuaded me to continue exploring the possibilities.

 

People find me on the various networks I’m linked to. For example, a person who’s also on Facebook sees my name listed as a “friend” of the “friend” with whom I’ve been communicating. The network will say to him: “You may also know Nelson Zide.” After clicking on my name to find out more about me, he may ask to be my “friend.”

 

That seems to be the way social networks develop on the Internet. Someone at a National Association of Realtors®

convention attended one of my presentations and later mentioned me on Facebook. This stimulated several of his “friends” to comment about me on his Facebook “wall.”

 

A couple of others saw those comments and added their own: “It was nice to see you at NAR. You spoke well.” I replied in kind. I was getting to know a widening circle of people with mutual interests. When I was ill, not long ago, I got notes from all over the social media sphere. It was amazing how quick and widespread the good wishes and queries were. It really is viral.

 

LINKED APPROACHES

 

In addition to “working” social media in these ways, I’m following the lead of some other Realtors® and developing a video, for posting on YouTube, of one of my interactive NAR presentations. I’ll note in my social media correspondence that it’s there and can be viewed by clicking on the link I provide.

 

I also learned that increasing numbers of realtors, as well as buyers and sellers, are using social media networks to get information about real estate markets in particular areas. Fellow Realtors® find me on Facebook and leave a message on my wall with comments on shared issues, or ask for information and advice. Sometimes they click on a link to my web page and listings. These people wouldn’t have contacted me if I hadn’t been on Facebook.

 

In addition to sharing information over social media networks, I found that some Realtors® direct their social media contacts, via links, back to their “blogs.” These are regular, distributed-on-request commentaries concerning real estate issues and markets. The aim is to position the blogger as an expert in this or that aspect of real estate. I know a Realtor® who, through her blog, has become a resource both for her local community and out-of-area Realtors® who read her blog. Perhaps this sort of communication will eventually lead to significant business, although the returns are not yet in.

 

I also provide links on my Facebook page to my web pages, which contain my full profile, listings, publications, personalized search facilities, market analyses, and the like. “Friends” and others can get there with a single click if they wish. I also have a second web page, without real estate branding, to which I send—and try to draw—people looking for speakers on a variety of real estate topics that I discuss.

 

IT’S A FORM OF DATABASE MARKETING

 

As I’ve begun to test social media for its business uses, I’ve come to realize that they are basically extensions of my traditional database marketing, The important difference is this: In traditional marketing, you’re continuously paring your list of prospects and focusing on your “A” list with value-added communications—I use monthly newsletters, informative or entertaining post cards, and a certain amount of call follow up. Social networking, however, goes in the opposite direction. Rather than narrowing the database to the best prospects, you’re working to create an expanding community of contacts. But you are still building a database and hoping to influence the individuals in it.

 

IT’S AN INDIRECT APPROACH

 

It should be clear by now that you can’t market directly to people in your social media networks. Sure, I want referrals, but the only way I’m going to get them in this venue is to make friends first and let referrals come up as an incidental by-product of the acquaintance. For example, I responded to a Facebook complaint from one of my “friends” (a fellow Realtor®) about the current economy: “Yeah, the market here also tanked, but my son finally got a job so I’m off the hook supporting him.” In this kind of interchange, we’re getting to know and like and trust one another. I really think social media—whatever else it may lead to—has to be thought of as a “getting to know you” medium.

 

You mustn’t have expectations of immediate business results. If you ask directly for referrals, or send your listings around, people in the network will, literally, shun you. As social media pioneer Matt Ferrara puts it, social media is “social” first.

 

START SLOWLY, DON’T GO OVERBOARD

 

It’s really easy to get lost in social media and damage or even ruin your business. I’ve seen Realtors® spending hour upon hour on Facebook thinking they’re doing business by telling other Realtors® about this or that listing or pressing for referrals, and getting nowhere.

 

And, just as you shouldn’t let yourself get addicted to social media, don’t neglect any element of your traditional marketing program. A friend of mine who’s a heavy social media “practitioner” still sends out “snail mail” letters and cards, buys newspaper ads, and writes press releases promoting her seminars. Clients and prospects, even younger ones—still like to see “hard copy.”

 

Neglecting traditional marketing approaches is just too risky. That’s why I still send out to the 1600- plus individuals in my database a monthly hard copy newsletter, an oversized postcard every other week, and an email newsletter in the intervening weeks.

 

I also advise my agents with smaller databases to make follow up phone calls (“How is the family?” Did you like the article?” and so forth).

 

It’s within this wider marketing context that I’m beginning to integrate some social media into the mix, if for no other reason than because potential clients will more likely want to work with me, rather than my competitors, when they learn that social media are part of my effort to serve them. I’m able to say: “I’m linked in a special way to people all over the country through social media that supplement my existing marketing networks. And [for example] I’ll be marketing your home using a video tour of the house that I’ll put up on YouTube. Have my competitors said they’ll do this to market your home?”

 

THE REALTOR®’S FUTURE

 

Anxiety among Realtors® about social media is similar to the response many of us had to the advent of the Internet. When we went from listing in books to online listing with huge national search engines like Trulia and Zillow—which claimed to list all the available real estate in the country—there was a hue and cry that they’d put us out of business. “People won’t need Realtors®.”

 

But that hasn’t happened. The massive Internet search engines remain powerful forces, of course, but they don’t scare us anymore. They’ve found their place in our evolving industry. Nor have they put MLS out of business.

 

Many a local MLS has, indeed, closed down as the Internet has grown, but only because some MLS chose to retain a business model that refused to let information out into the public domain. With the development of Trulia and similar sources, an MLS is out of business if it doesn’t spread its information as far and wide as it can.

 

It’s also been suggested—feared—that Realtors® themselves are becoming irrelevant thanks to increased Internet sourcing and the possibility that social networking will come to play a dominant role in sales and marketing. This is not so. Nor will it be so, no matter how well these new modes serve us. In fact, Realtors ® are needed more than ever, mainly because the buying/selling process is more complicated than ever.

 

Understanding applicable rules and regulations— and the forms dealing with them—are a challenge even for the experienced, as are the intricacies of the everchanging financing alternatives.

 

Moreover, only a local realtor knows his neighborhoods and his local regulations. Only a local Realtor® can appraise appropriately in an era of huge swings in home values and neighborhood changes. And only a live Realtor® can negotiate effectively with a buyer or seller. Any decline in the number of Realtors® will be among those who are unable or unwilling to adapt and learn to negotiate the constantly shifting playing field of modern real estate transactions.

 

In the end, real estate sales must close face-to-face, and social networking isn’t going to get around that. But a social networking connection may just bring that happy conclusion closer. So, take a step into the waters of the ocean of social media. It may turn out to be the wave of the future. If you don’t, the tide may go out and strand you.

 

But as you test the waters, don’t neglect the tried and true database marketing methods that have got you to where you are today.