How to Use Social Networking When Marketing New Homes
The first in a series on social networking and marketing new homes.
Social media is quickly becoming a mainstay in modern marketing plans. It’s fast, it’s direct, it’s inexpensive and it’s catching on.
According to the “Social Media Marketing Industry Report” by Michael Stelzner, who writes and blogs about marketing and other business-related topics, 88% of marketers surveyed for the study use social media in their overall marketing strategies. And of those surveyed, 72% indicated they only started using social media in their marketing recently.
For new home builders who are considering joining this trend, social media is simply using Internet-based networking tools to engage with online communities in order to generate exposure and sales opportunities.
But what builders need to understand is that using social media when marketing new homes will not necessarily generate direct sales. Social media is a different marketing tool than a builder’s sales center and even his Web site.
Social media is versatile, offering builders opportunities ranging from finding interested and targeted prospects to generating public relations and providing immediate customer service. It’s all about building relationships and conversation, but it is not necessarily about closing the sale.
“Home builders are asking us if social media works,” says Dana Forrest, sales and marketing director at Simmons Homes in Tulsa, Okla. They want to know if a sale can be tracked to social media, she says.
“For us, this question seems a little short-sighted. We look at our social media and networking efforts as a way to build long-term relationships and powerful communities. We know this won’t result in immediate sales, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest our time and effort,” Forrest says. “We know a strong relationship is not built overnight.”
Since social media requires a different approach to new homes sales and marketing than what builders traditionally use, to give builders a better understanding of social media and its capabilities, Nation’s Building News will feature a series of articles about social media in upcoming issues.
The articles, written by social media experts who work in the building industry, will discuss several of the most popular social media sites — such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and blogs — and point out how they can be used effectively.
The series will culminate with case studies providing building industry examples of how these social media sites can be incorporated into an effective social media campaign.
To begin the series and familiarize builders with the most popular social media sites and tools, the following is a quick overview of the sites that will be discussed in the series:
Facebook — A Social Site for Making Connections
If you have a teenage son or daughter, you’re probably familiar with Facebook because the site is almost certainly their social media site of choice. Like its cousin, Myspace, just about anyone with an e-mail address can establish an online social network by first creating a profile and then making connections by inviting friends to join.
The idea behind the site is that friends can update friends on what they are doing and what they find interesting. It’s simply a way of keeping in touch and you can see how this might appeal to teens who want to stay in touch with their friends.
What you may not see, however, is the potential Facebook has for networking and relationship building for builders.
“Facebook is a very powerful tool for creating communities,” explains Forrest. “Not only are most of our employees active Facebook users, but most of our customers are active, too, as are many of our Realtors®.”
Forrest says that her company does not use Facebook to “promote” particular products. Instead, she says, the site is used “for building long-term relationships and social communities.”
As NAHB and some of its affiliates have learned, Facebook is also an effective way to inform particular or targeted constituencies. For example, NAHB has created a Facebook network to update and inform potential consumers about the federal first-time home buyer tax credit that is now in effect.
“Several times a week, we receive feedback from a ‘fan’ — a Facebook subscriber who visits our site and supports our issue — who is able to claim the federal housing tax credit based on information that was provided to them from NAHB,” says NAHB's Brooke Fishel, who monitors and maintains the federation’s Facebook tax credit site. “The immediate feedback we get shows us how people react to the tax credit news and information that we are providing, and it enables us to adjust our focus and messaging accordingly.”
When creating a Facebook site, builders must remember that, first and foremost, Facebook is a social site. Too much focus on business can be boring — and get your site revoked.
“I use Facebook to promote my professional services and to offer value to my followers,” says Paul Montelongo of San Antonio-based Paul Montelongo International, a speaker, syndicated columnist and entrepreneurial consultant. “My formula is 90/10. Ninety percent of my Facebook site is devoted to my professional presence with 10% is targeted to add personality to my presence.”
Kimberly Mackey, of Creative Sales Solutions in Tampa, Fla., warns that Facebook is not the place to focus solely on your company’s message. “One company I know who is adopting a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach rather than hiring a social media manager [to maintain Facebook guidelines]. Mackey said they actually had their Facebook accounts revoked several times because they only posted business-related information rather than social networking aspects to their site.
“You have to thoroughly understand the rules and the culture of each site so that you work within the spirit of that site,” Mackey said.
LinkedIn — Geared Toward Business Professionals
As many in the business world know, LinkedIn is, essentially, a professional version of Facebook. The site is geared specifically toward making work-related connections with colleagues and other professionals. It is designed to enable business professionals to network — without the awkward silences that can crop up in many happy hour networking conversations.
“We use LinkedIn because we’ve found it to be the most business-oriented site,” says Kim Beales, marketing manager for Motivational Systems, Inc., which specializes in design, marketing and other services for residential and commercial builders and developers. “We’ve experimented with the other social media sites, but haven’t found them to be as good of a fit.”
Like Facebook, builders can create a profile, join groups and post links. An added bonus is that you can ask your “connections” to introduce you to one of their connections — a feature that can help uncover potential business opportunities and expand your reach, all from the comfort of your desk.
The group feature is especially handy for common professional interests or organizations, such as NAHB’s National Sales and Marketing Council (NSMC).
“LinkedIn allows me to update NSMC members who are on LinkedIn that a new story has been added to NSMC’s online Sales and Marketing Channel,” says Anne Ladewig, NSMC’s marketing manager. “LinkedIn puts this in their newsfeeds, and members can add it to their professional-reading list.”
For business-to-business marketing, LinkedIn also provides a forum that enables business professionals to establish relationships.
“LinkedIn works because of the business nature of LinkedIn and the common interests of the people in LinkedIn groups,” says Beales. “It’s important to build your network on LinkedIn and teach your sales team how to use it as a networking opportunity. Think of LinkedIn as a virtual cocktail party where you can spend 15 minutes each day networking with other professionals in the industry.”
YouTube — Connecting Through Videos
When you think of YouTube, odds are you also think of the latest video everyone is forwarding across the Internet.
But despite its often recreational appeal, don’t underestimate YouTube’s potential to help your business.
“We are a highly visual society and anytime a salesperson can display a product and add the element of their personality to the video, it is only good for their business,” says Montelongo. “A bona fide salesperson should be posting YouTube videos at least once a week about some element of their product or service.”
To post videos, make sure you have an account set up and a video camera that can easily upload to your computer.
“Interestingly enough, the video doesn’t have to be of the highest artistic quality,” says Montelongo. “You just have to have good information presented in an authentic manner.”
Even NAHB has a YouTube account (www.YouTube.com/NAHBTV). Through it, NAHB features information critical to the home building industry ranging from tax credit materials, to building concrete homes and green building, just to name a few.
Montelongo recommends that those in the home building industry post videos of their projects — works in progress, before and after transformations, explaining warranties, etc.— as well as interview testimonials of happy customers, demonstrations of processes such as filling out a contract and sending “thank you's.” These videos are opportunities to establish personal relationships with your target audience, he says.
Matt Morrow, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield in Missouri, is able to connect directly to his members — who are constantly on their cell phones — with just a few videos.
“YouTube has been great for sharing original video on things like home tours for our parade of homes event and also for re-publishing video — with permission, of course — from local news stories that feature the HBA and/or HBA members,” says Morrow. “We can embed that on our site and e-mail it to members and consumers.”
Twitter — Encouraging Two-Way Conversations
“Tweeting” may seem like a foreign language, but Twitter is emerging as one of the most useful tools in your social media arsenal. This site only allows 140 characters per update — which may be an obstacle for some wordy marketers — but is also a great conduit for encouraging immediate two-way communication.
“A great aspect of Twitter is the real-time conversations that occur, and the ability to solve potential customers’ problems within seconds of inquiry,” says Frank O’Brien-Bernini, chief sustainability officer for Owens Corning. “We have experienced new business as a result of being ‘first to respond’ to problems posed on Twitter.”
Another difference between Twitter and other sites is how you are connected to others. “Following” someone means that you will get all of their updates on your feed, but for your updates to show up on their feed, that person has to choose to follow you. Twitter does not have the automatic reciprocity that exists on Facebook and LinkedIn, which means it is necessary to work hard at keeping your tweets relevant and interesting to attract and retain your followers.
“The challenge is getting your message down to the 140-word restriction while still getting your message across,” says NAHB’s Fishel. “However, by linking to something from the ‘tweet,’ we are able to drive followers to wherever we want them to go, whether it is to the first-time home buyer Facebook page, the NAHB Web site or some other resource on the tax credit.”
This challenge can also be an advantage, especially in reaching those who frequent the Web via their cell phones, like Morrow’s members.
“Twitter seems to me to be the ideal fit for sharing information with HBA members. It is short and can be set up to come to and from their cell phones via text messaging,” says Morrow. “We’ve only been utilizing Twitter for a few months, but it matches up well with our members. They live and die by their cell phones, and they want their information short and sweet.”
Blogging — Adding Credibility and Expertise to Your Web Site
If you don’t already have one attached to your Web site, you should consider getting your own blog. A “blog,” short for weblog, is an interactive online journal, making it a great forum for alerting customers and colleagues to your company’s news and events, as well as for positioning yourself as an expert in your field.
You can easily set up a blog on free blogging sites such as wordpress.com, tumblr.com or blogger.com.
Blogs are also great for strengthening your Web presence by helping your company stand out in a search.
“When blogs are properly constructed and have great SEO (search engine optimization), they are amazing at attracting the search engines,” says Carol Flammer of Flammer Public Relations and mRelevance. Having an effective SEO means that your blog could be one of the first links to pop up when someone searches the Web for new homes in your area.
Blogging can do more than create a strong position for you on the Web; it can also position yourself as a leader in your field.
“Blogging allows you to post videos, photos, articles and resources to position yourself as a bona fide expert in your industry,” says Montelongo. “It is a direct resource for you to point prospects and customers to for specific answers to their buying questions.”
This form of social media also provides customers with a way to reach out to you directly, by commenting on posts or even using your blog to refer friends and family.
What Will Work for You?
Each of these components has a place in an overall social media marketing campaign. Depending on your marketing strategy, you may not want to use all of these sites, but you should definitely consider incorporating at least a few of them into your marketing strategy.
Many marketers using social media are new to the game, but the more you know about it, the more you will get out of it. Learn all you can before you dive in head-first.
Next week: Facebook