A decade of social media marketing: The good, the bad and the ugly

It’s taken 10 years for the real estate industry to truly understand and embrace this method of marketing

Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.

I have been using social media in my business since 2005. In the early days, the real estate community and some real estate companies were skeptical about it.

When I was with the big brand real estate companies, they seemed to tolerate my blog but strongly suggested that I “get my nose out of that laptop and go out and meet people.” For a time, I was the only agent in the office who brought her own laptop to work and who had access to email at home and outside of the shared computers in the resource room.

Real estate marketing social media “gurus” arrived on the scene in about 2007 or 2008. Most of them understood marketing, but I am not convinced they understood social media. For many, it became a kind of free medium where they could bombard people with advertising.

Learning to engage targeted groups vs. indiscriminate broadcasting

We all watched those annoying people who made Twitter accounts for houses and were always asking us to “like” their Facebook page. They like to advertise their open houses in Facebook groups to people who would have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to attend.

There was so much we all needed to learn about social media — like how it isn’t like newspaper advertising or television. It isn’t about broadcasting to the greatest number of people. It took us a long time to learn that social media is about engaging with correctly targeted groups of people interested in buying or selling properties.

One of the first things real estate agents did on social media was to follow each other and have conversations with each other. He or she who had the most followers got their name on lists as people who should be followed. For some, it was and is about collecting followers, even if they have to be bought.

I don’t know how real estate agents can be in business without social media but there are still people who believe that it is a waste of time, and that there is something far more important that they could be doing with the time I waste writing blog posts and sharing pictures.

Maybe they really do prospect two hours a day by phone or in person. Perhaps they have a large budget for events and for billboards, banners behind airplanes, and bus wraps.

Many agents believed that if they could not get the email address or phone number of persons looking at their web sites, blogs or other social media accounts they could not convert those people to clients.

The idea of “attraction” rather than “capture” hasn’t really caught on for lead generation. The emphasis is on lead generation and capture which is a good thing for companies like Zillow and for web sites like Realtor.com.

Anti-social uses of social media

For years social media was called “technology” in real estate offices around the country. Often younger agents were put in charge of teaching social media because we all know that older people don’t use technology.

One of the worst things the legions of experts did was to promote the idea that having more clicks or attention on social media means more business. It doesn’t seem to work that way — or if it does, I can’t find a numeric relationship between clicks and clients. It is more about attracting the right people and working with those people until there is a closing.

The good part about social media is that anyone can use it and it is mostly free to use. The bad part is that many people use it in such a way that it annoys the rest of us to the point where we want to stop engaging with it.

The ugly part is some of the useless social media tools and marketing solutions that are sold to real estate agents, and the ways agents and businesses are taught to use social media for marketing, and the idea that there is a direct relationship between the number of social media followers an agent has and closed sales.

Using social media for marketing is what has made it anti-social. There have been many times when I have looked for news about mass shootings or hurricanes and have seen marketers auto-tweet about how to market.  Automated social media posts are not at all social.

Another truth about social media is that the platforms can be fickle. Anyone who planned on getting rich by posting on Google+ or one of the many other social media sites that have come and gone in the last decade are out of luck. Social media strategies that work can suddenly stop working when rules changed or when algorithms tweaked.

If I ever retired from my real estate company, one of the first things, I would do is delete most of my social media accounts. I probably would not access my accounts more than once a week. I stopped accessing most of them with phone apps years ago.

From a business point of view, I feel as though I have to use social media because I work with people. The “technology” isn’t a good fit for what social media is, but the term is still used in real estate offices.  It will be interesting to see what the next decade brings.

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