Social Media and Commercial Real Estate: Strategies to Grow Your Business and Build Your Brand
By: Ruth Brajevich, chief marketing officer, Ware Malcomb. Follow her on Twitter at @WareMalcombCMO
Social media has created a momentous shift in how we communicate with one other. It has become the great digital equalizer; small and large companies alike can build their brands, expand their businesses and connect with their clients online via social media outlets.
To understand social media, one must understand how communication has changed. Traditional marketing involved identifying a target market, crafting a compelling message and “pushing” it out via channels that would reach a specific audience. Typical strategies included advertising, commercials, brochures, direct mail, billboards, flyers and even websites. Social media has changed this dynamic. Now consumers have a public voice. Did you have a bad experience at a restaurant? Complain about it on Yelp. Do you love a certain athletic brand? Share your passion on Facebook or Instagram. Clients, colleagues and employees can become your biggest advocates or your greatest critics.
Another dynamic occurring today is the overload of marketing messaging online and the need for compelling, relevant content. Consumers are inundated with an excess of unsolicited marketing messages, and commercial real estate professionals are no exception. When asked if they get too many emails, most say “yes.” Consumers now have the power to just say “no” through action: they can unsubscribe from e-blasts, skip TV commercials using TiVo or a DVR, or avoid radio commercials by subscribing to satellite radio.
More Pulling, Less Pushing
Brands now must figure out how to “pull” clients and consumers to relevant content. Users who are interested in a company or a brand can subscribe to its e-blasts, read its blog, “friend” it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and so forth. The brand’s content thus is “pulling” fans toward it rather than “pushing” marketing messages to them. The challenge for companies is to produce relevant, interesting content that their clients find useful, not more marketing messages.
The commercial real estate industry has been slow to adopt social media. A few common complaints include “I have a great network, why do I need this?” and “I don’t have time!” The reality is that commercial real estate’s clients, corporate America, already have embraced social media — which means that CRE needs to as well, to leverage it strategically to build your brand and grow your businesses.
Most social media updates are not being done on a desktop or laptop computer. Instead, they are made on a smartphone or tablet. Everyone has downtime at the doctor’s office, in the airport, in line at Starbucks. Wait time has become smartphone time, which in turn has become social media time. According to eMarketer, the average amount of time an individual spends on mobile devices has increased from 22 minutes per day in 2009 to an estimated 82 minutes a day in 2012, an almost quadruple increase.
The Impact on Corporate America
The commercial real estate industry should understand how its clients are leveraging social media. It is clear that the continued adoption of these sites is making an impact on the Fortune 500. A report on a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Charlton College of Business Center for Marketing Research, entitled “2013 Fortune 500 Are Bullish on Social Media” makes the case for the relevance, continued growth and use of social media by large corporations. Relevant statistics from this report include the following:
- Fortune 500 corporate blogs have grown from 16 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2013.
- 77 percent of the Fortune 500 have corporate Twitter accounts in 2013, a 4 percent increase from 2012.
- 70 percent of the Fortune 500 have a corporate Facebook page in 2013, also a 4 percent increase from 2012.
- 69 percent of the Fortune 500 have a corporate YouTube channel in 2013, an 11 percent increase from 2012.
- New and emerging social media sites also are experiencing growth. These include Google+ (35 percent of the Fortune 500 have active corporate accounts in 2013), Pinterest (9 percent), Instagram (9 percent) and Foursquare (9 percent).
- 59 percent of the Fortune 500 include links to their social media sites on their company website homepages.
Key Sites for CRE
Which of these many social media platforms is best for a commercial real estate company or professional
Consider sites that already have gained a critical mass and those where your clients already are spending time. These typically include “the big four”: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. “The CMO’s 2013 Guide” to the Social Media Landscape,” sponsored by Adobe, validates the relevance of these specific channels.
LinkedIn. Launched in 2003 as a business-oriented social media platform, LinkedIn has more than 238 million members in more than 200 countries, making it the largest online professional networking website. Executives from all of the Fortune 500 companies have profiles on LinkedIn. According to “The CMO’s 2013 Guide,” one of its biggest strengths is brand exposure to the business world, which is, of course, important for the commercial real estate industry.
Many commercial real estate professionals have a LinkedIn profile but don’t understand the site’s true benefits. LinkedIn is a live Rolodex, brand builder, professional database, personalized marketing platform and social networking channel. As a live Rolodex, Linked-In keeps users connected to contacts, no matter what company they work for at the moment. Personal profiles are “owned” by the individual, not the company. LinkedIn gives companies and individuals the ability to build a digital brand by demonstrating expertise, experience and talents through their writing and images. LinkedIn also is a great “professional database” that enables professionals to research new contacts online. Researching someone on LinkedIn often unveils a wealth of information that may help individuals establish rapport faster.
LinkedIn also can become a personalized marketing platform. The site allows users to send tailored messages to a subset of their connections via email and contains a platform for social networking. If you’re trying to connect with a key person, someone in your LinkedIn network might be able to make an introduction, which is always preferable to a cold call.
LinkedIn groups allow users to converse with other LinkedIn members about specific areas of interest. One benefit of these groups is that they can provide exposure to contacts outside of your immediate network. LinkedIn also offers users different ways to “follow” relevant people and organizations. You can follow companies, influencers and even fellow college alumni.
Facebook. Started in 2004 as a closed online community for college students, Facebook now has 1.15 billion users. This open social networking community is used by people in all age groups and countries around the world. Some 819 million people use the company’s mobile products. According to “The CMO’s 2013 Guide,” Facebook’s biggest strengths include customer communication, brand exposure and the ability to increase a company’s website traffic.
One of the most common misperceptions about Facebook is that it is for personal use, not business. The lines between the personal and the professional have blurred, especially in commercial real estate, an industry built on networking and relationship building. What better way is there to stay connected than through Facebook? What other tool allows you to reach the people you know on a daily basis? In addition, most major brands, industry groups and media are active on Facebook. Ware Malcomb’s Facebook page, for example, features a weekly “design inspiration,” photos of company events and projects, and links to “wm canvas,” the architectural firm’s blog — and has received more than 17,000 “likes.”
Facebook and Twitter are valuable tools that can help commercial real estate professionals build their brands, their networks and their business.
Twitter. Launched in 2006, Twitter is a social networking and micro blogging site that enables users to send and read tweets, which are limited to 140 characters each. More than 200 million registered users post more than 400 million tweets per day. Twitter was the fastest-growing social media site in 2012. According to “The CMO’s 2013 Guide,” Twitter “is the best channel for direct communication with customers.” It also has demonstrated the highest capacity for driving traffic directly to websites.
Even with these staggering statistics, Twitter is like the misunderstood middle child, difficult to understand on the surface, but complex and interesting on the inside. It gives users the greatest ability to tap into people outside of their networks and to expand those networks.
YouTube. Created in 2006, YouTube is now the second-largest search engine on the web. The site gets more than 1 billion visitors a month, with 100 hours of video uploaded every minute. According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18-34 than any cable network, millions subscribe each day, and the number subscribing has more than doubled since last year.
Many commercial real estate professionals say, “I don’t have the money, time or resources to use YouTube to market my business.” This is not true if you have a smartphone with a video recorder. There is a misconception that if you are going to venture into video, every video needs to be stylized and professionally edited. While those types of videos might be part of the mix, video marketing on social media has a different style, one that is characterized by humor, brevity, realness and creativity. Consider videotaping a minute from a grand opening or groundbreaking, or highlighting a building you are leasing. Sharing your clients’ videos is a great way to promote them, while also associating yourself with their brand. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many is a video worth?
A blog is a website designed to facilitate self publishing with an interactive element. The intent of a blog is sharing information and conversing. The U.S. now has more than 42 million blogs, and more than 329 million people view at least one blog monthly. Done right, blogging can position you and your company as a thought leader in your area of expertise.
Corporate blogging continues to grow. Sites like WordPress.com and Blogger.com offer free and low-cost blog templates to get you and your company started. Blogging is foundational to the new social media landscape. It is a platform for providing powerful content to pull clients and customers to your brand.
What the Pros Say
“Social media has been a great tool for us,” said Larry Armstrong, CEO of Ware Malcomb. “I had lost touch with an industry colleague and we became reconnected through LinkedIn. This digital re-engagement directly led to a new health care project for Ware Malcomb.”
“Our core social media strategy focuses on consistency and engagement,” said Barbi Reuter, principal, Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR, who oversees the firm’s operations, research, finance and marketing/social media activities, and serves as associate broker. “When we launched our blog, ‘PICOR Connect: Trends in Commercial Real Estate,’ two and a half years ago, we made a quantum leap from being a resource for others’ content to creating our own.”
Blogging can help position CRE professionals as thought leaders in their area of expertise.
Reuter added that “the blog became the hub, and our social channels the spokes through which we share our messages. The blog has also been a terrific tool for collaboration, as we invite guest posts from related communities of relevance to our audience in Southern Arizona, like commercial finance, economic development, tax and the housing market. Social media for Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR is an extension of our branding, reputation and network. Our web traffic has grown significantly (a 67 percent increase in organic search visits), as has our reputation for providing quality market information.
“I listed and subsequently leased a small office building where initial contact was made on Twitter,” noted Reuter. “The building owner was an avid Twitter user who saw our posts, knew we were local and made the initial inquiry on Twitter.”
According to Atle Erlingsson, vice president, corporate communications for Prologis, “Social media tools provide us with another avenue to have a conversation with our customers, brokers and other key partners. For example, we found considerable success with Twitter, especially over the past year, in which our number of followers increased 48 percent.” Erlingsson cautioned that “you must be committed to making frequent, relevant posts, and engage with your followers on a daily basis. Like any relationship, if you don’t nurture it, it fades away. We also use Twitter as an engagement tool for our employees by creating hashtags for special events. This allows our employees around the world to post photos and communicate in real time with colleagues in other countries.”
Coy Davidson, senior vice president and a leasing broker with Colliers International’s office services group in Houston, said that “utilizing social media as a personal branding tool has dramatically raised my profile in the industry. As a result,” he added, “I have seen the volume of referrals, the lifeblood of my business, more than double. Real estate has always been a social business, and using the speed and reach of online social tools to expand your network will only become increasingly important.”
The first step to engaging in social media is to develop a plan that meshes with your existing business and marketing plan. Your head of marketing should lead the social media effort, not your IT department. Additional steps include the following:
- Define your goals and your strategy.
- Identify target clients/customers.
- Select the social media resources that align best with your objectives.
- Start small, experiment and use a phased approach.
- Write a social media policy for your company. (Some great examples are available online from IBM and Intel, as well as from other companies.)
- Educate your staff. Training is key!
- Experiment, stay curious, keep learning. Sites like HubSpot.com, Mashable.com and SocialMediaExaminer.com are great resources.
- Invest in a monitoring tool like Hootsuite Pro, Sprout Social or Trackur.
- Use time-saving tools like HootSuite, Tweetdeck or Bufferapp. These social media management systems allow you to post updates on multiple social networks from one dashboard. They also provide the ability to schedule your posts at different times, to optimize maximum exposure.
Some firms outsource their social media efforts, while others take on the task in-house. This decision is largely based on the firm’s size and resources. It’s not an either/or decision; a social media marketing firm can help you get started, then transition your social media accounts to in-house management.
The Twitter Conference
Commercial real estate executives are taking to Twitter to share their thoughts on the industry. Transwestern President, Americas, Chip Clarke (@ChipClarke13), for example, fielded questions at a September 24 Twitter conference (#TWTalks) on the state of — and outlook for — commercial real estate. What points was he able to get across in 140 characters or less? Some excerpts, verbatim:
What is fueling development and in which #CRE markets?
#Jobs fuel #CRE. New spec supply largely kept in check. Hot markets: Texas/Houston-energy; North CA-tech; Boston-tech/biomed
What are the hottest cities for #CRE investment? What makes them so hot?
Hard to top Houston or San Francisco for #job creation. Obviously, NY remains strong from investment standpoint
What trends do you see in companies picking suburbs vs. downtowns for campuses?
It’s all about being in the right environment for their particular industry — where they can recruit/retain the best people
A broad question: Predictions for Q4 2013? More investments? Developments? Leasing?
Yes on all! In markets where #job growth remains strong, I look for good activity on all fronts through the end of the year
How will changing demographics of the workforce affect office buildings? And, office space?
How Millennials want to work & where they want to is much different. Office space is a connective platform not a physical location
What is the biggest change/challenge facing office tenants today?
Planning for growth esp in tightening submarkets. Increased pressure on space utilization. Balancing me vs we space @TranswesternCO #TWTalks
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