Your Digital Business Card
In an age where an agent’s friend request can turn into a client and a Tweet can promote a property, social networking is taking over the real estate market. Though social networking exists in the virtual realm, it has become a real part of everyday business. Today, more than ever before, Realtors are using these networking tools to make their business grow. We spoke with four Chicagoland Realtors who have social networked their way through the industry, and turned this fad into a profit.
By Elizabeth Noel
Social networking can be simply defined as the use of a Web site to connect with people. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, the more business-oriented LinkedIn and various blog sites can be used to keep in touch with old friends, make new ones or organize events. However, the use of social networking for strictly business purposes is also increasing. According to the Pew Research Center, 28 percent of social networkers use these sites to make new business contacts or promote themselves.
The real estate market is not exempt from this online onslaught. In this struggling market, gaining clients through social networking has become an important part of the industry. “Social networking is a new way to generate leads,” says Matt Pittman, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Achievers in Lombard. “It is the easiest and quickest way to get a business going.” Pittman uses Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist, MySpace and Twitter to promote his business and find clients.
Getting involved in Social Networking
Realtors can get involved in social networking in different ways and for different reasons. Pittman began using social networking to promote his band and says it was easy to transition into real estate. “When I got into real estate about five years ago, I focused on those people that I was already in touch with,” he says. “I sort of flipped a coin and said, ‘Hey, I’m in real estate if you know anyone who is interested.’”
Kimberly Adams of Dream Town Realty started using Facebook simply for social purposes. “My initial interest was just staying connected with friends,” says Adams. “From there it just seemed to be a natural progression into being more professional.” Adams now uses her Facebook site and the Chicago Agent networking site (ChicagoAgentMagazine.ning.com) to get in touch with potential clients.
Others, like Yvonne Rusin, an agent for Coldwell Banker in Wheaton, have geared their social networking efforts toward business from the beginning. “My phone began ringing non-stop; I couldn’t do it anymore,” says Rusin. “I needed something else out there, and it has become an excellent, viable tool.” Similarly, Judy Pettas, an agent for Premier Properties Chicago, has been using Facebook and LinkedIn to grow her business since one of her clients sent her an invitation to the sites two years ago.
The Tools to Gain Clients
Regardless of how they got into social networking, the results for these agents have been the same: Social networking has led to more clients. “Social networking has worked phenomenally for me,” says Pittman, who attributes more than 60 percent of his business to Facebook and MySpace. “Your social networking sites serve as reminders to people that you are in this business.”
Adams considers her social networking site to be her “business card with legs.” While her Facebook site is there to serve as a reminder, it also actively promotes her. “I have a client who was a Facebook friend of a friend,” she says. “She would see the nice comments and accolades that my clients would give, and decided she wanted to do business with me.” Judy Pettas also finds many referrals through networking. “I gain a lot of buyers because they are looking to connect with people who know what they need,” she says.
Don’t Overdo It
One of the keys to turning social networking pages into a virtual client base is to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Primarily, experts agree that when it comes to social networking and business, sometimes less is more.
“If you have a good listing, post it, but don’t put up 10 a day,” advises Pittman. “People will spam you.” He believes that bombarding a Web page can overwhelm clients and cause them to quickly turn away.
Instead, Pettas recommends using the page as a vehicle to answer questions and present a level of comfort and openness. “There is a fine line between being pushy and being available,” says Pettas. “Before you do anything drastic, just let people get to know you.”
Rusin was initially turned off by the lack of organization of sites like Facebook and other social networks. Though she has now become accustomed to the site, she still suggests keeping it simple. “Sometimes it looks like people threw up all over the page,” she says. “There is definitely no table of contents, so to speak, but I still try to keep it as neat as possible.”
Privacy and Professionalism
Along with organization and simplicity, these agents also keep in mind that professionalism comes first. “Think once, twice, three times before you post,” warns Pettas. “I always wonder when I post a blog if there is another angle that I am not seeing.”
Mixing business with social networking can create a gray area between what is personal and what is professional. However, these agents have found different ways of controlling and monitoring their sites to maximize their privacy.
“I have felt that my privacy is limited,” says Pittman. “But at the same time, I have control of how much information I share.” For Pittman, the discrepancy between these public and private spheres is especially challenging because his social network pages are not specifically tailored to real estate. “I might have pictures or something that people think a Realtor shouldn’t have up there,” says Pittman, who also uses his page to continue to promote his band. “But at the same time, if someone doesn’t want to work with me because of my picture, we most likely would not work well together anyway.”
Adams, on the other hand, keeps her profile solely focused on real estate. “I don’t put anything personal on my profile — relationships, where I went for dinner last night,” she says. “It is strictly things like what is happening now in the market and seminar information, just real estate. I monitor who I accept as friends and am very cautious.”
Some agents, like Pettas, include both personal and business information on social networking sites. However, she is careful to use the controls on Facebook to monitor what certain people can see on her page. “The different controls make it possible to hide things, so a potential client won’t see what my old high school friend wrote on my wall,” she says. Pettas says she is still more careful with what she posts than her friends who aren’t in the business.
The option of a closed profile, which only opens the page to those who ask to be invited, is also an option for those concerned with privacy. Rusin uses a closed profile to keep her Facebook site more like business on referral. Her page serves as a network only for people who know her in some way, and is only open to those who ask to be invited. “This way, I can put out more personal information, like pictures of my friend’s wedding,” she says. “And of course, I got ‘Happy Birthday’ all over the place!”
Age is Just a Number
Though some fear that the social networking is just for the young crowd, experts urge agents of all ages to reconsider. Twitter and Facebook users range from 10 years old to 80 years old, and agents endorse participation in social networking regardless of age. “Well I’m amost 50, I can say that!” says Rusin. “This is just what we have to do, and it was easy for me.” Pettas agrees. “I was around when people would come in to ‘look at the books,’ and I’m still on Facebook.”
These agents not only believe that social networking is an acceptable business tactic for all ages, but they believe that it is essential. “In this business, you have to change with the times to be successful,” says Adams. “That younger person is our next client.” Pittman also agrees: “Anyone who thinks social networking is just for young people is missing out big time.”
Social Networking is Here to Stay
Though the media and sites may change, social networking has lasted this long, and does not appear to be fading away. According to the experts we spoke with, using social networking sites for business may be a new development, but it will only become more common and more important. “This is the way the consumer is demanding service,” says Pettas. “Anyone who does not become an integral part of this is writing his own pink slip.”
“Just like the computer itself, social networking is here to stay,” says Adams. “It will continue to evolve and refine itself, and it is only going to get bigger. It will be interesting to see where this will go.” CA
Dream Town Realty
Premier Properties Chicago
RE/MAX Achievers Lombard
Coldwell Banker Wheaton