NEW YORK—Michele Portnof updates her status every day on Facebook, enticing clients and marketing herself to the 115 people who “like” her page. A broker in New York City, Portnof says social media is a must.
“I definitely think social media is the way of the future,” she said. “Twenty- to thirty-year-olds; social media is the way they communicate.”
Which is a perfect fit for Portnof who says she is a specialist for first-time renters and new graduates.
Her Facebook page sat dormant for a year before she started utilizing it; it was after she attended training on social media that she decided it was too important to ignore.
“For the past month or so, I have updated it every day, with photos, listings, and articles people might find interesting,” she said.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs; these names are a mystery to some, but to more and more brokers and small business owners, they are the tools that are helping them succeed.
The New Trend
Social media marketing sounds daunting to a lot of people, but a basic plan will help most small businesses, says social media guru John Fladung. An independent marketing and advertising consultant since the mid-1980’s, Fladung has seen many trends.
“MySpace was the beginning of the whole revolution,” he said. The idea was not about throwing ads in front of people, but actually “being” the ad by virtue of how you presented yourself and your products.
Social media marketing is about building a community around your business, Fladung said. “The goal is to offer them compelling and engaging information—because you want them to come back,” he said.
Why Use Social Media?
There are two major reasons to use social marketing, Fladung says. One is to establish yourself as an expert in an area related to your business, and through that drive traffic to your site; the end result being sales and referrals for you.
The second is to raise your Internet ranking by driving more people to your site—making you more visible in searches. “Really it’s all about SEO,” he said. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is using keywords to become more noticeable to the Internet crawlers, in turn, pushing you higher on a search ranking.
For example, the more people that visit your Facebook page, the higher ranking that page will get, as well as directing more traffic to your main site.
A 2010 social media marketing white paper, “How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses” by Michael A. Stelzner, concurs.
“The number-one benefit of social media marketing is gaining the all-important eyeball,” the report says.
Of the 1898 participants surveyed, almost half were consultants or one-person businesses.
Eighty-five percent of all marketers indicated that their social media efforts have generated exposure for their businesses, the report said. Improving site traffic was the second major benefit, followed by building new partnerships.
More than half of marketers indicated a rise in search engine rankings as a benefit of social media marketing.
“As search engine rankings improve, so will business exposure, lead generation efforts and a reduction in overall marketing expenses,” the report stated.
More than half of marketers found social media generated qualified leads.
Broker Portnof is testament to that.
“I had someone contact me yesterday about a place and they were referred to me from a friend on my Facebook page,” she said. “I am hoping I will get much more of that.”
The Big Four
The “big four” social media marketing tools for brokers and small businesses are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs, Fladung said.
If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world; the site has hit 400 million active users (people who have used it in the last 30 days).
One has the ability to create a community on Facebook by offering multiple forms of content—not just blogging, but photos and videos as well, Fladung said. You can create your own pages, your own designs, with hyperlinking to your own products and services.
But Facebook is not enough on its own. “You can have all the bells and whistles on the Facebook business page you want,” Fladung said, “but without content to establish yourself as the expert and engage your audience, it’s never going to be more than bells and whistles.”
A simple blog doesn’t mean you have to write all the content yourself. You can aggregate content and link it back to the source.
“Blogging is the backbone of any good social media plan,” Fladung said. Blogging helps you establish yourself as an expert and provide information to your community.
Twitter is basically micro-blogging, and as the site says, it’s a communication platform that “shrinks the emotional distance between your company and your customers.”
Each “tweet” gives you 140 characters to play with; enough for about 100 characters and a link, suggests Fladung.
The Twitter site has a Business 101 guide for learners that includes a how-to on getting started and best practices.
“As a business, you can use it to quickly share information with people interested in your company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about your company,” Twitter’s website says.
LinkedIn is the business networking side of the equation—people can review your resume.
“It has grown, gotten better, but it’s still a community,” Fladung said. “The good thing about LinkedIn is that you can have your base of connections and you can get to their connections too.”
Linking together all the social media tools you use is an efficient way to cross-update everything, he said.
“Social media networking is like a big Internet cocktail party.”
How Much Time Does it Really Take?
The white paper report found that the majority of marketers (56 percent) are using social media for 6 hours or more each week, and nearly one in three invest 11 or more hours weekly.
Portnof said she is on there several hours a day, but not all at the same time.
Fladung said it depends on how big they want to be. “One hour a day is a fair amount of time; it’s decent,” he said.
For consultants like Fladung, the future looks bright. More and more businesses are outsourcing their social media needs, including a quarter of mid-to-large businesses, according to the white paper.
“Because so many marketers are new to social media marketing, it may be another year before many warm to the idea of seeking outside assistance,” the report said.
Fladung said he went from talking to about 12 people a week about social media six months ago, to more than four dozen per week now.
“Social media marketing is here to stay, even if the players change to some degree, it’s here,” he said.