KlemSocial_1_351More and more players in commercial real estate are using social media to connect with their customers, said panelists at “Social Media and Engagement,” a session at ULI’s 2010 Fall Meeting.

“I still hear people in commercial real estate who say, ‘We’re not a social media industry – we do our business face-to-face,” said Rebecca Devine, Principal of Maven Communications. “But that’s a misnomer. “ She noted that now social media tools are being used not only by the consumer-facing segments, such as retailers and real estate agents, but also business-to-business segments. People prefer doing business with those they know, Devine noted, and today people get to know you through social media.

The session focused primarily on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but also touched upon blogs and YouTube videos as ways to engage with customers, partners and prospective employees.

Devine laid out five ways firms are using social media to boost their business:

 

  • Executive positioning – demonstrate your firm’s thought leadership by sharing their speeches and white papers via blogs, video, etc.
  • Sales and Marketing – promote your properties and connect with prospective buyers, renters and shoppers.
  • Human Resources – many firms already pre-screen candidates via LinkedIn and Facebook before hiring. But Devine noted that candidates also screen you, so be sure your company has a page and/or profile on these sites, and keep it current.
  • Market Research – use social media to listen to your audience. Tools such as Google Alerts and TweetDeck allow you to easily monitor how your company, your competitors, keywords and phrases are turning up in blogs and other online conversations.
  • Community Relations – many firms, especially in the multifamily market, use social media to raise awareness for community relations efforts and corporate giving.

Devine added this note of advice: “The biggest myth about social media is that it’s free. It’s not. You need to devote resources to it. Who’s going to be the content provider? Are you going to update it every day? Every week?” If people see a big launch but no follow-through, you will lose credibility, she said.

An inside real estate perspective come from Rajeev Sajja, IT Director for E-Business and Program Management at Prudential Fox & Roach. “Social media is not an island,” he said. “It’s an extension of your strategy. To get the right level of attention, I had to go to the executives of my company – and they’re mostly baby boomers – and say, “I need a few hours of your time,” and get them in a room.”

Sajja also warned against getting too entrenched in one tool or platform. “Tools change,” he said. “I don’t think Facebook is going away anytime soon, but if it did, our strategy shouldn’t change.”

Tips on blogging were offered by Aaron M. Renn, Principal of Urbanophile, LLC. “When you’re blogging, you need to be a real person,” he said. “You need to be authentic. Most successful blogs are written by people who are largely independent” – that is, free to say what’s on their mind. Many corporate blogs don’t take off, he noted, because they have the same scrubbed language and corporate-speak that’s found in press releases, and social media consumers don’t and won’t connect with it.

Another key to blogging success: read others’ blogs in your field, link to their content, and comment – not in way that simply promotes your firm or your offering, but in a way that truly furthers the conversation. You’ll find that other bloggers will reciprocate, and it boosts your firms’ search engine rankings as a result.

Finally, reinforcing the idea of devoting the proper resources to the effort, Renn said, “The term ‘social media intern’ should be banned from the lexicon. Many people think, ‘I bring in a 21-year-old to manage this for me; they’re good at this.’ But if this is your business, shouldn’t you treat it like a business?”