REALTORS® are not new to image-based marketing. Whether they publish their photos on business cards, on yard signs or in ads, REALTORS® have been using print media for generations to build a positive image and identify their brand.
In today’s world of social media, maintaining a positive image is threatened by greater visibility online and the potential of social media posts being spread, taken out of context or shared with larger groups of people. This should come as no surprise. If you are trying to build a positive image in print campaigns, why is social media any different? This article examines the impact of social media on your brand as it relates to your online reputation.
Consumers don't just pick homes, they pick you
Research from the National Association of REALTORS® continues to show that consumers initiate their real estate home search online and for good reason: instant results! If you read through the lines, the same search for a home applies to finding a REALTOR®.
Let’s give it a try. Google yourself. What do you find? The results of this search is called your “online reputation.” Are you absent from the radar, making you look invisible as a business? Or are you listed multiple times?
Let’s assume you are listed multiple times in the Google search results like most REALTORS®. Start at the top of the results page. In most cases, the results will lead you to two places: LinkedIn and your firm’s website. Expect prospects to skip your website entirely. They don’t care about your listings or how many times you’ve sold a home. They care about whether they think they will be treated fairly, ethically and professionally.
Most prospects start with LinkedIn and sift through the various positions you’ve held, your endorsements from colleagues and your voted-upon areas of expertise. Easily, consumers can figure out if there is a match without picking up the phone. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is current, relevant and accurate, then decide whether you want to look specialized or broadly focused so that future prospects can determine your niche.
Social media has changed the game
How does social media affect consumer behavior and buying decisions? Today, consumers no longer differentiate between word of mouth advertising and random advice on the Internet. Internet advice is quickly accessible and offers unfiltered opinions, making it attractive to people who prefer performing research alone. We all know the real estate industry is wrestling with buyers and sellers performing their transactions alone. The more we demonstrate our expertise and professionalism as individuals, the better we look as an industry as a whole.
Your Internet footprint has no time limit
Next, think of your online reputation as an “Internet footprint” that lasts forever. So how does your social media image look? Does your image include a plethora of photos of you holding cocktails? Have you published bold commentary that someone might find objectionable?
Whether you posted it once or many times, remember you have one shot at a first impression — and your perception is always the perception, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.
Protect your social media infrastructure
When using Facebook, be sure to use business pages rather than personal accounts to connect with your buyers and sellers. By segmenting your personal and professional life and placing your prospects and customers in a different sphere of visibility, your personal information stays private.
If you are using your personal social media account to connect with clients, be sure to use the built-in security controls to lock down your posts. Social media is viral and has “legs.” For example, Facebook allows you to limit the audience of your posts to individuals or groups. If you forget to use these controls and regret posting something later, just remember the harm is already done. You can always delete a comment, but you can’t undo a post someone read. Again, best social media practices dictate that you should create a business page in addition to your personal page to differentiate your focus and reduce the risk of broadcasting posts to unwanted audiences.
Commit to building a positive brand
What about getting positive LinkedIn reviews? Use the “pay it forward” concept. Each month, submit a few reviews of colleagues you’ve done business with before. Not only do these reviews paint a picture of you having industry connections, but eventually you will get reviews from other professionals without requesting reviews. Unsolicited recommendations over manufactured or requested ones arm you with the most authenticity.
Next in the Google search results, you will likely find your Facebook page, unless you intentionally unlisted it. Your Facebook page is an excellent resource for prospects to turn to and research your background and determine whether you are someone they would trust to manage the biggest transaction of their lives. While this sounds like big brother is watching, that’s exactly how social media works. Because buying and selling a home is very personal to prospects, trust means everything to them. Just remember that your transparency, combined with your participation in social communities, puts you in a position where a prospect can uncover a lot about you quickly. Always present yourself in the highest of light and with the highest level of professionalism in your posts. Prospects prefer to do business with people who act like professionals — not folks who are trying to look “cool” on Facebook.
You are not invisible …
Can social media hurt you if you already know the client? Absolutely. Social media is a truth serum and is a direct lens into your life and how you handle yourself. Just remember, no one is under the radar, and anything you post is fair game for criticism. For example, maybe you were supposed to meet with a client, you cancelled on them and they learned from social media you were on the golf course. Bad news is sure to follow. Always remember social media makes you transparent to the public and sets the tone for your reputation online and whether you are recommended to others.
... but don't be a bull in a china shop either!
Conversely, when are you too visible on the radar? One mistake many people make on social media is they forget how visible they are. They get overly confident about the context and volume of their posts and begin using social media as a platform for publishing anything from charged opinions to divisive comments. Others place enormous equity on the “like” game and get artificial affirmation that their views and behaviors are generally accepted by all of their connections. While we all enjoy the freedom of speech to say whatever we want, keep in mind that with social media, you’re in front of a live audience of potentially hundreds of prospects who will be critical. While an opinion can be dead right, the approach might be dead wrong — and while you will still have a platform to vent afterward, your prospecting potential might fall as a result.
Be professional everywhere
In short, practice Internet etiquette and maintain a professional image. Both are key ingredients in projecting a positive image for you and your business. A good way to test the content of your posts is to avoid posting anything that you would not say verbally in front of a group of clients and customers. Or for that matter, avoid posting anything that you would not say at a party!
For example, would you attend a party and discuss who you voted for in an election? Would you start a political debate? Would you bring up controversial topics? Would you sell your products at the party? Would you share embarrassing college photos of yourself and friends? Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn’t, but remember this: perception is everything.
Google alerts for online reputation management
The quicker REALTORS® realize the positive and negative effects of social media on their online reputation, the easier it is to attract business. Tools like Google Alerts allow you to track and monitor content about you as it is published. As new hits are found on Google, you learn about them immediately. If you have not used Google Alerts before, it’s the single best monitoring tool for online reputation management. It’s free and only requires a Google account to get started.
If you are a business owner, consider an office policy. The postings of your agents may be interpreted as a reflection of the views of your organization, and many companies forget to set an internal policy or address social media postings with their employees.
The best social media strategy for real estate professionals who are in the public eye is just two words but covers it all: be professional. Unprofessional people often get viewed as ones who act unethically, whether or not they’re dialed into social media.
Rob Uhrina is Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the WRA.