Digital marketing is a really large field in which the algorithms, strategies and methods employed by the search engines as well as social media platforms keep evolving requiring a similar level of development in the use by businesses and real estate agencies.
The initial idea of social media revolved around tapping into the inherent human nature of sharing and community. This idea has advanced in the past few years allowing businesses to develop communities in a less formal setting among their customers and use this as a channel for product placement when marketing their brands. Miguel Quina Ribeiro of Quina Ribeiro Lda gave more validity to the importance of digital marketing when he said that “Locating where your customers are is important for any business. It's true that some potential buyers might not be active on social media, especially in markets where decision makers are not yet really into the virtual or digital world, on the other hand there are a lot of consumers who will start the buying process online.” This recent business outlook is propagated across several social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and Pinterest. Other social media channels have been created for other specific business and professional communities. Platforms such as LinkedIn allow for a more formal setting to foster networking and community development among professionals. A review of the basics of social media marketing for real estate agents presents a snapshot of handy tips to be considered when using social media.
The marketing of businesses online allows companies including real estate agencies to promote their brand image and place their products strategically in the sphere of current and potential customers. marketing also enables property agents to find out the opinions and thoughts of their customers as it serves as an avenue to obtain feedback and communicate with customers. This allows businesses to easily complete the cycle of the customer journey from the initial contact and brand placement to sales, customer service and feedback. The benefits of digital marketing for property brokers are numerous; these include but are not limited to the wide reach which social media offers as it is used by millions of individuals. Other advantages of social media marketing are its simplicity as many platforms do not require any specifically high level of computer skills to use them and as online marketing is also built on the speed of the internet it makes it possible to interact with a large number of people in a short time. Additionally, a number of platforms have options for targeted marketing based on demographics and these are usually at relatively low costs. These benefits have encouraged companies to take advantage of digital marketing as Miguel observed through his years of experience in developing and managing web, digital and mobile tools. He stated that “In Portugal, the classic way of doing the real estate business is changing as there are now social media exclusive real estate companies with a completely different approach, more human, more client focused.”
Even with all these benefits, it is crucial to be cautious of the risks associated with social media marketing for real estate agents. Some of these risks include the ease with which money and resources could be wasted if the digital marketing strategy is not properly implemented and targeted. Further, the speed of information transfer can pose a challenge if there is a dissemination of incorrect, incomplete or negative content. There are also risks with data management, privacy and copyright issues which need to be carefully considered when using social media marketing for real estate agents.
This article explores the use of social media platforms for marketing of both large and small businesses with a focus on the use of such platforms in the property industry. Each of the platforms have unique features requiring proper understanding to make the best use of them and achieve excellent results from any marketing campaign. Miguel also stated that “While all social media platforms have different audiences, I dare say that in some way or another, all audiences can be influenced by real estate businesses. Adapting the content to different platforms will differentiate the more committed agents from those who produce one content and copy it across all platforms. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn seem to be the prime platforms being used in the industry.” The content of this article is based on research conducted within the real estate sector where property brokers, property agents and digital marketing firms were interviewed. The opinions and tips presented here are obtained from these property brokers and digital marketing agencies on the practical application and most effective ways to use such platforms to foster internet marketing for realtors.
General tips for digital marketing
Ready? Set Goals: In order to achieve any valuable results from social media marketing, property brokers have to set precise and explicit goals for their marketing campaigns with smaller goals for each of the social media platforms. It is important for the goals to be reachable and spaced over a reasonable period. For instance, a real estate agency can set a goal to increase the number of leads it gets from any social media platform by 10% within 6 months. Such a goal can then be achieved by a set of activities which can be referred to as a strategy. This strategy could include activities like posting attractive pictures with detailed descriptions of new listings or properties which have just been rented or sold, engaging with customers through comments and responding to feedback for at least one hour per day. Such clear goals and corresponding strategies to achieve them make it easier to keep track of success.
Marketing not selling: Social media is not the avenue to carry out any hard selling strategies. This is because the initial reason for its creation is to provide a fun, informal community where friends can relate and communicate making it most effective when you join the conversation in a community where your services are required. Users are likely to get put off if you repeatedly post advertising slogans and products, prices or other direct items which are not part of any ongoing conversation so it is better to use teasers and create a conversation around your product or service. According to Miguel, “Social media moves a lot of traffic, but does it make sales? It can, but when you set yourself out there and invest a lot of time in social media, you should have a strategy and keep alert to changes and new trends. Because you sell to people, be where people are, follow the trends and be quick to bring virtual connection to a "real" relationship. Because social media is a means of communication that is an intermediate, as soon as possible you should try to have a direct relationship with your potential clients. If you have an email, phone number or another direct mean is better than having 20 thousand followers, but when you do a post, only a small portion of your followers will actually receive your post. So planning on how to get a direct connection is important.” A good principle to follow is the 80/20 rule, where property brokers can post 80% beneficial content which help their audience such as articles, educational tips and other similar inspirational pieces. The outstanding 20% can be dedicated to the promotion of the business so as not to lose sight of the business activities but also to maintain the interest of the social media community and audience.
The personal and professional middle-ground: Although including a sort of personal aspect and human voice to any business account is essential in maintaining a communication channel with clients and customers, property agents need to be careful about how personal the content they publish can be. This is because there is a fine line between personalizing a business account and having a personal social media profile. Every business account has to maintain a certain corporate standard to project the brand image so property brokers should find a balance between personalization and professionalism.
Consistency is currency: Social media marketing is unlike other conventional marketing tools such as magazines and television where you can market your products for a specific period or at a stated time. With social media, property agents can post as much content as they wish per day, this then poses the challenge of content value and frequency of posting. Consistency in posting valuable content is essential for property brokers to build a loyal customer base and to maintain a community. On this point, Miguel thinks that “what people expect from agents, similar to companies is to be consistent, so personally I counsel professionals that are trying to influence or engage online to have a stable schedule that permits them to engage consistently rather than being over engaging only one day of the week and absent the rest of the week. Some suggestions to achieve this include planning, scheduling posts or having team members help to ease the work so they are more available to be out in the streets.” As a rule-of-thumb, realtors can decide to make one post a day so as to remain fresh and up to date, however, it is more important to post relevant and interesting content based on your target audience so it may be better to only post when you have valuable content. To find a balance between consistency and the value of the content, real estate brokers need to properly plan their content type and posting times.
Interact to attract: The timing of posts is critical for engagements with users, the idea is that people are likely to comment on, like or share recent and relevant content. To achieve this, realtors need to understand the time of day when members of their community are active. Miguel shares that “Being on social media might not be comfortable for most people, but people connect to people, so find your crowd and connect with them. It's better a small group with good relationship than a lot of people that don't have a relationship with you or your brand. While quality is the most important, quantity is still a valid metric as the bigger your audience, the more influence you can have if you have a message or a vision to share. Real estate properties are products and people today want journeys, experiences and transformation, so don't sell them a house, sell them a home to share with their family that will make them happy in this crazy world.” Additionally, property brokers should find ways to present the content that would encourage users to leave comments. It is possible to ask for the opinion of users and ensure that you respond within 24 hours as that strengthens the communication channel.
Get data, gather information: Data is the backbone of any successful digital marketing strategy and social media marketing for real estate agents is no exception. Using tools like Google Analytics or Facebook and Instagram Insights to understand your audience, know who interacts with which of your posts, what time they are most active and where they are located, cannot be overstated. The information from these tools allows you to create content that would be appreciated by your audience and keep them engaged.
Facebook in social media marketing for real estate agents
Considering that Facebook remains one of the most popular social media platforms with over 2 billion monthly users according to statistics from June 2018, it is an ideal way to start or improve online marketing as a real estate agent. Demographics about Facebook users points to a 53% female audience leaving 47% male users. About 87% of these users are between 18 and 29 years old and about 68% have some higher or university education. Because of this rich potential customer base, about 51% of small businesses, 58% of medium-sized businesses and 85% of large businesses in Australia have a social media presence with the property and accommodation sector having a high ranking among the industries using such marketing channels. These statistics support the claim that Facebook is a good platform for realtors to find and attract new customers. Building on the information above which applies to social media marketing for real estate brokers across all platforms, below are some benefits and tips to help property brokers make the best use of Facebook as a marketing platform.
After conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the use of Facebook as a part of the marketing plan for brokers, it is safe to say that this is a low-cost marketing channel especially as it allows you to share information, pictures and videos about the company at little to no cost at all. It also allows you to tag other Facebook users in your posts which ensures that the post appears on their feed and would be visible to their friends and Facebook connections. Realtors need to consider the privacy of the people being tagged so it may be more appropriate to obtain their consent before tagging them.
Focus on a target market - For instance, businesses can target specific audiences based on several criteria such as their location in specific countries, cities or even regions. Another criterion for targeting marketing campaigns is the demographic of the audience including age range, gender, level of education, employment status and family or relationship status. Such targeting can also be used in terms of the behavioural patterns of the customers considering items which they have purchased or devices they use. Other methods to identify the ideal customer base may be based on their interests and connections which can be deduced from the pages they like or follow on Facebook, the events they attend or their hobbies. It is also possible to find potential customers using an analysis of the current customer base to find lookalike audiences.
Take advantage of existing brand awareness - It is possible to import the contacts which you have already collected from your contact list. This will be used to identify the corresponding Facebook accounts and help to build your community on Facebook. It is also beneficial to utilize available Facebook analytical tools such as pixel and SDK which can help to track visitors to your website or mobile app and then identify their accounts on Facebook.
Customer support – Offering support to clients is an essential part of the property business as communication and interaction with potential, current and even previous customers goes a long way in forging stronger bonds and improving customer loyalty. Facebook can serve as a customer support and after sales channel where customers can contact the agency to ask questions or give reviews and feedback. With the new focus of Facebook on the Marketplace enabling businesses to conduct actual outright sales within Facebook, it is possible for realtors to market, rent or even sell properties all within this free platform.
Advice from experts on using Facebook
Discussions with a number of real estate agents and brokers below, reveal their various reasons for using Facebook based on the benefits obtained from the platform and suggestions on how to take advantage of the features implemented by Facebook.
Renato Ramos of 1º Abrigo (Primeiro Abrigo Imobiliária), informed LiveonRiviera that from his experience using digital marketing channels for his company’s business activities, he observed that “more people in Portugal use Facebook” and as such it is prudent to use Facebook as the company’s primary social media marketing channel. He also stated that "using paid Facebook ads helps to promote the company" while taking advantage of the advertising features including demographic targeting, setting advertising budgets and keeping track of the performance of the ads using the available analytics tools. Experts say that the average cost per click on Facebook ads is about $0.80 and this can translate to a click-through rate (proportion of users who click the link in the ad to visit your page) of about 0.051%. However, these costs and ensuing rates vary significantly depending on the targeting options chosen for the advert, the level of competition among similar ads and the content of the advert.
Patricia Iñarrea of Luxury Lifestyle Services, highlighted the use and value of Facebook as a medium “to project the brand and reach potential buyers”. This objective has been achieved by "setting a minimum number of hours that will be spent on social media weekly or daily". A similar view was propagated by other realtors who make use of the feature to directly export their properties to Facebook, this is done relatively easily and saves time. Facebook also allows businesses to reach potential clients within groups dedicated to such specific services in the regions where they operate. With this, property brokers can use Facebook groups as an online marketing channel to reach potential clients interested in properties for rent or sale within a city or country. General consensus is to spend about one hour per day on social media so as to update posts, include recent content, interact with existing clients as well as develop relationships with new potential clients.
Further, Pedro Simões of Portugal Plaza, indicated that "using a social media marketing agency" may be a good way for realtors to maximize the benefits of digital marketing. Digital marketing agencies offer a variety of services including search engine optimization, internet marketing, web design, email marketing as well as content marketing. He also clearly expressed the need for property brokers to "find and work with social media marketing agencies that share their vision" and can develop congruent goals as this will drive the strategy implemented in the social media marketing for the real estate agency. Similarly, Miguel says that “real estate agents should use digital marketing agencies to provide more quality in their approach to their clients, this would continue to bring credibility to the market. On the other hand training and taking digital marketing into their own hands will allow them to have a more personalized and true connection with their clients. For digital marketing to be effective usually takes a lot of time and is more effective when it's about people, people follow people more than brands. If they don't have the time, or want to hide behind company brand it's better to use an agency.” Having the right digital marketing strategy is essential as this determines the quantity and quality of clients gotten from online platforms and it saves the property agent from spending on marketing tactics that do not result in valuable property sales or rental.
The broad customer base and large number of Facebook users cannot be overlooked by real estate agents as Sara Diaz of Golden Molecule Real Estate aptly pointed out. She is of the opinion that “Facebook is accessible to people therefore posts on Facebook can make an impression on thousands if not millions of people thus promoting brand awareness and increasing the company’s reach”. The company’s Facebook page also makes it accessible to clients who would like to communicate with the estate agent.
Essentially, taking all these opinions and tips from real estate agents and digital marketing experts and applying them to Facebook marketing for real estate brokers would astronomically improve the reach of the property agents and put them on track to expand their business activities.
Real estate marketing on Instagram
Further research revealed that many real estate agencies use between two and four social media platforms to promote their properties and services. One of the top platforms many realtors now use is Instagram.
Instagram has added benefits for businesses, making it possible to use the company name and email address to create the account allowing users to easily find and engage with the company. It is also possible for real estate agencies to link their Facebook and Instagram pages ensuring that there is consistency and a level of professionalism across both platforms. Companies are encouraged to use their company logo or a similar identifying image as the profile picture as a visual marker for users. A similar uniformity can be applied to the company’s Instagram bio where a description of the company and its main activities can be included in a maximum of 150 characters. Companies can also include a link to their website and this can be updated if there are specific offers related to recent posts. Using a business profile, allowing your stories to be viewed by everyone and leaving your account public makes it possible for users to search for your profile and interact with the company. It is also possible to hide comments which may be offensive or in opposition to the corporate value or ethics by indicating such specific words and phrases in the profile settings.
As Instagram is a largely visual platform, it is very common for posts to include one or more pictures. Images speak volumes and as such attention should be paid to the types of images posted as well as the quality of such images. Realtors can use this to promote their company culture and keep their followers engaged with a variety of pictures to showcase the diverse nature of the company. Industry experts have observed that outright sales does not work on Instagram as users prefer lifestyle pictures to make them feel like part of the company’s story. Pictures also allow estate agents to bring some character and personality to their business page as it is possible to share posts from employees or other individuals who have come in contact with the company such as satisfied customers. Realtors can share posts that educate their users on related subjects such as tips on how to improve the appearances of their homes. It is important for property agents to offer different types of content to keep their users engaged and propagate a level of interest from their customers. It is possible to take advantage of international holidays or similar trends to create interesting posts for the Instagram page. The quality of images posted on Instagram is very important as high resolution images are more attractive to users. Ensure that pictures taken even with a phone camera are well focused and that the perspective is interesting. Pictures allow you to get creative so let your creative juices flow and show off the best features of the property in the best light. Property brokers need to know how to take incredible property photos to attract buyers and renters and this can be done by making use of symmetry, patterns and natural light in any picture as the human eye is drawn to such techniques. It is also possible to edit the pictures and Instagram has some filters which may be useful.
Adding videos on Instagram brings life to your page. As a property broker, videos give you a chance to feature specific aspects which you may want to highlight for your viewers. Imagine recording the beautiful panoramic view of the sea and mountains from that terrace and posting it on Instagram with a catchy caption to get your audience to comment, that would be a teaser and keep them wanting more details. It could be a reason for them to engage and interact with your page. Instagram only allows for the posting of short videos of less then a minute so it is possible to use Instagram Stories to post more videos. Stories also helps to promote a large quantity of content within a short period as it is removed after 24 hours, this helps the to avoid having a cluttered page.
Using Instagram Stories allows you to maintain a professional profile while giving some authenticity to your business page especially as it has some features to give a unique feel to each story. For instance, Live allows your to capture content being created and publish it in real time. With this feature, you can communicate with your audience through a live chat and video. Type, as the name suggests, gives you the chance to create a post dominated by text. The Music feature is used to match a sound clip with a picture or video and post it. While Superzoom gives an animated zoom to your video, Focus blurs out the background of any subject ensuring that the viewer’s attention is directed to the important content. Using Hands-Free is an easy way to record a video without necessarily holding down the record button and Rewind allows you to present a video in reverse. Utilizing some of these features on your Instagram Story, keeps your feed interesting and engaging to your followers. As a realtor, if you have really engaging long video content that your audience would find interesting and useful, it is possible to put this on IGTV.
The captions on any post are very important especially as the Instagram algorithm works to arrange the content on each user’s feed based on their previous interests or engagements. A user is more likely to see your post quickly on their feed if they have previously liked, commented on or shared similar content from your page. The algorithm also takes into account the time the post was made especially when a specific hashtag is searched for as the content is presented from the most recent posts. These are the reasons why it is important for estate agents to maintain consistency in their posts and use relevant hashtags to really represent their business and niche market. Quality content is prioritized on Instagram so realtors need to create relevant content for their audience.
Opinions of real estate agents on using Instagram
The interviews and interactions with real estate agents and digital marketing agencies included below, shed some light on the features which they consider very important when using Instagram for social media marketing in their businesses.
Maria Luisa Cafiero of MLC Property Consultant confirmed that being professional on Instagram should be paramount for all real estate agents. She also said that she “spends about 14 hours per week on social media” as it is important for real estate brokers “to be strategic about the time when you publish your pictures”. Additionally, getting followers may not be the ultimate goal of all property agents especially if there is a need for conversion of followers to sales. This is why Maria believes that “you have to pay attention to the methods of getting followers”. Maria also says that “the challenge with Instagram is that you would have to individually search for accounts who follow you back as it is not possible to easily compare between accounts that you follow and those who follow you in return.” On Instagram, the reciprocity of following your followers and interacting with their content as they do with yours goes a long way in increasing your influence and relevance.
The value attached to the hashtags used in the posts made by realtors is evident in our research as Dadisai Roberta of Fine and Country Fourways, made it clear that “the most important feature on Instagram are the hashtags as they allow you to reach a large audience when you use the right hashtags”. Additionally, a top tip on using Instagram “is knowing your market, appealing to them and being consistent in posting”.
Further, “posting at the right time when you will get high engagements from your followers” is a significant factor as highlighted by Christabel Nzubechi Nsude of CNZ Real Estates. It is also interesting to know that according to Christabel, “the most important feature on Instagram is the delete button”. Agents have to be able to delete content, posts and other items that may be counter-productive and go against their values or company goals regardless of the appeal attached to it.
A response from Kwarteng Amaning Junior of Megfel Properties on the use of Instagram for social media marketing in real estate agencies included that a “top tip would be the use of hashtags”. This goes further to signify that property brokers need to pay close attention to the hashtags used in the captions of their pictures as this improves the visibility of the post. Also, a limitation of the platform would be the “inability to download pictures” as there may be a need for other uses of the pictures.
“The most important feature for me on Instagram is that you can share as much information and content as you wish, Instagram gives you total freedom.” This is the opinion of Riccardo Spazian of Spazian Vlad who also stated that “using hashtags is an important feature and you need to know your target audience and create content directed at them.” Riccardo also believes that “Instagram would be more useful if there is an intuitive language translation feature enabling people to communicate in different languages.”
In conclusion, property agents and digital marketing experts have offered many different opinions on the best ways to utilize social media marketing for real estate agents and below is a summary of the main points.
Real estate agents should note that content is presented to a local and select group of users most of which are already within the sphere and customer base of the realtor, this can be based on location, interest or demographics. It is therefore sometimes beneficial to use some paid promotion or advertisements on social media to ensure that your content reaches a wider audience thus creating a new customer base and expanding the community. To this end, Miguel stated that “some kind of investment should be made. People expect that the agents that are selling their houses are visible, and that they too at some point have been confronted with this. In a classical approach, people expect the sale sign to be visible to everyone so in a more modern approach, houses and agents must be visible all over social platforms to justify the selling commissions. In a way I personally feel that some agents are still trying the sale the classical way, thinking that others view that as a sign of stability, while others are being creative in their way to sell the houses.” This is generally because the social media platforms generate most of their income from paid promotions and ads, it is therefore understandable that some premium features and services are reserved for paying customers. Even with paid ads or promoted posts, the content presented must be valuable, relevant and fresh so as to get viewers to engage.
Also, choosing the best platform for your target market is essential, as there will be no benefit to using all the information given in this article on Instagram when your relevant audience and potential real estate clients only use Facebook. Every property broker should conduct research on the most appropriate platform used in their city or country and by their potential clients based on demographics – age, gender, interests and others.
Understanding that the property industry is peculiar especially as clients tend to move on after they have bought their homes, helps property agents to appreciate that likes and followers on social media do not always translate to sales or property requests. It may therefore be counter-productive to buy or focus mainly on likes and followers when using social media for real estate marketing. The aim of social media marketing for real estate agents should be to promote the brand name and image so as to remain at the forefront of the industry when clients need the services of an estate broker for renting, selling or buying properties. It also helps to maintain relationships as clients who choose to rent properties may want to relocate after some time and can be sure that your agency is still in business. This reinforces the need for relevant and consistent content based on the target market using hashtags that promote the visibility of the content within the respective real estate markets. Social media marketing for real estate agents is an important part of any winning marketing plan and should be utilized effectively.