Thanks to the rapid expansion of social media, getting the word out on the Internet about your company or business is easier than ever and is something that you, or someone in your office, can do for free. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+, among others, are all tools you can use without cost right now to interact with new prospects and existing clients as well as to drive those prospects and clients to your Web site.
Indeed, the biggest hurdle when it comes to using social media for marketing purposes is to throw out any preconceptions you may have about “Internet marketing” and how difficult or technical you may have heard the process can be. Instead, embrace social media as an important online tool to add to your marketing toolbox. Believe me, you can do it.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and more (a lot more)
I’ve noticed when I participate in or listen to discussions about social media and social networks, somehow the conversation often turns into a debate about which one is the best. However, rather than pick favorites, as they are all important, here is statistical information to consider when viewing the “big four” of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ before launching a social media marketing campaign just to put into perspective how big this segment of the Internet has become.
Reporting more than 900 million “registered” users and with nearly 400 million actively using the service on a monthly basis, Facebook is the largest social network. Twitter and LinkedIn each report 100 million-plus registered users and only a year after launching, Google+ has exceeded 250 million users. This represents the staggering growth and opportunity available through social media marketing.
As far as tools to help businesses get noticed online, business owners can benefit from using each of the big four as well as by joining smaller “niche” social and business networks that specialize in targeted markets that are likely to need/want business products/services.
Taking from the big four, I would recommend starting with creating a basic Facebook Page. As you may know, Facebook Pages (think “Fan Pages”) have recently changed in light of Facebook’s initial public offering. What you may not know is that setting up one of these pages is actually quite easy and each Fan Page comes with free analytical tools for measuring your business’ Fan Page traffic and user demographics.
After you’ve created your Facebook Page, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ will be easier to set up properly as you’ll be familiar with the registration process. These other platforms also offer statistical information about your account, but for now let’s focus on the elephant in the room, Facebook.
If your Web site is like a high percentage of most mortgage company sites, it’s probably built like a company brochure where visitors can read all about what your business does and the people who run it. While the “brochure” style can work well for informational sites, your Facebook Page should be designed to engage visitors and to establish a connection with them so that they will keep coming back.
One of the advantages of social media is the ability to foster relationships among clients. Therefore, unlike an informational brochure Web site, your Facebook Page needs to be routinely updated with new content to keep it fresh and interesting to your prospects/clients. After all, establishing strong relationships with your users is most likely to lead to repeat business and referrals. The type of content you choose to include on your Facebook Page should be based on the type of mortgage practice in which you specialize. Residential brokers should include links or commentary on relevant news stories or transactions they’ve facilitated.
Along the same lines, commercial brokers should proactively link to major topical CRE stories or comment on industry news. Then, when a follower comments on a post you’ve made, make sure you continue to engage that user by responding or “Liking” their comment, which builds the relationship and potentially opens new doors of business.
The niche elements of sites
Whereas the big four are ideal Internet marketing platforms because they cast a wide net and offer exposure to prospective as well as current clients, there is also value in using these social media to connect with peers directly in your field of work.
Of the big four, LinkedIn is most closely designed to offer professionals the chance to interact with their colleagues in a more intimate and professional manner. By joining LinkedIn “Groups,” users can access a smaller community of peers involved in the same type of business. For example, LinkedIn features numerous commercial and residential real estate groups focused on anything from brokerage and finance to investment and corporate strategy. These are great forums to ask questions or seek advice. As with Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn allows users to comment on and “Like” your posts.
The upside of LinkedIn Groups is that they allow more focused industry discussion. While Facebook and Google+ excel at granting access to a massive pool of prospects, and Twitter allows quick and rapid-fire interaction with potential clients, LinkedIn’s groups are designed both to pair potential clients with businesses and also bring like-minded professionals together.
Social media 101 tips
Because Facebook remains the largest social media site, here are some simple tips to keep in mind when setting-up a Facebook Page for your business, or when adjusting an existing Fan Page for the best possible fit within Facebook’s layout. Following a few basic guidelines will help you to maximize these features and hopefully reach your core audience.
►Appropriate use of graphics/images: Like your company’s Web site and marketing materials, you’re going to want to include graphical elements on your Facebook Page for branding purposes and to engage visitors. The Facebook Page has two main images: The “background” image and the “profile” picture. Use a background image that reinforces your brand. Your profile picture will be used to identify your posts that appear on people’s news feeds and in stories, therefore, it should be your company logo or “something strongly associated with your brand that’s easily recognizable,” according to Facebook.
►You control how your content is presented: Facebook Pages offer several ways to control the way your content is viewed by others. In as little as five minutes each day, you can pin and star posts and milestones, as well as change posting dates to bring your most relevant information to the top of your site.
►Pinned posts stay at the top of your page for up to seven days: These will be the first thing people see (the pinned post is displayed right below your background and profile pictures) when visitors first land on your Facebook Page. Use this to highlight something of importance to visitors or to grab their attention. Just remember that pinned posts only stay “pinned” for seven days, so you’ll want to update with a new one at least once a week.
►Starred posts stand out, too: You can only have one post at “the top” so when you’re posting content you want to stand-out from other day-to-day content, Facebook lets you highlight posts by “starring” them. Starred posts appear wider than “regular” posts so they stand-out by taking-up the whole width of the page. You can revert them back to regular size simply by un-starring them.
►Milestones are important events: Milestones, indicated by a flag icon, is another feature that Facebook Pages provides to highlight a post. Like starred posts, milestones occupy the full width of the page. Events to announce as milestones for brokers include: A branch opening, closing a deal or participating in a meaningful event. As a professional in the mortgage business, you can also talk about new additions to your team; about “the five new lenders you’ve been approved by as of a specific date,” or about an exciting new loan product you started providing, among other things.
►Post dates can be changed: Facebook now let’s you change your post dates at any time so that “you can add relevant content to your timeline for dates in the past,” according to Facebook. Want to post about your experience from an event you attended or a deal you facilitated? Post them in whichever order you prefer then “backdate” each posting to the corresponding date. Everything will appear in the desired order in your timeline.
Though using social media to market your business may seem intimidating, the tools provided by the big four social media networks are designed in many ways to empower businesses. Instead of worrying about the complexity of social media sites, join each one with the goal in mind to grow your business and to establish relationships with your professional colleagues. As I did, you’ll soon find that these sites are relatively user friendly and strong, cost-effective tools for expanding your company’s online marketing presence.
Samson Lov is the founding partner and CTO of Koss REsource, an online information site that allows CRE professionals to access the loan programs of lenders for free, as well as reference a library of landlord-protective legal documents and additional tools that help CRE professionals research service providers, network and generate business. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.