Social media: A new pillar of the mortgage business
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Social media: A new pillar of the mortgage business

July 6, 2010

Among leaders in the mortgage industry, social media are quickly becoming an integral part of almost every aspect of operations. The change is happening for a number of reasons, including:
1. Social media are ideal for B2C (business to consumer) applications
Much of the growth of social media is driven by the mass market, making it a perfect place to address the general mortgage shopper. The best companies to watch in this space are the big automakers, all of which have strong teams of social media practitioners, many of whom are leading the way in best practices.
2. Social media are conversational
Salespeople "get" social media intuitively, recognizing that they are simply a new channel for communications, enabling them to reach out to more people than ever before, more quickly than ever before. Feedback is often instantaneous, allowing them to hone their pitch quickly.
3. Social media let organizations send their message to supporters
In what is increasingly being called "brand journalism," social media allow organizations to craft their own messages. In the past, organizations had to get lucky to get media coverage. Today, information is a free market, and as a result, the mortgage industry is able to communicate directly with consumers. When you consider that thousands of people in our communities each day are making the most important decisions of their lives, you'll agree it's pretty important information that traditional media haven't done a great job of explaining to the consumer.
4. Social media allow originators to react faster
Search tools make it possible to monitor conversations in real-time so issues can be addressed quickly and effectively and trends discovered and understood.
5. Social media are measurable
Hits, visits, comments—everything in social media can be automatically tracked, meaning information can be studied and can become the basis for productive experimentation.
6. Social media is at work for you 24/7 and tap the power of trusted networks
When you gain supporters to your cause, they'll be selling for you all the time, not just when you're physically at work. And sales via trusted connections—what we once might have called "word of mouth”—are the most effective kind there is.
7. Social media are how recruiting is done today
If you want to stay connected with the best and the brightest in the business as you hunt for, say, branch partners, you have to find them online and engage them in conversation through social media.
8. Social media allow remote teams to work together more effectively
With teams of brokers, partners and loan officers across the country, a company can use intranets to build cohesion, share best practices and celebrate wins.
There are many more reasons that social media are quickly becoming a pillar of the mortgage industry, but the biggest difference in comparing social media with traditional forms of communication such as telephones, advertising and direct mail is simply the speed and the scope with which they take place.
So, how are organizations adapting? The best advice is to approach it as you would any other management problem:
►What are your goals?
►What's the right strategy to achieve them?
►What are the right tactics to carry out those strategies?
►How do you know if you're making any progress?
Social media generally work at a tactical level, supporting larger communications strategies. For instance, a mortgage company looking to achieve its goal of higher revenue may as a strategy target upwardly mobile families. A variety of tactics could support this goal—family-friendly events, articles in the local newspaper, sponsorship of school activities. Or, the organization may target families who are online in social networks talking about life decisions. The key is matching tactics to strategies, which requires deep research and careful consideration at each phase. Who are your target audiences, for instance? Do you thoroughly understand the ways they consume information? Can you successfully become part of their conversations?
As tactics, though, social media are clearly great new tools for the mortgage industry. And like any new tool, they require new skills—and lots of practice. After all, content creation for instance is a new competency for organizations whose work has been primarily business transactions.
Some fear that social media will consume large amounts of time, for example. What's becoming clear in the field, though, is that the new communications channels must be approached much as you have the existing ones: by budgeting time and energy. Social media are a lot of work, but they're really not optional, any more than getting out and meeting people is optional. This is where today's customer is. Facebook is nearing half a billion users, half of whom log in on a given day and who spend an average of 55 minutes each on the site. It's not a question of "if" any longer.
"ROI" or “return on investment” is another term that frequently crops up when considering social media. Yet, no one asks what the return on investment of his or her telephone is, it's simply a communications tool one uses to reach particular audiences. Once upon a time, the telephone was a new invention that was called a toy with no useful application.
So, what are some of the ways the mortgage industry can apply these new tools? You're bounded only by your creativity, ultimately. For instance:
►You can use LinkedIn for professional networking, prospecting, recruiting and education.
►You can create a Facebook fan page to keep fans updated on educational news, such as homebuyer tax credits or to run special offers. You can share photos of special events that followers will then share with each other, extending your reach.
►You can use Twitter accounts for shorter, more conversational material and to alert followers to news.
►Videos—both at YouTube and in many other locations—are soaring in popularity, and we see many clients successfully using them. YouTube is now the world's number two search engine.
►A blog can be regularly stocked with new information for both consumers and mortgage professionals, and a blog's content is easily repurposed for other uses.
►You can use the search function of most social media networks (e.g., http://search.twitter.com) to watch how conversations take place before you leap in.
►In addition to work on search engine optimization (SEO), you can also practice "SMO," or "social media optimization," which means that social elements (such as a "Bookmark & Share" button or the "Like" button on Facebook) are incorporated into all of your company's efforts.
The final piece of the puzzle is measurement. Fortunately, social media are more quantifiable than anything we've seen before in marketing terms. Today, we can track which social networks drew visitors, how long they stayed, whom they recommended the information to and a myriad of other data that can help create a fuller picture of your customers.
Measurement also enables new means of integrating traditional and new media. For example, Frost Mortgage Lending Group's ad in National Mortgage Professional Magazine includes a link to a landing page, http://frostmortgage.com/nmp, that is personalized to the magazine's readers. This enables the company to see exactly what traffic the ad is driving, and adds to the effectiveness of the landing page in "converting" viewers. Visitors will also find links to the company's various social outlets.
From my vantage point as a social media and communications practitioner, I can vouch for the fact that mortgage companies practicing social media are securely on the cutting edge. I recently had the opportunity to speak as part of a panel at the Crittenden National Conference, which gave me a chance to meet a number of leaders in the mortgage and real estate industries and see the current state of the art. The interest level in social business (a broader term than "social media" that includes such things as “social customer relationship management,” or “SCRM”) is enormous, and a very few companies have quickly seized the high ground in these areas. There is still tremendous opportunity.
The best advice ultimately is the simplest … just get started and don't get left behind!
William C. Reichard, MBA, president of Albuquerque, N.M.-based CrossCut Communications LLC, helps develop, implement and manage social business strategy for industry leaders, such as Frost Mortgage Lending Group. Reichard has a broad background in social media, strategic communications and marketing, public relations, development, fundraising and business management and has become a sought-after speaker and adviser on the field of social media and business. He writes a blog on social media, public relations, marketing and technology. He may be reached by phone at (505) 796-8184, e-mail info@CrossCutCommunications.com or visit http://CrossCutCommunications.com.

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