The social media phenomenon has certainly produced its share of dizzying statistics. There’s the one that notes that if Facebook were a sovereign nation, its 500 million users would make it the third-largest country in the world. There’s the fact that one business executive sets up a new LinkedIn account every second. And how about the two billion times that people log in to watch YouTube videos every day? Given these astronomical levels of popularity, it’s only natural that mortgage professionals would be interested in ways to leverage social media in their marketing. They understand that tapping into the popularity of user-generated content can help them establish and maintain relationships with current and potential customers. So they get on LinkedIn, set up a Facebook page, and maybe even Tweet a few times on Twitter. The question is … what happens next? That depends on you. Anyone can set up an account, but to utilize social media effectively, you need to grasp the ways that it is changing marketing right before our eyes. It’s a fundamental shift from the way mortgage marketing was done even as recently as five years ago. A new way of marketing Mortgage professionals traditionally have directed their marketing efforts to two audiences: Consumers and real estate professionals. This marketing is designed to build awareness of who you are and what you offer so that when consumers are ready for a mortgage, your name comes to mind. A range of advertising, marketing and public relations messages are used to reach both groups. Traditional media allows you to reach a mass audience with your message, but it also is limited because it is strictly one-way messaging. And any mass media message, no matter how targeted, will end up going to a large number of consumers who are either not ready or not interested in receiving it. In contrast, social media enables lets you engage in two-way conversations with consumers who are already interested in the mortgage products and customer service that you offer. Posting information on Facebook, a personal blog, or on YouTube allows you to position yourself as a friendly, knowledgeable expert who can provide valuable information to interested consumers. It also invites those consumers into a conversation where they can ask you questions, contribute ideas or testimonials, offer praise or criticism, and share the information with their friends. How important is that? Consider that a recent survey found that 78 percent of consumers trust the peer recommendations they see on social media sites. That’s more than five times as many as those who say they trust what they see in an advertisement. As the numbers cited at the beginning of this article reflect, consumers are turning to social media with more and more frequency. Internet users who participated in another recent study said that on average, they are logging into social networking sites twice every day. (Parents of teenagers and young adults will doubtless find that number laughably low.) The bottom line is social networking is a convenient and cost-effective way to get people interested in you, talking about what you do, and spreading the word to others. Target your message You might choose to start by writing regular blog or Facebook updates that include tips for consumers or post a series of educational videos on YouTube. These videos could spotlight industry trends like changing credit score requirements, loan guidelines and documentation requirements. Address common customer questions like what can affect their credit report, where interest rates are heading or when is the right time to refinance. You also can offer people a glimpse into a slice of your day, such as when a question came up about an appraisal, or how you responded to a potentially deal-breaking situation in a way that made everyone a winner. Don’t be afraid to be specific—it shows the public that you’re in the know (of course, while being mindful of the confidentiality of your customers). Consumers who read these messages or view the videos can then follow up with you with their own particular questions. They’ll start to view you as a trusted authority they can turn to with confidence. Another benefit of social media is that it allows you to categorize your postings for greater relevance. For example, YouTube allows you to tag your videos so that viewers can easily search for what they’re looking for. That means you can target potential customers by location as well as subject matter, attracting those consumers who are most likely to do business with you. Facebook also lets you build relationships with potential customers and increase brand recognition or sales through targeted advertising. On Facebook, you can segment your audience in any number of ways: By age, gender, location, language, hobbies and interests, and more. Having so many options allows you to test your target list along with the advertising offer and the creativity of the image and text. As with YouTube, you can set the ads’ parameters so that it specifically targets consumers and real estate agents living in your city or region. Facebook offers two payment options to advertisers: Cost per click and cost per thousand impressions. If you are interested in simply raising brand awareness, then cost per thousand impressions will be a better value. If the purpose of your ad is strictly to generate direct responses and drive immediate business, then cost per click is the best option. When clicked, the hyperlinked ad can direct a consumer to a Facebook page or to a website landing page. Nurture relationships Speaking of company Web sites, yours should engage consumers and encourage them to make use of your services. As with other vehicles like Facebook and blogs, this means inviting them into a conversation where they can ask questions and get answers on mortgage-related topics. Continue to nurture relationships by asking past customers, particularly repeat customers and those who have provided referrals, to write a brief testimonial about the high quality of service they received from you. Give testimonials a prominent place on your website, include a “Reviews” tab on your Facebook page, and ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn. Constantly be looking for ways to connect with other professionals and establish profitable partnerships. There are many options for staying proactive, like sending a Tweet congratulating a real estate broker on a recently closed deal or linking to an agent’s new YouTube posting. Ask them to do the same for you. While you always want to be professional in your presentation and in the quality of information you provide, remember that these new media represent a seismic shift in our approach to marketing. Steer clear of hard sells, industry jargon and business-speak. Instead, use a more relaxed tone that focuses on honest answers to real questions. Let consumers know you are ready and willing to help. They are more likely to take you up on that offer if they’re not leery of getting an aggressive sales pitch when they contact you. Experienced public relations and marketing professionals can help you with all of these efforts. They understand social media vehicles and know cost effective ways to maximize your investment for the greatest impact. They also can help you develop a strategy that uses social media to complement your traditional advertising and public relations campaigns. Social media will never be your one and only marketing vehicle—it was never intended to be used that way. But it can be an important part of a successful overall strategy to build and foster relationships with your customers—past, present, and future. John Seroka is vice president of Seroka, a full-service branding, advertising, marketing and public relations firm. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected], call (866) 379-0400, online at linkedin.com/in/johnseroka, twitter.com/johnseroka, or on Facebook.