Will posting Facebook photos of Lowcountry sunsets and tweeting local events and real estate tips make people more likely to do business with you -- and purchase a house?
Social media consultants and tech-savvy realtors say yes.
Social networking is hot in many industries, including real estate, and proponents believe Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites are more than just fads.
"Social media is rapidly becoming an important part of how buyers and sellers find realtors and vice versa. It has the potential to ultimately overshadow the dot-com world," said Bob Clarkson, owner and broker-in-charge of Alliance Group Realty on Hilton Head Island.
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A study released in June by the national marketing group Flurry supports his observations. It reports that consumers now spend more time using mobile applications than on the Internet through their computers. The study showed a sample of consumers spent 81 minutes a day using mobile apps and 74 minutes on the web. Social media is popular partly because it's uniquely suited to consumers on the go.
These online platforms help realtors cultivate feedback and build loyalty and goodwill. Highly targeted social media help companies find potential customers, group them into an audience and make communication with them easy. Many industry experts compare social media sites to a virtual cocktail party. Business-only sites such as LinkedIn are compared to a professional networking event.
But beware: Pushing your business too much through social media makes others flee.
"You can't just post and post. You have to engage people in a conversation," said Brad Hanks, a national consultant who recently presented a seminar about social media at the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors.
Studies show more than half of Facebook's 750 million users visit the site every day.
Realtor Kathy Gravelle-Bolton of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island says her Facebook strategy is to post mostly personal comments, interspersed with real estate information.
"I sprinkle in videos and photos of new listings and let people know when I think a property is a good value. I remind them from time to time without overwhelming them that I'm active in the real estate business," she said.
Although opinions differ about mixing business with personal information in social media, Jeff Peters, president of Hilton Head marketing company Pertnear, agrees with Gravelle-Bolton's approach. He said realtors can't only post or Tweet their new listings, announce their open houses and then log off.
"People do business with those they like and trust," he said. "You have to build on common interests, and maybe, eventually, they'll become a client."
Cherimie Crane, a Realtor in Beaufort, has a separate Facebook business page that she checks every morning.
"Even if I don't have any posts to add for that day, I still log on and monitor traffic, any new comments and any notifications. I also update photos of listings to correspond with the season," she said.
Someone viewing a Facebook page "feels a sense of transparency, in contrast to a website, which is controlled and edited for a one-way conversation," Crane said.
The primary use of LinkedIn is to create a business referral network.
You can find others who share your professional interests in the "groups" section.
Asking past clients and others to endorse you (write a recommendation) on LinkedIn also is valuable, Hanks said.
The "answers" section lets users present themselves as experts by answering industry-specific questions submitted by other network members.
Because creating a LinkedIn profile is time-consuming and members of the network receive status updates each time you make changes to your profile, social media experts recommend filling out the profile section a little at a time.
Equivalent to sending a mass text message to a large group of friends, Twitter is popular because of its brevity and ability to let users follow breaking news.
"I use it to stay up to date on the local and national real estate market," said realtor Elizabeth Haubrich of Weichert Realty-Coastal Properties.
Used properly, Twitter can multiply real estate marketing efforts. Haubrich gained many new followers when one of her posts was retweeted by Trulia.com. Social media experts suggest building your network first with local people, such as business owners and community leaders.
TIME IS MONEY
Though posting on social media platforms is free, updating these sites regularly is time-consuming. With practice, most people can learn to efficiently upload photos, post updates, send out Tweets and navigate the sites.
But it's often difficult to come up with something creative and interesting to say. Some professionals, including realtors, hire marketing companies to manage their social media presence. Not everyone approves.
"It's like hiring someone to be you for a day," Crane said.