Mathias Bergendahl's Marketing Blog

Realtor® Case Studies: Five Cautionary Tales about Social Media

If you’ve followed my blog articles you’ve probably come across my suggestions to separate your personal and professional use of social media platforms: I recommend setting up one profile for each at Facebook. In fact, an industry colleague suggested that Realtors® should have three profiles: one for personal use, one for consumers, and one where they connect with peers. Why? Because the way we communicate with each group is very different.

In today’s blog article I thought I’d share five stories that highlight the sometimes dangerous waters we travel when posting messages onto platforms without knowing who may read them. The suggestions below pertain specifically to what you may post at a business-oriented profile open to the public, not your personal Facebook profile, which I recommend you have closed to the general public, and content you may share at your blog and any other platform.

1. “I have a listing appointment today!”

It’s a natural thing to do. When we have a successful day we want to share it with those closest to us. Upon setting an appointment, a few years ago an agent would possibly walk over to the broker to share the great news, send a text message to their significant other, send an email to friends, or maybe discuss it with family over dinner. These days, we have Facebook and Twitter through which we share our news. And, the messages we share must be chosen very carefully as not everyone may perceive the news as good.

Following a class I taught on social media marketing a member approached me and told a story that had happened to her a few months ago. Eager to build up a large group of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, she had invited everyone she knew to visit her at her respective platforms. One day she posted the message “I have a listing appointment today!” Most of the responses were positive, except one. A seller whose home she had represented for close to a year wasn’t as excited about the news. A stern comment was posted underneath her Facebook update: “Shouldn’t you focus on selling the homes you currently have listed before you try to list new homes?”

Be mindful when you post messages at Facebook and Twitter as everything you say will be scrutinized. Consider who might read your messages and make sure you don’t risk alienating or even offending someone who’s connected with you online.

2. Transparency Test: Would You Be Comfortable with Your Comments Posted at the Front Page of the St. Petersburg Times?

One day last year I was in the process of posting a link to one of my blog articles at the NAR group at when I discovered a note that easily could have landed the contributing writer in serious legal trouble. A broker had posted a two-sentence headline to share this frustration and anger with a national bank. The first sentence mentioned the name of the bank. The second sentence included the word boycott. Another member of the NAR group chimed in with an agreeing statement “yes, we should definitely boycott [name of the bank went here].”

The laws we abide by, including but not limited to anti-trust and fair housing laws, apply online as much as they do offline, and it’s absolutely essential to screen any messages you distribute to make sure they aren’t against the law.

3. “Congratulations: All Your Cows are in the Barn”

The message is made up but the meaning was about the same as one posted on the Facebook wall of a member. He was a frequent participant in the popular Facebook game FarmVille and didn’t think much about the various activities he would engage in. He shared that he’s mainly engaged with bank-owned and short sales transactions and spends considerable time on the phone waiting to connect with loss mitigation departments, and that his Farmville activities often took place while waiting on hold. The perception among those following his Facebook updates was quite different. One day he emails a prospective client to follow up on a listing presentation he’d given just a week earlier. Asking whether they could meet again, he received the following response:

“I’ve been following what you do on Facebook and I don’t think you’re the Realtor® for me. I want to be represented by someone who will spend their time marketing my home. All I see you do all day long is FarmVille!”

4. “I don’t feel like working today!”

Picture the following scenario:

A Realtor® is representing a home that’s been for sale for several months and the seller is wondering what’s being done to sell his home. Specifically, he’s wondering what his Realtor® is doing to actively market and sell the home on a daily basis. He’s connected to his Realtor® through Facebook and one day comes across the message “I don’t feel like working today!” posted by his agent.

That was the case for a Realtor® who recently shared with me how such a seemingly benign message threatened her previously strong relationship with her client. In response to the update the agent received an email from her client telling her how offended she was by the message broadcast through Facebook.

Clients expect to be represented by someone who will work tirelessly on their behalf, not someone who “doesn’t feel like working today.” To be sure, there may be days where we’d rather hit the links or read a book at the beach, but why post updates on Facebook about it? This particular case clearly shows that sharing content that may be perceived as negative should be avoided to avoid affecting client relationships in a negative way.

5. Keeping Networking with Peers Separate from Consumers

Not long ago I read an article on a popular online real estate blog network that essentially chastised home sellers for not being realistic and “tone-deaf to the advice of an experienced Realtor®.” It seems the agent was upset because of a recent discussion he had had with a seller who refused to lower his price. The article had both a condescending and accusatory tone, and it was directed to peers with a number of suggestions on how to work with “impossible” clients.

Problem is that blogs are public and available for consumers to see. A search on his name in a major search engine led straight to his blog where the article was prominently featured.

As you probably know from my previous blog posts I view social media as an excellent way to reach out to consumers. I simply wanted to share these practical case studies to show how the use of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms may potentially damage a reputation.

If you found Realtor® Case Studies: Five Cautionary Tales about Social Media helpful, you may find How to Damage Your Reputation in Eight Easy Steps an interesting read as well.

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My Prediction for 2010: A Changed Approach to Social Media

Call it a forecast, or maybe even wishful thinking, but my prediction for 2010 is that we’ll see a changed approach on how we engage on social media platforms. In 2010, I believe social media will further transform into a vital part of a strategic marketing mix rather than the often casual yet very frequent posting of Facebook updates and Tweets.

2009 marked a tremendous growth for the most popular social media platforms. The number of Facebook subscribers grew to numbers equaling the population of some of the largest nations in the world. The word follower took on a new meaning as Twitter became virtually a must-have communications tool for many. During the year we noticed the absolutely incredible impact of YouTube. Consider how Susan Boyle reached stardom across the globe in spite of the fact that the television show she appeared on was broadcast only in the UK. United Airlines learned the hard way how YouTube can turn into a powerful place to air complaints – a music video called United Breaks Guitars was living proof of that. When Facebook announced upcoming changes to its network subscribers were quick to respond – so powerfully that in end the company had to reverse their plans. As soon as we had purchased a product or used a service we’d go online to announce to everyone whether we liked it or not – and consumer testimonials far outweighed how much we would listen to editorial reviews. Consider this: would you go to see a movie if the newspaper’s review was glowing yet all your Facebook friends told you how bad it was? In 2009, our curiosity and excitement took over and we eagerly monitored Tweets from our friends, shared farm animals and equipment with each other (some even went home from work to harvest a crop of corn or let the cows out), and many didn’t even mind sharing the color of a particular undergarment.

However, during the year I also received many emails from brokers and Realtors® who ecstatically told stories about how they had reestablished lost connections with past clients through their blog. Others shared how they had received leads, later turned into clients, through LinkedIn and Facebook.

Here is my forecast of what 2010 will bring:

1. A Growing Perception of “It Doesn’t Work”

My prediction is that many who engaged on social media platforms in 2009 will make the decision to abandon their efforts this year. Rather than assessing what might have been the cause for their lack of results, many may simply say “I tried it for more than a year, and I got nothing out of it.”

In a way it’s understandable. Social media marketing isn’t a sprint but rather a marathon, and it’s easy to get discouraged when ongoing efforts aren’t immediately returning measurable results. Sure, there can be instant successes, but most likely they will come over time. Rather than give up I hope those who may question whether to continue or not will read articles on how to best use social media as part of a marketing plan, take classes, and look at what those who are successful are doing before they turn off their accounts. More importantly, I hope they will assess how their messages come across and the value they provide. They should first analyze whether they’re effectively working to build their networks and consider asking others for advice.

2. A Move From Do-It-Yourself to Hiring Professional Help

I believe business owners and managers will recognize that to use social media platforms effectively they will need the assistance of a marketing professional. Many will probably find that it isn’t easy to consistently come up with creative content of value to their readers, and many more will probably realize that writing isn’t their strength or passion.

Most will recognize that they should focus their efforts on what they do best and seek help for those things they may not have the desire to do themselves.  Just as companies hire an agency to assist with the creation of ads and flyers, an increasing number of business owners will hire someone to write blog posts and manage their online presence of website and social media networks as part of a strategic marketing plan.

3. From Message-Focused Activities to a Strategic Approach

As Realtors® and other professionals joined Facebook the overwhelming majority seemed to focus their efforts on writing short messages rather than substantial content with valuable information to those they are connected with. I overheard many who shared their approach as “I must post something new on my Facebook wall every day to get attention,” which in my opinion equated to little more than spam messages. For 2010 I predict, and certainly hope, the majority of professionals will focus on quality over quantity.

In the social media marketing program I teach I share my conviction that every Tweet should include a link. In my opinion it’s simply not possible to provide valuable information in a message limited to 140 characters. That’s one of the primary reasons I suggest integrating your networks and syndicating messages from your blog to other platforms.

4. The Return of the Inner Monologue

Mid-way through 2009 our webmaster quipped “we have lost our inner monologue!” I found his description a great way to describe how the most mundane things happening in our daily lives all of a sudden became important to share.

Consider the following scenario. Your car is covered with frost from last night’s freeze and as you try to open your car door you realize it’s frozen. The first order of business used to be to fill a bag with warm water and hold it against the lock. These days, though, many reach for their Blackberry to announce to all their followers “I can’t open my car door.” My prediction for 2010 is that we’ll consider such messages as boring as all those forwarded jokes we used to delete at the dawn of email use now almost fifteen years ago.

5. Less is More: Concentration of Efforts

I believe that in 2010 we’ll be more mindful of where we put our efforts. Rather than being on eight social media networks many will pick a few on which they’ll focus their efforts. I believe we’ll start seeing more solutions that will enable us to work more effectively – here is an article I wrote last year about syndication of messages.

6. From Social to Sociable

Over the course of last year I became increasingly eager to remove the word social from social media. As I monitored the use of Facebook and Twitter it often struck me how very personal matters would be discussed. Personal messages would be posted on someone’s Facebook wall rather than sent through a more private email or text message – available for the world to see. Unfortunately, stories about how many lost their jobs and others their credibility were plentiful. My prediction is that once we’ve gotten over the first wave of being introduced to social media networks we’ll start seeing a more mindful and careful approach without giving up being sociable. There’s a huge difference.

While blogs and Facebook have been used for a few years, 2009 was the year when social media became a mainstream concept and something virtually every business professional recognized they should engage in. 2010, I predict we’ll see an overwhelming change in how we connect, and the content we share.

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