Purchasing a home used to be an isolating experience, but many of today’s homebuyers want to make it a very social event. To help them, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate created an iPhone app called the Home Selection Assistant. Using GPS, it pinpoints the location of all the homes you’re viewing and seamlessly uploads photos you take with the iPhone to your Facebook page to make the home search a shared event with your friends.
“Consumers are buying lifestyle and community over just buying a house – they want their friends’ opinions and they want to share information,” says Sherry Chris, President and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, in a recent conversation with The Realtime Report. She’s also cooking up a deal with Foursquare that should be announced soon.
The Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate network has been deploying social media since day one – in fact even before it launched publicly in July 2008. In addition to Facebook and the iPhone app, it uses Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and Flipboard.
“That’s by design, not by accident,” Chris says. “We wanted to create a value proposition for the next generation of buyers, sellers and agents.”
Its expanding franchise network now includes approximately 7,000 sales associates and 203 offices serving homebuyers and sellers in 21 states. The privately held parent company that Chris runs does most of its social networking in the B2B space, using it for marketing its brand and the sales of new franchises.
Its @BHGRealEstate account on Twitter has about 9,000 followers and several thousand on Facebook, while Chris has another 5,000 on her @sherrychris account and nearly that many on Facebook. Real estate agents and brokers interested in affiliating with Chris have contacted her on both, proving the value of social media to her. “It allows the face of the brand to be communicated out there in a different way,” Chris says.
While anyone at BH&G Real Estate is permitted to post on its blogs and Facebook – within some guidelines, which prohibit photos of agents posing with alcohol or wearing inappropriate clothing – only four people in the marketing and network services teams are allowed to post from its Twitter account. Chris feels it’s better to have several people tweeting to reflect the voice of the entire company. In fact, she advises others against naming someone as the head of social media at their companies, feeling it should be part of several corporate functions.
While the bulk of its social media postings are in the B2B sphere – sharing industry news, articles, and tips for the real estate community or promoting its brand among brokers – it has set up training programs for its franchisees to help them in their B2C efforts. So far every one of its franchisees has set up their own Facebook page and half are using Twitter to engage with consumers, offer buying and selling tips, links, and contests, as well as helping with problems or complaints about the broker’s services.
Lessons learned from three years of social media activity in the real estate industry:
- You have to dedicate time, you can’t put social media on auto pilot. Chris spends nearly two hours a day on social media activity, reading articles that may be of interest to her followers, posting items on Facebook and Twitter, responding to posts, and viewing others people’s social media postings.
- Treat this as a strategic marketing tool. “This needs to be a real campaign, it’s an extended voice of the brand, you cannot be randomly tweeting things that are cute or that people will smile at,” she says.
- Immediacy. People using social media expect a quick response. You cannot hide behind an excuse such as you missed a message. You need to monitor your brand’s social media sites and respond to people’s posts immediately.
- Provide value. Your communication on social media cannot be one big advertisement, you have to share information and provide value in your posts. The last thing a consumer wants to see is a Twitter feed full of new home listings, she says.
The bottom line is there is a bottom line. While social media has been a very minor investment for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate since most of the tools are free, Chris says there has been a definite return on investment.
“You don’t measure your success by the number of followers but the return on the time spent,” she explains. “When we look at our success in bringing in brokerages to be franchisees, we see that we’re doing the right thing. We absolutely are getting that return.”