4 Steps to An Effective Social Media Strategy for Home Builders
Lennar as a Social Media Force
Mitch Levinson on Twitter Language
Q&A with Marnella Homes
Monte Hewett Homes' Perspective
“This is so new to people,” says Internet marketing specialist Mitch Levinson of mRelevance, which works with home builders on their social media strategies. “What is effective? What will work? As far as any formal written guideline, there’s nothing like that yet. Everything is so raw.”
Levinson breaks the approach into four sections for his clients: commit to the program; define your strategy; implement it well; and monitor and tweak your company’s approach over time.
Here’s advice from Levinson and mRelevance’s sister-company Flammer Relations, using Bowen Family Homes as an example. Bowen Family Homes launched its social media campaign in March and manages accounts on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to managing the builder's blog.
Step 1: Commit to the program
Sometimes social media efforts start from executives at the top who want to transition from traditional advertising to Internet marketing and social media. More often than not, however, the plan stems from a marketing department or active salespeople who make the social media pitch to executives, who might be reluctant to have their company dive in. Once Levinson’s executive clients have a better understanding of the significance of building the right network, communicating the right way and using the right forums, they are more receptive, he says.
Mike Rieman, senior account manager with Flammer Relations says Bowen Family Homes is an example of a company that has committed to a solid social media strategy. The move was a bottom-up initiative of sorts. Bowen’s marketing director, Kelly Fink, pitched the social media program.
“With the way the economy is, you have to find another way to connect with people. Kelly saw the opportunities were there,” Rieman says. “It’s a great way to stay in contact with their homeowners.”
Step 2: Establish goals and a strategy
A key step to employing social media tactics is to define what the goals are. Ultimately, Levinson says, the goal is sales and contracts, which occurs through word-of-mouth and branding. You’ll need to figure out which social media outlets to use and be prepared to cross-promote them by linking to content. The content that you post shouldn’t be decided on the fly; have a strategy in place that is connected with your marketing program and tied directly to your sales team, says Levinson.
Finally, decide who will be responsible for social networking and on what sites. The entire Bowen team, says Levinson, is active with the company’s social media efforts. Yet the messages remain consistent, in large part because of Fink’s lead role. “The overarching message comes from Kelly,” Rieman says. “She’s connected with her folks at the different communities, so she can relay home availability or upcoming sales at existing locations or other tips from the people on the ground.”
Adds Levinson: “Some builders keep the social media outreach confined to their marketing team. But what about your sales team? Don’t be afraid to have your entire team participate.”
Step 3: Execute the strategy
You know what you want to accomplish, and you’ve figured out which social media networks you’ll use. The content you create is an extension of your brand, so it’s critical to have a detailed plan in place to make sure your company understands who deploys messages, stays on message, promotes itself well on several channels and can interact with audiences cohesively.
To connect with homeowners, Bowen created contests, for example, that get homeowners interacting with the company online, and the company uses incentives to boost participation. One of the first was a “Staycation Facebook Contest” that asked homeowners to take pictures of and speak to the amenities in their Bowen home. The incentive? The best one would win an iPhone.
Although the Bowen team’s goal was to connect with homeowners, the company decided to reach out to Realtors, too, in hopes of inspiring a word-of-mouth, grassroots campaign. So Bowen launched a Realtor-based program that asked Realtors on Facebook to become fans. The bait: the first 200 Realtors to connect to them would receive a $10 Starbucks card. “They got 200 Realtors to sign up within five days,” Rieman says. “We were blown away how quickly that happened. ... Obviously the bottom line is to get people through the door, but you also have to get the Realtors to show these homes first.”
The contests are cross-promoted on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Adds Rieman: “The end result is that it all comes full circle — the blog links to the Facebook page, where it will link you to the Twitter page and vice versa.”
Step 4: Measure success
Social media might be free in terms of access to the platforms, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend money on outside help to gain the expertise you need to get your company started on the right foot.
Programs today allow account owners to track the number of site visits and click-throughs; who’s coming; from where; and more. MRelevance gauges success by tracking the social media account analytically, especially with on-site traffic reports. Levison establishes a benchmark for traffic and metrics in the beginning. Sometimes that goal is based on a specific traffic number, but Levison admits measuring success is difficult: “We know the search results, and we know what people are viewing. I wish I could say, for example, they sold 30 houses just based off of Facebook.”
Judging success by the number of followers, friends or fans isn’t entirely accurate either. Adds Rieman: “It’s quality over quantity. You can have 3,000 Facebook fans, but that doesn’t mean anything if you can’t convert that to sales.” Instead, focus on building the brand and interacting with your audience.
Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Lennar spokeswoman Kay Howard, the voice and name across many Lennar Facebook page postings, declined to be interviewed for this article, saying she’d let the company’s social media actions “speak for themselves.”
Although the home builder is mum on strategy, the Miami-based home builder is a powerful force by example. Tony Marnella, owner of Marnella Homes, who operates under @MarnellaHomes on Twitter and runs a Wordpress blog takes his cues from Lennar’s social media outreach.
“Of any building company, they have attacked this brilliantly,” Marnella says, specifically noting the company’s contests that continuously run. “The contest format that they have launched is great for creating that sense of community. That is really the reason we are in the social media game.”
Mitch Levison of mRelevance. “An e-mail needs to be well-written; a text message is something else; a 140-character Twitter message is another thing. Some of those acronyms that are used to shorten sentences are appropriate … but avoid jargon that would be more akin to a 14 year-old.”
A: To try and connect in a fashion not available through traditional means. I had read about many companies that are using social media to try and connect on a more personal level, and I felt that it was something that could fit into our goals. Buying a home is a very emotional process, so this seemed to us as something that could help to make the connection between home buyer and builder more personable. Many have a negative image of builders, and I think this is a way of communicating in a different way to break down this stereotype.
Q: When and how did the push for social media start at Marnella?
A: I started blogging in March of ’08 on our Web site and started with Facebook and Twitter in March of this year. I’m handling the information that is posted on all of our sites. I have help from two marketing firms in the logistics and creative, but the actual content of the postings to Facebook, our blog, Twitter, Zillow, Active Rain, Trulia, etc. is done by me.
Q: What is the posting strategy for Facebook vs. Twitter?
A: Facebook is our community format. Twitter is our constant communication about what we are doing and news that we think will benefit our community. The blog is more my opportunity to speak about certain issues. The company Web site is more facts about the company.
Q: Any advice for home builders who currently have things in place for social media?
A: I think it is a great way to break down the stereotype many people have of us. Also, your competitors are doing it or are going, too, so, start experimenting with it now because when you realize that you need to start doing it, the rest of us will be long past our learning curve.
Q: Have you dealt with negative comments or rumors?
A: I have had the naysayers send messages to me in response to my blogging, and I just respond in a respectful manor and don’t get caught up in their game. They want you to go off, and you can’t. When you don’t, they eventually go after someone else because there is no entertainment in it for them.
Monte Hewett Homes’ blog, Twitter account and Facebook page. Monte Hewett has had a Facebook account since late summer 2008 and a Twitter account since January 2008. The blog has been active since 2007.
Her main goal: “My main goal is Net Weaving. I have to make sure all three of those vehicles (blog, Twitter, Facebook) are passing information back and forth to one another. ... However I’m not a fan of having my Twitter updating my Facebook page automatically and vice versa. It just makes sure I make it a priority to spend time on both of them. The bottom line is brand awareness and making yourself available.”
What's critical to social media success:"Honestly? That it doesn't stop at 5 (p.m.). I'm not happy about it, but if I didn't [continue it past 5], we'd be far behind."
The ROI: "It doesn't cost us anything but time, but builders who don't have the time or resources to put into it could outsource a small portion of it."
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