Is Your Business Ready To Get Social?

Commercial real estate and social media do mix: Here's how to start.

Written by Carol Weinrich Helsel, principal of Pastiche Communications.

Commercial real estate professionals are the first to tell you they've been slow to embrace social media as a marketing strategy. Putting yourself out there can be intimidating, but your competitors may already be in the space. “For brokers age 35 to 55, social media commerce will have the greatest impact on our business success,” says Carrie Bobb, founder and CEO of Carrie Bobb & Co. in San Diego. The fact that commercial brokers are late to the social sphere means you can still be among the first in your market to build a strong social presence. Before you jump in, though, learn from pioneers leading the way.

Learn As You Go

The pandemic drew many commercial brokers to social media. “I had time and wanted to be a part of social, but I didn’t want to look silly doing it,” says Cory Zelnik, founder and CEO of Zelnik & Co. in New York City.

This is a common fear, especially among established brokers. “It’s OK if [a social media post] isn’t perfect right out of the gate,” says Jeanne Heller, director of marketing for The Feil Organization, North Riverside Park Mall, in Chicagoland. “We all fumble through it at first.”

After Zelnik saw some friends (and competitors) in the space, he strategized with his marketing specialist and started posting on several platforms. “We got the most traction on Instagram and LinkedIn, so that’s where we focus,” he says. “At the beginning, I had about 50 followers—mostly friends. Now it’s 900 on my personal account and north of 2,000 on our company account.”

Jayson Siano, founder and CEO of Sabre Real Estate Advisors in New York City, believes commercial pros should be using social media no matter their age. He started vlogging, or video blogging, heavily in 2016. “In the beginning, people in the industry made fun of me.” Using the camera like a fly on the wall, Siano let people see what his team did day-to-day. “I used it to grow Sabre from a regional to a national business,” he says. “In 2016, we did deals in three states. In 2021, we did deals in 42 states.”

Choose a Platform

Social media can help you establish and build your brand, differentiate yourself, and engage with your target audience to generate interest in a property or project. Popular platforms include LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook. Each offers a different value. Siano’s experience is that very senior people pay attention to Instagram, while younger ones are on TikTok.

Heller encourages brokers to be wherever their audience is. “Instagram is where many brokers live, but it varies by region and sector.”

LinkedIn is regaining popularity, notes Sabrina Bier, director of digital media and education for Proper Title in Chicago. “It was a ‘set it and forget it’ platform, but as other social platforms got more personal with posts about family and food, people wanted a place to get and give business information.”

Social media helped Melanie Haynes gain credibility as a new broker. “I’m competing with many brokers who have longstanding relationships, but I’m doing something different to stand out,” says Haynes, a director with Cushman & Wakefield in Carlsbad, Calif. “There’s something to be said for walking into a room and someone saying they saw your post.”

Market size is a factor for Chris Bornhoft, CCIM, founder of Bornhoft Real Estate in Spokane, Wash. “Spokane is a small city. If I let my network know and they let their network know, the word is out.” Bornhoft relies primarily on LinkedIn for business. “I believe in telling people what we’re doing. People are smart; they know what to do with the information.”

If you're worried about the time you'd need to create content, an off-the-cuff approach helps. Consider these tips to generate posts quickly but still stick to a strategy:

  • Bier: Don’t overthink content.
  • Bobb: Train your brain to create content on the go.
  • Haynes: Don’t get hung up on one post. “The algorithm is unpredictable; you never know what will hit.”
  • Siano: Don’t target too wide an audience. “Create unique content for a specific person or company and focus on getting their eyeballs on it.”

Tips for a Social Strategy

Your social strategy should be unique, but consider these best practices from the field:

  • Be authentic and talk directly to your audience.
  • Maintain a balance between personal and business, and don’t make it all about you.
  • Post regularly using themes, such as “Fun Fridays,” and adhere to your brand.
  • Use video but don’t feel pressured to create sophisticated production.
  • Engage with followers—and on others’ posts.
  • Focus on meaningful metrics to evaluate impact.

Aim for the "Kardashian Effect"

Regardless of the platform, the most successful posts tell a story. People don’t want to see posts about sold properties, says Bobb. “That’s boring and makes you look out of touch.” Instead, concentrate on building relationships through awareness and engagement.

Siano calls it the “Kardashian effect.” “I use video to help them get to know, like, and trust me,” he says.

Posting thought leadership and helpful resources also engages people. “Educational posts work best for us,” says Heller. “We give ideas for how to solve a problem, like [finding] financing sources.”

But often it's human interest that sparks interest. Bornhoft had high engagement from a video of a fallen tree. “There was real-time excitement to this post,” he says. “No selling, just ‘Hey, that great project you’ve been following? Well, a tree just fell on it.’”

Heller suggests taking a cue from residential counterparts. “They know how to highlight a noteworthy property feature, like an inside look at an amazing pantry.”

Sharing personal interests is crucial to any social strategy. Kyle Inserra, associate director with Sabre Real Estate Advisors in New York City, got a listing from a restaurant owner he connected with over a mutual love of French bulldogs. “A year later, he asked me to sell his business.”

You need to be authentic to build trust, Inserra says. “That’s how you get traction and leads.” Authenticity can come at a price, though. “You’re not going to be a fit for every client,” says Haynes, “but you’ll attract more customers that are drawn to you.”

Authenticity is also important because you may eventually meet your followers in person. Brokers who outsource their social media management stress the need to be involved. “When you meet followers face to face, they feel they know you,” says Heller. “If you’re starkly different than your online brand, it’s as if you lied."

Taking Social Relationships Offline

Social media is powerful, but it isn’t guaranteed to produce business. Some brokers create great content but don’t necessarily convert the attention into business. “Set goals and reverse engineer to get there,” recommends Siano. “If you’re spending too much time creating content but not doing deals, you need to rethink your strategy.”

Bier recommends doing an online “audit” of your target audience. “Learn what’s important to them and talk about those things in your posts.” Then invite them to a local industry event, she says.

Zelnik finds that social engagement warms up cold calls. “Having a social connection takes the edge off what you’re trying to do businesswise.” It also opens doors. “My digital resume enables me to get directly to the decision-maker,” says Siano.

Measure Success

Some brokers track metrics to measure success, while others use a more intuitive approach. “I know when a post falls flat,” says Bornhoft. Regardless of your method, focus on actual interaction—not just likes. A few comments or DMs have more business potential than lots of likes. And don't just respond to comments on your posts; engage with decision-makers you want to connect with, and take the time to thoughtfully comment on their social media.

Be patient about seeing results. Regardless of the medium, relationship building takes time. “A client told me he’d seen one of my posts on LinkedIn and later on Facebook,” says Bornhoft. “But it wasn’t until months later, when he saw an article about me in a local business journal, that he reached out.”

For those who remain consistent and deliver value, the potential is huge. Inserra says 100% of his current business comes from social—mostly through referrals. “I do no prospecting, just content creation,” he says.

Dive In

The first step can be the hardest for commercial brokers. Early adopters say just dive in. “Don’t be afraid to mess up,” says Haynes, who suggests lining up a month of content so you can post consistently.

“There is so much opportunity in the social space,” Haynes adds. “So few commercial brokers are doing it, but you’ll be shocked at how much you can gain.”

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Where to Follow

Sabrina Bier: @sabrinabier on LinkedIn
Carrie Bobb: @carriebobb on Instagram
Chris Bornhoft: @chrisbornhoft on LinkedIn
Melanie Haynes: @theindustrialchick on Instagram
Jeanne Heller: @jeannehellerchicago on Instagram
Kyle Inserra: @kyleinserra on TikTok
Jayson Siano: @jaysonsiano on Instagram
Cory Zelnik: @zelnikco on Instagram

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