A Snapshot of Instagram Marketing

The photo sharing social network is a growing lead-generation tool for some real estate pros. Find out how they’re using the platform to connect with clients.

In the past eight months, Jackie Johnson with Keller Williams in Tampa, Fla., has netted more than $25,000 in what she calls “Instagram commissions” — deals from clients she’s connected with through her Instagram account.

Johnson knew she had found what she calls a “gold mine” when prospective clients began reaching out to her. They’d comment on her photos, inquire about her listings, and outright ask if she’d help them buy a house — all through the app. The 25-year-old agent, who started using Instagram for fun in early 2015, unknowingly tapped into what prospects want: a window into her life and personality.

Johnson posts pictures and videos of herself eating lunch at local hotspots, attending social events, and traveling. When she posts about listings, she’s more likely to post photos of kitchens or interior details rather than a shot of the whole room. In one photo, instead of the entire bathroom, Johnson shows off the glass block shower. In another, she focuses on the huge dining room window, catching just half the chandelier. The trick, she says, is to post beautiful, interesting photos that catch users’ eyes. She writes catchy, engaging captions that encourage her followers to respond and uses h

ashtags to get the attention of potential new followers.


Johnson kicks into high gear when she receives a response, replying within 10 minutes to every comment. Her goal: “To get them off Instagram as quickly as possible. I send them a reply and suggest we talk via e-mail,” she says. She usually has an appointment set up within seven days of initial contact.

Johnson says one of the great things about Instagram leads are that people reaching out to her generally are ready to buy because they’ve skipped the “getting to know you” stage. “They’ve been following me, reading my comments, and looking at the photos of my life. I don’t have to sell myself,” says Johnson. She recently connected with a couple on Instagram who chose her as their agent “because they felt like they knew me.”

And Johnson isn’t alone. Users cite Instagram’s appeal to millennials and its non-pushy, organic feel. Plus, it’s easy. “You’ve got a great camera in your pocket everywhere you go. People want to see pretty pictures,” says Coy Davidson, senior vice president at Colliers International in Houston.

Davidson posts photos celebrating his love of craft beer, spending time with his family, and enjoying events he attends. He makes a point to photograph beautiful buildings when he travels and looks for photos that will tell a story.

“I mostly put business stuff up just to remind people about what I do,” Davidson says, who will occasionally post photos of buildings and interiors.


One of the most surprising aspects of Instagram for real estate professionals — but one that can trip up new Instagrammers — is that users cultivate an “among friends” vibe. “It feels less spammy than Facebook,” Johnson says.

What that means, however, is that Instagram users do not want to be directly solicited. “You have to be very careful,” Johnson says. “I’d never say, ‘Hey, you wanna buy a house? Go see my website.’”

Ian Charlebois, broker-owner of RE/MAX Citywide in Ontario, Canada, had the same realization as Johnson: “People want to connect with you, not a company,” he says. “They want to know who you are.”

Providing insight into one’s personal life is crucial to being successful on Instagram. “I’m selling a lifestyle,” Johnson says. “That means I show photos of me doing things in the community. I’m showing people what their lifestyle coul

d be.”


Another useful feature is Instagram’s ability to provide virtually instant feedback, Charlebois says. He’s used Instagram responses to tailor listing photos: “You might get 10 likes for one thing and 20 for something else. What that means is your end consumers are directly engaging with you and telling you, ‘We like this more than that.’”

It took some trial and error for Charlebois and his team to find what worked best to garner that engagement. He’s typically showcasing kitchens, home gadgets, and uncommon features of his listings.


The Instagram account of Pangea Realty Group in Tampa is a mix of motivational photos and videos, training, and brand promotion. But Pangea President Anand Patel recently discovered another use: recruitment.


Patel says he noticed a particular professional’s quirky, descriptive captions on Instagram and started following her. The more he saw, the more he wanted her to work for him. Patel says energy and authenticity in social and business posts came through her account, prompted him to reach out over Instagram for a face-to-face meeting. Following that, he asked her to join his team.

Another benefit of using Instagram is that it’s easy to share content across various social media profiles. Charlebois pushes his content directly from Instagram to Facebook and other social media platforms without having to leave the app. “It’s an inclusive approach that’s completely free. It’s very powerful,” he says.

But regular photos posted to Instagram will now compete with more paid advertising. In late 2015, Instagram began allowing any business, large or small, to purchase ads on the site. Because Instagram has access to parent company Facebook’s user data, the ads can be highly targeted.

And businesses are responding. On Jan. 27, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said 98 out of Facebook’s top 100 advertisers also advertised on Instagram in the fourth quarter of 2015. Neither Sandberg nor Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would discuss Instagram sales figures, but both said they were pleased with the app’s growth. Sandberg did illustrate one advertiser’s success: Shutterfly launched an advertising campaign on Instagram that targeted women, and the company got back 6.5 times what it spent.

Patel says his company budgeted for Instagram ads this year.

“We’re playing around with it right now, exploring how to get an actual campaign up,” Patel says. “Because it’s relatively new, there’s an opportunity right now to really stand out.”


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Tips For Using Instagram

1. Explore Instagram for Business. This help page for business owners using Instagram offers tips on getting started, best practices, and a comprehensive FAQ section, as well as step-by-step instructions for promoting events such as contests to boost engagement.

2. Be authentic. Don’t create a “persona.” Allow users to see who you really are. Instagram is all about personally connecting with other people, Johnson says.

3. Don’t be deceiving. Be careful when using Instagram’s photo editor or filters to clean up your listing photos. Adjusting color or fuzziness is fine, but do not post misleading images.

4. Post high-quality images and videos. Users engage more with beautiful photos that draw them into a story, Davidson says. The “story” can be a lifestyle or neighborhood you’re promoting.

5. Engage with others. Comment on and like other people’s posts. Follow other people, even competitors. Users like people who are engaged and contributing on the service, Patel says.

6. Use hashtags wisely. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, but too many can be distracting. Choose hashtags that have meaning and relevancy in your market. Consider terms your buyers and sellers would use in a search. Create a hashtag for your business or brand. Also, check out Instagram’s section devoted to hashtag help.