April 6, 2011
If you’re like most homebuyers — 87 percent, by one estimate — your search for the perfect home and homebuilder will start with Google.
Whether you search by builder name, geographic area or price range, those search results are now just as likely to take you to a YouTube video or builder’s Facebook page as they are to the official company website. That’s because each month more and more homebuilders are realizing they have to go social to stay competitive.
Simply put, it’s what homebuyers want. “This industry is trying to figure out how to use social media — as always, some companies are leaders and some are running to catch up,” says Diane Rayfield, social media marketing strategist at Harp Social. “But it’s important that they do — we find that about 75 percent of people don’t believe messaging from companies, but they do believe what they hear from other consumers or shoppers.”
YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — Oh my!
The social media platforms you most likely use now are also the most applicable in the homebuilding realm. For example, YouTube videos of model properties have become such a staple that even builders who are reluctant to commit to other types of social media realize they have to be YouTube-proficient. “These videos don’t have to be technically sophisticated, but they should be showing you how much closet space there is and how efficient the kitchen design is,” says Rayfield.
Facebook offers buyers many opportunities to gather information too. Even better, it’s all about two-way communication and making connections. If you “like” the builders and communities on your short list, you can quickly develop a sense of how they might mesh with your needs and interests. “You definitely want to engage and start conversations when possible,” says Janet Fouts, author of “Social Media Success!: Practical Advice and Real World Examples for Social Media Engagement” (Happy About Books, 2009). “The kind of responses you get will tell you a lot about how responsive that builder might be. You can also learn a lot from other people who have liked that builder, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions too.”
Because interactions are so transparent in social media, you’ll be able to see how builders respond to other people’s questions as well. “If someone else’s question doesn’t get answered, that’s just as significant as you not receiving an answer,” notes Rayfield.
Initially, many builders got on Twitter to push out updates to Realtors, who would then share them with their clients. In recent months, however, more buyers have begun following builders on Twitter because they want to receive that information directly.
Debbie Beaver, vice president of marketing for William Ryan Homes in Schaumburg, is particularly mindful of this trend. “We tweet a lot but know people can get inundated with information quickly, so make a conscious effort to only tweet useful information, like our latest specials and updates on quick-delivery homes,” she says.
“We also want buyers to get a sense of our communities, so we’ll tweet about neighborhood garage sales and event starting times too.”
Fouts also recommends Twitter as a great source for finding responsive Realtors. “Once you nail down your development or neighborhood, go on Twitter and put out a query: ‘Does anyone know anything about X neighborhood or development?’” she says. “Most people who respond will be Realtors — pick one of them to work with and take them with you when you go see the model because they’ll know all the questions to ask.”
Remember the review sites.
You’re already reading social review sites like Yelp! for restaurant reviews and the like, so use them to help in your home search too. “I especially recommend socialmention.com, which searches in real time across forums, blogs and all social media platforms,” says Zouts. “You can search for a particular development or builder and find out who’s talking about the builder, the neighborhood or the school district.”
While it’s helpful to hear the unvarnished truth from customers of any service provider you’re considering, the classic advice bears repeating: Consider the source. Your wants, needs and expectations may be significantly different from the person praising or, more likely, complaining about a particular builder. “In social media, you will definitely hear more negatives than positives,” says Fouts. “People just prefer to gripe — that’s a fact of human nature. That’s why you don’t want to eliminate what may be a perfectly good builder on the basis of one or two negative comments. Consider both the negative and the positive feedback you find.”
Finally, accept that you might be more social media-savvy than the average builder and cut them some slack if they’re not a social media prodigy but meet your other criteria. “Social media is not their main business and they probably don’t have an employee who is entirely dedicated to it yet. If you reach out to a builder via social media, give them a good 24 hours to respond,” says Fouts. “Even though it seems archaic, you might get an answer faster if you e-mail them.”