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How a Couple of CRE Brokers Got Launched into the Social Media Influencer Stratosphere

When Melissa Alexander first started dabbling in social media as a commercial real estate broker, like most of us, she did it initially just to stay up to date on breaking news. Alexander, Vice President of Foundry Commercial in Nashville and an industrial broker, had just moved back to the Music City and was “basically starting from scratch” after being away from her hometown. She began her career at Cushman & Wakefield in Memphis, spending about 11 years there before moving back to Nashville. When she got back to her hometown, she made a concerted effort to “up her social media game.”

Alexander continued to follow breaking real estate news on Twitter while looking for a new position in Nashville but decided to also do something else with the platform, something that has since proven to be a great move. She teamed up with a former CRE co-worker from Memphis, Casey Flannery, in 2018 to create #CREchat, a live Twitter conversation that discusses hot topics in commercial real estate. Alexander said the Twitter chat idea has helped them grow both their social media followings and their business connections beyond any of their expectations. “Our idea originally was to stay on top of breaking news while bringing CRE people together, and it just took off,” she said.

Flannery, Senior Associate at Cushman & Wakefield in Memphis, said the initial idea for #CREchat came while she and Alexander were at the nail salon. They noticed there were quite a few CRE professionals on Twitter and they were familiar with how Twitter chats worked. A few people told them others had tried to make online conversations about commercial real work before and had failed, but they decided to give it a shot anyway.

“We honestly didn’t know what to expect,” Flannery said. “We did know, however, that we wanted to create a platform and share information with others in the industry. We’ve become friends, and have created powerful information and deal-sharing cohorts with others throughout the commercial real estate industry.”

Once a month, Alexander and Flannery pick a real estate topic and talk about it with the #CREchat hashtag on Twitter, generating an online conversation with their followers and other real estate folks. Their subject matter varies greatly, the last two conversations they hosted focused on mental health in the real estate industry and the future of LEED-certified buildings. The chats usually lead to robust, positive, and interesting conversations about aspects of working as a CRE broker and the industry in general.

“The chat played a key role for us during the beginning of the pandemic because we were all trying to figure out what was going to happen in real estate,” Alexander said. “We ended up switching from a monthly to a weekly chat because things were changing so rapidly, and CRE people were saying we were breaking news before anyone else because we were sharing so much anecdotal information from the markets. That anecdotal information always comes before the data.”

Being a commercial broker is all about connections and relationships, so social media has become increasingly important for many. But while residential real estate agents have thrived with social media marketing on sites like Instagram and Facebook, CRE brokers have been slower to capitalize. Flannery and Alexander think this is a big mistake and being active on social media can make a huge difference in a broker’s success.

“When you’re active on social media, you’re getting real-time information across the industry,” Alexander said. “People are telling you what they’re seeing and what’s going to be trending down the road. It helps with all kinds of decision-making, whether you’re representing a tenant, representing a landlord, or helping someone purchase or sell a building.”

Flannery agrees with her #CREchat partner and said that being active on social media not just for personal uses has helped her career tremendously. “I think if you exclude using social media for business, it doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “People are doing research online, they’re finding brokers online, they’re finding listings online. Being found online can have a huge impact on getting a deal done or getting a new listing.”

In addition to their #CREchat account, Flannery and Alexander have both gained thousands of followers on Twitter and are very active on the platform. And if you’re at all skeptical that likes and retweets mean anything tangible for a CRE broker, they both said their social media influence has led to real business results. Alexander described a recent situation where she cold-called someone about a land listing and the client called her back in 10 minutes after looking her up online. “I looked you up and I know you’re the real deal, and I’m going to hire you,” the client told her.

Social media usage among all generations has been increasing, but the pandemic accelerated it even more. Seventy-two percent of people surveyed by Digital Commerce 360 said their social media use increased during the pandemic’s first year in 2020 and 43 percent of survey respondents said they posted updates more often. With more and more people spending time online, the importance of social media for CRE brokers and businesses of all types is hard to deny. Seventy-eight percent of consumers are willing to buy from a company after having a positive interaction with them on social media, according to Sprout Social, a social media software company. This statistic transfers over to real estate accordingly. It’s easy to see how potential clients would also be more willing to do business with a CRE broker after having a positive impression or interaction with them online.

While being more active on social media is a good start, Alexander and Flannery shared with me further tips for expanding influence in the CRE world. They both said the first step was to simply jump in with both feet, learning the ropes as you go along. They said success, and the business results that come with it, won’t happen overnight. For Alexander and Flannery, building their personal brands and a social media following took time and effort. Both of them are very deliberate with the platforms they use and stick to a consistent posting schedule. Not every CRE broker will become a social media influencer but with a little effort and ingenuity, being more active on social platforms can pay off.

‘Just be authentic’

For Alexander and Flannery the platforms that can have the most impact for CRE brokers are LinkedIn and Twitter. Their #CREchats started on Twitter and has since become a podcast, and Alexander and Flannery are both also very active on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with nearly 800 million members in more than 200 countries and territories. But Twitter has emerged as an excellent platform for more informal discussions among CRE professionals.

Alexander said you should pick one or two social networks and maximize your efforts there so you don’t stretch yourself out too thin. She noted that Clubhouse, the social audio app, is an emerging platform for CRE brokers, but, “you can’t be all things to all people.” Alexander also said brokers should take note of the stylistic differences between platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. For example, self-promotion is a bit more acceptable on LinkedIn than on Twitter, where it can be labeled as spammy. Twitter also has much more tolerance for irreverence, wit, and humor. “Each social media platform has its own personality,” Alexander said. “Something you post on LinkedIn may not necessarily work on Twitter and vice-a-versa.” 

Many people like social media marketing because they want authentic experiences, real connections, and content and ad campaigns that really get them. This is much different than older model marketing that was less of a conversation and more of a one-way street. In that vein, Alexander and Flannery said one of the most essential things to remember when building a personal brand on social media is to just be yourself. “If you try too hard, people can and will see right through it,” Flannery said. “Just be authentic and jump right in and do it. There’s a learning curve for everybody and figuring out what works for you.”

Alexander and Flannery said a common mistake on LinkedIn or Twitter is constantly posting self-promotional content, whether it be info about your company or one of your new listings or deals. This will easily bore your audience, and they’ll likely ignore you. They said a key to gaining social media influence is to think of yourself as a content creator. Share content that provides value to your followers, such as actionable business insights, industry trends, market reports, or useful and relevant articles.

Self-promotion isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it should be balanced with other types of helpful content. Alexander and Flannery said the goal should be to aspire to become a ‘thought leader’ among CRE brokers in your area. It’s a regrettable business buzzword, but the goal is the right one. They noted that #CREChat gained so many followers because it became a source of valuable information for CRE professionals, not because they endlessly promoted their own listings.

Remember the social part

Some people live on social media and post every day. This isn’t entirely necessary to gain a following, but a consistent posting schedule is, according to Alexander and Flannery. Some people only post 10 times a year or do so only sporadically. It’s hard to gain any momentum in the sea of content out there if you’re not posting much. Flannery and Alexander said they aren’t particularly strategic about their posting, but they do have some guiding principles, including staying to a consistent schedule. For example, #CREChat sticks to a monthly schedule.

You could schedule posts in advance with a tool like Hootesuite and meticulously plan out your content, but Flannery doesn’t think that’s necessary, either. “It does take time, but it doesn’t take as much time as you’d think,” she said. “When the latest news hits my email inbox in the morning, I try to share that on LinkedIn, so I’m one of the first people to share that information.”

Posting consistently also plays in your favor because of algorithms. Each platform, whether LinkedIn or Twitter, has an algorithm, and once you start posting regularly, you’ll probably start seeing an increase in likes and engagement. This is because social media platforms increase your views on peoples’ timelines when you’re consistently sharing posts (as long as it’s not spam). So, the more social you are, including interaction with others, the more ‘airtime’ you’ll get.

Finally, Alexander and Flannery emphasized that interacting with others on Twitter and LinkedIn is critical in building a personal brand. It also leads to making some fun internet friends who you may meet IRL and do business with. Social networks are communities first and foremost and, while much has been written of their negative sides, they can also be excellent places to share ideas and make connections.

Flannery and Alexander said they invite interaction from others on Twitter and LinkedIn by showing their interest in building friendships by tagging and following others and interacting with other people’s posts. “If you interact with other people and influencers, your tide is going to rise as well,” Alexander said. “It’s good to be not so self-focused. Think about your posting as having a conversation with someone and not talking at them, because people respond on social media.”

The benefits of creating #CREchat and being more active on social media are clear for Flannery. She said she and Alexander have developed strong personal brands for themselves, as others recognize them at events they attend, even outside of their regional markets. But, most importantly, Flannery said #CREchat has made her a better broker. “When we first started the chat, I was just starting on the brokerage side of the business,” Flannery said. “So the chat has helped me learn and implement best practices for business and clients. And for me, the coolest part has been meeting people across the U.S. and all sectors of the commercial real estate industry.”

Roughly seven out of ten American adults today use some type of social media to connect with others, share information, and engage with news content, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. With more people on social media than ever before, there’s a wide array of opportunities for CRE brokers to connect with potential clients and land IRL business deals by maximizing their influence on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. Flannery and Alexander’s #CREchat launched them into real estate influencer status, but you don’t have to gain a massive following to reap some of the benefits of using social media for business. However, as Flannery noted, not being active on social media in a professional capacity doesn’t make sense anymore. The reliance on social media in the CRE world will only continue to grow and, as Alexander told me, if you don’t have an established online presence today, “it’s like you don’t even exist.”

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