The next time you’re on MySpace, check out my buddy Barratt American. According to his profile, Barratt is 28, from the U.S., single, an Aquarius, and male.

“I had to list a gender,” explains Paul Chirco, social network developer at the Carlsbad, Calif.–based builder. The age is the number of years the company has been in business.

Chirco’s job is to manage and maximize the builder’s presence in such online communities as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, craigslist, and YouTube. Besides the requisite profile information, Barratt American’s MySpace page features photos from all its communities, current press releases, and videos.

Social networking goes beyond a Web site or blog, Chirco says. “It allows the users to build their own personality online and interact with other people or other companies,” he says. “It’s a far more interactive and open environment. The people producing content are the users of the site.”

Initially, Chirco is focusing his efforts on reaching out to real estate agents and brokers, who already are using social networks and are easy to find there. From there, the plan is to create social networks for each Barratt American community where residents, prospective buyers, and the builder can interact.

One reason for devoting a staff position to social networking is its role in search engine optimization, says Lenette Hewitt, Barratt American’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The more you’re on the Web, the more you’re picked up organically,” she says. Besides posting regularly to its MySpace site, Barratt American posts on selected real estate and community blogs and lists its events on craigslist.

Chirco’s advice to builders that want to use social networking as a marketing tool is to commit to doing it well.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “If you do it badly or break a rule, you’ll hear about it.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.