Builders know they're supposed to be on Facebook. They’ve heard the stats about the largest social networking site’s more than 800 million users, more than half of whom are on the site every day. The hard part is converting those millions of Facebookers into new-home buyers.
Fortunately, some builders have figured it out. Take Tamara Lynch, vice president of sales and marketing at the Charlotte, N.C., division of M/I Homes. That builder’s website went from averaging 5,800 page views per day to more than 50,000 thanks to a Facebook pizza giveaway. The bump in traffic took them from page 5 on Google searches to page 2.
Heartland Homes’ Facebook page is driving 4,000-plus unique visitors to its site every month, says Kevin Oakley, Heartland’s director of marketing and sales training.
And Southern Homes saw a 64% increase in sales in a single year that it attributes to a revamped social media campaign.
These builders and more shared their strategies for Facebook, blogging, Twitter, and other social media outlets on Friday morning at a session of the International Builders’ Show. Here are some of the ideas they offered.
Make it public. "Social media is the fastest way to connect with our buyers friends," said Jared Weggeland, director of sales and marketing at Southern Homes, who pointed out that a buyer’s friends are likely in the same stage of life, and therefore, may also be looking for a new home. After not seeing much success with its old social media strategy, Southern shifted to having its salespeople connect directly with prospects through Facebook by adding them as a friend as soon as they visit a home. The salesperson then follows up on the prospects' Facebook page to thank them for stopping by and posts photos and floor plans for what they toured. The next year, Weggeland said, sales from online referrals were up 64%.
Give and keep giving. M/I’s Lynch said her company is always doing a giveaway of some sort or another. The Facebook pizza giveaway that boosted her division’s Web views by 44,200 viewsper day ran as a month-long event, in which participants would have to visit M/I’s Facebook page each day to get a clue about the "topping of the day." At a random time, an 800 number to call would be posted and the first person to call in with the day’s topping won a pizza. As a result, the company’s Web leads doubled.
Help those in need. M/I has found success with campaigns that offer to donate money to a good cause, such as disaster relief for victims of Japan’s devastating earthquake last year, when a person "likes" their Facebook page. Amy Cooper, marketing manager at Highland Homes, also pointed to the importance of having a "like" option button with each of the homes displayed on your website so that if a prospective customer finds something they like, they can "like" it right away.
Have fun. Eight out of 10 home buyers don’t even consider new-construction homes. Oakley offers two main reasons why: They assume the price is too high, and they think the process is too difficult, he said. "They’ve all heard the horror stories." In order to change that perception, Heartland Homes focuses on using Facebook with its current buyers to make the process look fun by posting photos and posts about progress and encouraging the buyers to do the same. Besides, he said, "you need to be shooting photos and videos anyway."
Stay positive. If you get negative feedback on your Facebook page (or on any of your social networking platforms), don’t delete the comment, said Cooper. Instead, offer a positive and immediate response in the public forum that steers the conversation to a private forum, such as "I’m so sorry you’ve had a bad experience with the shingles we’ve put on your home. Here’s my name and number so we can get this resolved immediately for you."
Get chatty. Twitter is different than Facebook, Cooper said, in that "you don’t want to put everything on Facebook," lest you should annoy all your "friends." But on Twitter, activity is encourage,d and that’s the place you should be posting about every event, celebrating meeting sales goals, etc. Blogs should also be linked to Twitter, so that followers know when there’s a new post available.
Keep track. For help tracking where prospective buyers are coming from, Cooper recommended doing promotions that are exclusive to Facebook or Twitter.
Partner up. Heartland Homes opens its blog up to its supplier partners, which post on their specialties, such as designing with paint colors, etc. Heartland also provides posts for prospective buyers on how to sell their existing home.
Look at alternatives. For builders intimidated by the blogosphere, Tumblr is like "blogging for morons," said Weggeland. It offers a quick and easy way to post short blurbs as well as videos and pictures, and it allows you to establish a report with prospective buyers. "People trust individuals," he said. "They don’t trust the company as much, but they trust individuals."
Rally the troops. Heartland Homes has recruited its buyers to be Facebook ambassadors through an app that awards them with points if the buyer posts photos or writes about their new home as it is being built on their personal Facebook page. Points can then be redeemed for an array of prizes, including discounts on moving or trips to Disney World. The app also guides the new homeowner through the process of having their home built.
Provide tools. "Successful Realtors work mobily," said Lynch. "Give them ways to stay connected and informed [via smartphones]." To that end, M/I’s Charlotte division has created an app for both Realtors and prospective buyers that works like FourSquare. Users can check in through the app at different points around their community and earn points to be redeemed with the builder. For Realtors, the app will inform them if elevated commission rates are being applied to certain homes or communities, and it has a geolocator that will bring the user to the nearest community and offer information on available homes nearby. To entice Realtors to download the app, M/I ran a promotion offering a $100 gas card to use it at one of their communities.
Broadcast yourself. After Google, "YouTube is the second largest search engine," Oakley pointed out. His company offers videos on common warranty questions and other items of interest to prospective or new buyers. "Our most popular is how to change the light bulb in the home’s lamppost out front."
Include keywords. YouTube videos can be integral for improving your site’s rankings in searches. Be sure to fill the video descriptions with keywords. (If you need guidance on what keywords to use to target a given buyer demographic, try using Google’s Keyword Tool.)
Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.