Builders trying to figure out how they can use social media to their advantage are spending too much time focusing on technology and not enough on developing high-quality content that’s relevant to the customers being targeted and that can be delivered to those customers frequently. This was the message that Andrew Davis, cofounder of Boston-based Tipping Point Labs, a strategic content marketing firm, tried to impress on an audience of builders and suppliers attending last week’s Housing Leadership Summit in Chicago.

During his theatrical and occasionally profane presentation, which at the audience’s encouragement went on for nearly double its allotted hour, Davis prowled the stage nonstop while a steady stream of dazzling graphics flashed behind him to add emphasis to what he sees as the plusses and minuses of social media (SM) as a marketing communications tool. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Davis’ comments was how basic, and at times conservative and nostalgic, they were.

But what else would one expect from a speaker who starts off his dissection of social media by talking about Samuel Morse, who invented the telegraph partly out of frustration, says Davis, with the slowness of delivery for a letter he had sent to his dying wife in a hospital?

Davis raised several fundamental questions that builders intrigued by SM should be asking themselves: “Am I reducing costs or driving profits?” “Where can you add value to the consumer’s day?” “Who are the leaders [among consumers] and who are the followers?”

He cautioned builders against falling in love with any single SM platform, such as Facebook or Twitter, which he referred to as “transitional technology” that could be here today but fall out of favor tomorrow, a la CompuServe, AltaVista, and MySpace. Builders, he said, should concentrate less on individual channels and more on devising “real strategies” whose foundations are “media, content, and publishing,” delivered to a focused group of recipients who are receiving those messages at points of contact “they understand.”

Davis then took his audience on a journey through the various stages of SM platforms—experimentation, adoption, gestation, escalation, monetization, and maintenance—all the while dispensing advice about which stage builders should be jumping into. (He thinks builders should spend most of their efforts with SM platforms in the “maintain” stage.)

Go ahead and use Twitter, he said, but only for big real-time events, like the opening of a community. “And think about how existing technologies, like cell phones, can be used for social media.” Podcasts, for example, could provide consumers with portable tours of houses and communities they can use while they’re visiting the actual locations.

The real trick for builders is to get customers to use SM to talk about their houses and neighborhoods to friends and family. To that end, Davis spoke about “fractal marketing” through a “value chain” of consumers whose links include “leaders,” that 1% of a builder’s customer base who are digital influencers and willingly create content about where they live; seeders, or what he called “prosumers,“ who “really care about the brand” and want to distribute information about it; and “readers,” the vast majority of consumers who are looking for information but don’t necessarily go beyond that search to share information with others.

“You need to mobilize those prosumers,” recommended Davis, because “the value chain is about building trust.”

Builders also need to have their antennae up for niche markets to pursue. Davis pointed to a customer of Pennsylvania-based Charter Homes, who tweets about his home from the perspective of his dog. He’s a possible “prosumer” who, if cultivated, could present the builder to fellow animal lovers as pet friendly.

SM marketing, said Davis, can’t just be about the product but must convey “what makes you valuable from [the consumer’s] perspective.”

The goal is to create a “loyalty loop” that makes the purchase of a home a kind of “trigger” event in a person’s life, not unlike getting a new job, getting married, or retiring. (Davis noted that Apple is the master at creating these loops by using post-sale materials to sell its products.)

The “search,” he said, is the “center of the universe” for SM, so builders should be open to trying new things—such as apps for iPhones or Instagram for capturing photos—that create excitement for their users.

“You need to use the digital process to build an offline world” for products, he said. And, probably to the amazement of most builders in the audience, Davis suggested that print content “can sometimes be the differentiator.” However, that content must eventually be scaled so it can be pushed to a mobile delivery system.

Davis ended his presentation by showing some examples of augmented reality, where a mobile device that’s pointed at, say, a restaurant or theater, layers information onto the screen, like the menu or movie times.

However, Davis was quick to note that builders need to “think past gimmicks” and move toward integrating all of their marketing efforts in ways that allow their effectiveness to “be measured as a whole.”

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL.