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Walking the social media territory with Century 21’s Bev Thorne

8 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This post is by SmartBrief’s Linsey Isaacs.

Century 21 began its social media efforts two years ago, and now has presence on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. The recent launch of its interactive home buyer/seller blog is the newest addition to the portfolio. I interviewed Chief Marketing Officer Bev Thorne to learn how Century 21 managed the transition and how it’s keeping up with digital trends. The following is an edited transcript of our Q-and-A.

A few years ago, you guys briefly pulled your TV ads to focus on digital marketing, and the ads were pretty memorable. What steps did you take to make this a smooth transition, and how did you get your traditional advertising methods to work online?

Although the move to digital was controversial in 2009, we believe it has enabled our brand to maintain our advantage as an innovator.

In January 2009, Century 21 made the decision to go digital. It was viewed as controversial at the time, but in hindsight, I believe it has come to be viewed as very forward-thinking. As you may know, Century 21 has always been an innovator. As the first national real estate brand on television, we felt it was important to face the challenge of a new media environment head-on in 2009.

With nearly universal brand awareness, television was no longer providing any real tangible benefit for our brand. Based on our own research, it no longer made sense to put additional marketing behind a medium that builds brand awareness. With approximately 94% of home buyers starting their home search online, we turned our focus to driving these consumers directly to Century 21 brokers and their agents.

This decision was not always popular with all of our system brokers; however, the results have proven that it was a sound strategic decision. In the first year of digital strategy, we realized a 65% increase in leads to our franchisees, while decreasing our cost per lead by 50%. Since that time, we have increased our leads by an additional 40% and cut our cost per lead incrementally by 33%. We have refined our paid search strategy and developed award-winning ad campaigns.

The decision to move aggressively into the digital space was not without its share of challenges, but it has also brought with it incredible opportunities . Our consumers are online and that’s where we need to be too.From a branded Facebook and Twitter pages to a mobile iPhone App and the @C21-Home Matters Blog, we are ensuring that our agents are connecting with the next generation of homebuyers.

Which social media tool would you say is working the greatest for your business, and why?

We don’t view one social media channel as working alone. Each channel works in tandem with the others towards one common goal: to connect the CENTURY 21 brand with consumers and industry professionals. Whether we are promoting the @C21-Home Matters Blog through our Facebook page or sharing a link to the Century 21 YouTube on our Twitter page, we are leveraging all of our social media channels and connecting the brand with our agents and customers. As the franchiser of the world’s largest residential sales team, that’s our forte.

How important is social media to your business, and to the real estate industry as a whole?

Having a brand presence on social media is incredibly important. We already know that a vast majority of homebuyers begin their search online, so our focus is to empower Century 21 system professionals with the ability to reach out to these potential customers and connect with them, where they already are. With more than 500 million active users on Facebook and nearly 200 million users on Twitter, the potential for social media to market directly to consumers and industry professionals is unlimited.

By having a strong presence on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, we believe that real estate professionals have an opportunity to position themselves as local real estate experts and someone that potential buyers and/or sellers can form a relationship with over time.

Technology is constantly changing. Buying or selling a home used to mean walking into an office and meeting with a realtor first and foremost, and that’s no longer the case. Today, consumers want to have access to a real estate professional at their fingertips, in a very literal sense. With the growing popularity of smartphones, people can start the search for a new home or start the process of finding a real estate professional to help them sell their home while waiting in line at the grocery store. This trend is particularly common in the tech-savvy consumers. According to the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2010 report, the largest share of home buyers, 36% to be exact, were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old.

For a real estate professional, it’s very important to keep up with consumers and the trends and tools that impact the way they go about doing their everyday tasks.

How do you use social media as a leverage now that home buyers/sellers have direct access to the market through a bevy of Internet ads, and have the option to bypass agents? Has this made it more difficult for Century 21 agents to compete?

Although the real estate transaction process has changed over the years, this doesn’t mean that consumers are bypassing agents. The fact is, buyers and sellers begin their searches online.

In 2010 83% of buyers used a real estate professional, which is a strong increase from the 69% who used one in 2001, [according to National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2010 report]

Although buyers and sellers are empowered by the Internet, social media and a bevy of Internet ads, they are still turning to professionals for guidance throughout the experience. Over 50% of buyers who used an agent indicated the main reason they did was because they needed help finding the right home, while others said they needed professional assistance with negotiations and paperwork.

Sellers said they required the help of an agent to help make sure their home was priced appropriately and that their home would be appropriately marketed to potential buyers.

The strong online presence of real estate is not a deterrent to Century 21 professionals in any capacity. It is a way for our professionals to meet potential buyers and sellers who need their help and a way to form a relationship with them.

You’re using plenty of social mediums to advertise; is it important that the sites are all separate faces of your business? How are they managed?

In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, we want to provide consumers with content-rich sources for community conversation around the homeownership, home buying and selling experience. Although each of our social channels are separate in their own right, together they represent Century 21. Our social media channels provide an exceptional experience for our customers and sales professionals by combining extensive knowledge with relevant content and interactive functionality.

Our social media content is managed and directed by Matt Gentile in coordination with our public relations and social media agency, Mullen Communications.

Do you encourage your agents to use social media individually to garner leads, or is this primarily a corporate effort?

Yes. In the real estate industry, it is incredibly important for professionals to have a personal brand. Agents and brokers want to be known as the real estate expert in their community and using social media is an excellent way to do so.

We encourage our System members to have an active online presence where they can share their knowledge on the latest real estate trends, community information and feet on the street market knowledge. By establishing themselves as a valuable source of information they are more likely to be sought out by potential customers.

In fact, Century 21 is in the midst of an incredibly exciting project. We’re creating a series of Social Media How-To videos to provide instruction for our System members on how to use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to establish their social presence and reach the hundreds of millions of people who use these sites every day. Some of the videos provide basic “how to get started” instruction and gradually work their way up to more advanced topics. All of these videos will be available on our YouTube channel.

Educating our sales professionals on these new, incredibly powerful tools is important to ensure that they’re able to effectively communicate with the next generation of homebuyer and sellers.

I see that your blog is the newest edition to your company’s social network, and the year’s just started; what are your future plans to increase that social presence? Any plans for the blog itself?

@C21 – Home Matters, the official blog of Century 21, is a unique digital destination for home buying and selling tips that are informative and inspiring. Those tips will be offered along with compelling narratives on the latest trends, industry news and key points to consider for anything related to homeownership.

The new blog offers an attractive and engaging blend of first-hand real estate advice from industry professionals. In the coming months, we’ll showcase contributed articles from our System members, industry experts and DIY enthusiasts.

Image Credit: Feverpitched, via iStock Photo