Real estate agents tap Twitter

In a depressed market, progress happens 140 characters at a time. South Florida brokerages have joined the slew of other businesses that use Twitter, the short instant messaging system, and are learning the benefits and drawbacks.

Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell (EWM) has been on the Twitter bandwagon for about 18 months. 

In fact, the company maintains several Twitter accounts — one for media announcements, one to promote its Smart Living division for properties under $300,000, one to showcase special features inside luxury homes and another to post links to its videos. EWM has about 1,200 followers on its accounts.

“Twitter definitely raises our company’s profile among a younger, more technologically proficient demographic,” said Beth Butler, COO of EWM in Coral Gables. “Twitter has also helped us attract experienced agents and we have many success stories from brokers who have sold houses through Twitter leads.”

Like EWM, more realtors are trying out Twitter — some with better results than others. Of course, alongside the opportunity to generate leads come the challenges and even potential pitfalls of using social media. As with e-mail, blogs and Facebook, misusing Twitter can backfire. Newly minted experts say making the most of Twitter demands a strategy, education and guidelines to avoid ultimately damaging a brand.

EWM’s Twitter strategy is to raise awareness of its brand in a competitive South Florida real estate marketplace, but the admitted challenge is controlling the message. With so many brokers contributing to the Twitter feed – and starting Twitter accounts of their own – Butler is charged with making sure every tweet reflects the brand. 

That can be complicated and time-consuming, but a lack of vigilance could lead to a lawsuit, according to Gaida Zirkelbach, a technology and business attorney at Gunster Yoakley in West Palm Beach.

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Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, the micro-blog posts can promise too much or neglect important disclaimers. What’s more, the casual communications style on Twitter may also tempt users to use humor that could be offensive to clients. Tweets are admissible in court.

“Employers should protect themselves by establishing policies specific to social media and consider training employees on acceptable uses of networking sites, including Twitter,” Zirkelbach said. “Businesses should also determine whether misuse of company systems will be considered grounds for termination, and then periodically assess and monitor usage for violation.”

EWM has developed a social media policy that includes Twitter guidelines. The company also holds seminars that discuss the appropriate use of social media as a lead generation tool as part of its training for new agents. 

“We offer plenty of dos and don’ts so people learn the right way to use social media,” Butler said. “If people understand social media, I don’t see any downsides to using these tools to network. You don’t need social media to shoot yourself in the foot. You can do that on the phone or in person just as easily.”

Not every mistake is a legal liability. Some tweets could just cause people to stop following you. Spam-like tweets are a chief cause of follower abandonment. Failing to spend the time to draft coherent, inviting, entertaining tweets – or failing to tweet regularly – also offer a poor impression.

Laura Christianson, president of Seattle-based social media marketing company Blogging Bistro, suggests this rule of thumb for tweeting: 90 percent give, 10 percent take. 

“Make sure 90 percent of your Twitter updates give away great information, interesting links, and entertaining content. Followers become loyal followers when they know you’re a giver, not just a taker,” Christianson said. “If they know you’re going to give them fantastic information in the vast majority of your tweets, they won’t mind reading the updates in which you promote your company.”