Thoughts on Social Media and Branding

At the recent REBarCamp Orange County, I found myself staring at the board listing the sessions and enjoying the wonder of discovery.  The discovery was that apparently, I was supposed to be leading a session with Stacey Harmon on “Social Media and Branding”.  As they say, anything and everything could happen at a BarCamp.  That joy of discovery was followed by the joy of improvisation, as I learned that Stacey had to stay behind to finish up a session on using Twitter, and I had been planning on being Vanna to Stacey’s Pat Sajak.

So I got up and did a bunch of verbal tapdancing.  For those in attendance, I promise to refund your registration fees.  [ED: Rob, BarCamp is free, you idjit.  Yeah, well, it's the thought that counts.]  To my surprise, the session ended up being one of the better ones for me, in part due to the awesome people who didn’t seem to mind that I was speaking completely off the cuff, and in part due to the warm rays of the incredible southern Californian sun.

I wanted to expand on some of the concepts we discussed, however, because we didn’t really get into how social media and brand interact.  It also appears that we need to discuss things further because prevailing misconceptions on how social media fits in to an overall marketing scheme.

What I Said in Orange County (I Think)

Considering that a fair amount of adult beverages were consumed after the BarCamp was over, much of this is based on somewhat suspect memory.  I think the following is roughly what I said:

  • Brand is a promise.
  • Making a promise is easy; keeping a promise… not so much.
  • For a brand to be meaningful, the brand promise has to be kept at every single customer touchpoint, including the all-important in-person touchpoint.  Companies spend millions on branding, only to have everything ruined by a single rude employee.  Corollary: your brand is only as good as your worst agent.
  • Understand and articulate the brand promise before you think about differentiation.
  • In services industry, like real estate, there is a baseline of competence that is promised by everyone.  Promising professionalism and concern for the client is hardly differentiation.  BMW and Mercedes Benz do not brand themselves on “Our cars have engines!”  Pick something above and beyond the baseline as the brand differentiator.
  • At the same time, each and every person is unique; if you are authentically human, then, you cannot help but be differentiated.  Plus, it’s really hard to keep up a facade all the time.
  • Social media does not change the rules of branding.  It is but one of the channels of branding, albeit an important one.

A good deal of the explanation and articulation dealt with these basic observations.

Far too many people believe that a brand is something like “the design of our logo”.  Or the colors on the yard signs.  Without denigrating design or color schemes, those mean nothing unless they represent the core brand promise: both the implied baseline promises of competence/quality, as well as the explicit differentiated brand proposition.

I used the example of “Service with a Smile” quite a bit during the session.  If your brand promise is “Service with a Smile”, then your card had better be smiling in some way.  Your receptionist had best be smiling when she answers the phone.  Your flyers has to have a smiley face on it or something.  And your social media efforts have to be “smiling” in tone and content.  It goes without saying that all of your agents have to be a bunch of smiling people.

Social Media Branding

What I should have spent more time on in Orange County was some of the specific issues with social media and branding.

If we accept the idea that brand is a promise, then social media is a powerful channel for branding.  In many ways, it represents a way to keep promises.  For example, Zappos uses social media to provide customer service; the very usage of things like Twitter to provide customer service is keeping the brand promise of superior service.  This is branding by doing, and is no different than when a human being provides excellent service to a customer, thereby fulfilling the promise.

Second, social media provides an excellent channel to talk about the brand promise and how you’re keeping it.  Did you have an angry customer call you today, but you dealt with the situation pleasantly, providing that service with a smile which your brand promises?  Blog about it.  Put up a video on YouTube.  Twitter them out.  Social media can and should be used to talk about yourself, even if that means (horrors!) talking about work.  We’re all human beings, and our jobs are part of who we are.

Third, it is my belief that social media makes for a pretty poor channel for lead generation in inverse proportion to how good it is for branding.  Some of the folks out there in Expert Land tend to suggest that social media is a powerful lead generation tool.  I don’t buy it.

For example, here’s a post advising agents to “go where the fish are” that says:

Tip #2. DIVE INTO SOCIAL MEDIA

It is ridiculous that agents are crying for leads and business when social media is so easy. Only 33% of you try it. Of that 33% very few actually connect with their new found contacts. You have the whole world to connect to! Someone is looking for the very house you are marketing.

I suppose there isn’t anything harmful about saying that social media is a powerful marketing channel; it is.  There is, however, something suspect about thinking of social media as this sort of a fishing pond.  As Todd Carpenter (@tcar), the Social Media Manager of NAR, likes to say in presentations, “No one is going on Facebook to search for a house.”

Other suggestions like, “Make sure you tweet your listings”, are dubious at best, and positively harmful at worst.  Spamming a “permission-only” environment like Twitter or Facebook is a pretty good way to get that permission removed (aka, unfollowed in a hurry).

Someone may be looking for the very house you are marketing, but I find it a dubious assertion at best, requiring quite a bit of evidence to back up, to say that someone is looking via social media for the very house you are marketing.

But I Get Leads Off Twitter!

The standard response from some quarters is that they generate leads off of social media, so, Rob, you don’t know what yer talkin’ about chief.  Without denying that I may in fact know nothing, I want to point out that branding drives leads.  That’s the reason to engage in branding after all.  Consumers by the hundreds walk into BMW dealerships every day without ever having been “reached” with a lead generation effort, because the branding of BMW was so effective in creating the desire to buy one.

That ain’t no reason to use your branding channel for lead generation.  If anything, that’s a reason to keep your branding channel as a branding channel, and to make sure that you’re delivering on your brand promise through that channel.

A buyer might read your blog post about your local neighborhood and click on the “Contact Me, I’m A Realtor” button.  That’s wonderful — congratulations.  What you’ve done is effective branding of yourself as a professional worthy of consideration.  That doesn’t mean you should now start to push “calls to action” in your blog.  Such crass commercialism has a tendency to corrupt the brand itself:

Even if I had wanted to buy a Honda before watching that ad, afterwards, I think less of Honda itself even while knowing that Honda corporate isn’t responsible for such embarrassing advertising.

This Whole Post in Three Bullet Points

We could go on and on I suppose, but let’s wrap up with the entire post essentially summarized into three bullet points.

  • Brand is a promise; make it and deliver on it.
  • Social media is a powerful branding channel.
  • Do lead generation where you brand at your own peril.

-rsh

  • http://www.twireblog.com/ Mark Gundlach

    I thought this discussion was great. A lot of things to think about when we are doing what we do as agents. This has to be one of the most important, yet highly overlooked aspects of our business. I also thought the woman who got the discussion going with few great comments from a Designer’s standpoint was outstanding. Anyone know who she was? I think her name was Kathy….?

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com/ Rob Hahn

      She was fantastic. Her name is Kathy Klingaman, with Klingaman Creative — a design shop based in Newport Beach.

      -rsh

  • http://www.twireblog.com Mark Gundlach

    I thought this discussion was great. A lot of things to think about when we are doing what we do as agents. This has to be one of the most important, yet highly overlooked aspects of our business. I also thought the woman who got the discussion going with few great comments from a Designer’s standpoint was outstanding. Anyone know who she was? I think her name was Kathy….?

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com Rob Hahn

      She was fantastic. Her name is Kathy Klingaman, with Klingaman Creative — a design shop based in Newport Beach.

      -rsh

  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info/ Jeffrey Douglass

    Promises are everything, keep it simple and do everything you say, and more.

  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info Jeffrey Douglass

    Promises are everything, keep it simple and do everything you say, and more.

  • http://www.PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson — The Ultimate Real Estate Machine

    First, do you ever write something that’s just crap Rob? Honestly, it’s kind of annoying that you pump out thought-provoking post after post. You’re not human. Do me a favor and serve up a loser every now and then, it’ll make me feel better about myself.

    Love this post. I found it interesting that you mentioned BMW a couple of times. As the proud owner of a brand new (to me, as it is actually very gently used) BMW, I find this particularly interesting.

    I can not recite any specific television, newsprint, magazine, whatever ad for BMW. I am, of course, familiar with the “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tag line. (How is it that I know that, but can’t recall any specific marketing for it?)

    And you know what? BMW backs that tag line up. That car is bad ass and WAY fun to drive.

    I’ve owned a BMW for all of one week. And I’m already an advocate for them. My neighbor today asked me if I liked it and I sounded like a freaking BMW poster boy.

    Now had I slipped behind the wheel and my first impression had been “Meh. What’s the big deal?”, things would be completely different. Instead, BMW delivered. My initial reaction was, “Holy shit this really IS the Ultimate Driving Machine!”

    They deliver on their promise. That is effective beyond comprehension.

    As for social media bieng a poor tool for lead generation, I couldn’t agree more. Yes, I can say I’ve “gotten clients” from Twitter. But it wasn’t via “lead generation” tactics. It was just me being me and for whatever reason people choosing to utilize my services. Every single day I see agents on twitter shouting out (into a relative vacuum) “Call me! I can sell your house! I’m a top producer!” and no one knows a flipping thing about them. WHY would someone call you? Just because you ask them to?

    Use this medium for what it does best — allowing you to be you, allowing you to reach people, to engage with them, to get your message — your brand promise — out.

    Just be sure you deliver.

  • http://www.PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com/ Jay Thompson — The Ultimate R

    First, do you ever write something that’s just crap Rob? Honestly, it’s kind of annoying that you pump out thought-provoking post after post. You’re not human. Do me a favor and serve up a loser every now and then, it’ll make me feel better about myself.

    Love this post. I found it interesting that you mentioned BMW a couple of times. As the proud owner of a brand new (to me, as it is actually very gently used) BMW, I find this particularly interesting.

    I can not recite any specific television, newsprint, magazine, whatever ad for BMW. I am, of course, familiar with the “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tag line. (How is it that I know that, but can’t recall any specific marketing for it?)

    And you know what? BMW backs that tag line up. That car is bad ass and WAY fun to drive.

    I’ve owned a BMW for all of one week. And I’m already an advocate for them. My neighbor today asked me if I liked it and I sounded like a freaking BMW poster boy.

    Now had I slipped behind the wheel and my first impression had been “Meh. What’s the big deal?”, things would be completely different. Instead, BMW delivered. My initial reaction was, “Holy shit this really IS the Ultimate Driving Machine!”

    They deliver on their promise. That is effective beyond comprehension.

    As for social media bieng a poor tool for lead generation, I couldn’t agree more. Yes, I can say I’ve “gotten clients” from Twitter. But it wasn’t via “lead generation” tactics. It was just me being me and for whatever reason people choosing to utilize my services. Every single day I see agents on twitter shouting out (into a relative vacuum) “Call me! I can sell your house! I’m a top producer!” and no one knows a flipping thing about them. WHY would someone call you? Just because you ask them to?

    Use this medium for what it does best — allowing you to be you, allowing you to reach people, to engage with them, to get your message — your brand promise — out.

    Just be sure you deliver.

  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info/ Jeffrey Douglass

    Like Jay said, I have an agent in the San Diego market with several twitter accounts that tweets about every 4 to 5 minutes – top producer – 20 years experience – or posts to a 3 month old blog post. From the consumers point of view I can’t imagine this would be effective.

    Using twitter and blogging to provide good information and let our personality and ideals through is what it is all about. It’s also about being free with the information, rather than trying to hold to the old gatekeeper ideals of days long gone.

    Rob, like Jay said, give us a break and write a bad blog post once in a while, LOL. Happy 4th

  • http://www.sandiegolifestyle.info Jeffrey Douglass

    Like Jay said, I have an agent in the San Diego market with several twitter accounts that tweets about every 4 to 5 minutes – top producer – 20 years experience – or posts to a 3 month old blog post. From the consumers point of view I can’t imagine this would be effective.

    Using twitter and blogging to provide good information and let our personality and ideals through is what it is all about. It’s also about being free with the information, rather than trying to hold to the old gatekeeper ideals of days long gone.

    Rob, like Jay said, give us a break and write a bad blog post once in a while, LOL. Happy 4th

  • http://mlbroadcast.com/ Mike Price

    I’ll agree that the R.O.B. usually generates awesome content, this post is no different and I agree with it completely, My only complaint is that you didn’t just start with the 3 bullet summary and save me some time :)

  • http://mlbroadcast.com Mike Price

    I’ll agree that the R.O.B. usually generates awesome content, this post is no different and I agree with it completely, My only complaint is that you didn’t just start with the 3 bullet summary and save me some time :)

  • http://www.staceyharmon.com/ Stacey Harmon

    If 7DS doesn’t work out, I think the Rob Hahn comedy circuit is in order…but maybe it is just because I’m the topic of the opening paragraph that I’m sitting here so amused. Clearly you survived just fine without me and thank you for writing this post to fill us in on what we missed.

    Some great points in here that need to be championed out to agents everywhere. When I discuss social media with agents, I use the coffee shop analogy. I ask them if they were to spend an hour in the same coffee shop everyday for a month would they walk away with some real estate leads? I have yet to meet a Realtor who says no. You reminded me that, just like Facebook, people don’t go to coffee shops to look for property either. And the agent that walks into Starbucks, stands at the door, and annouces his new listing and starts handing out flyers, will have about as much success as he will doing the same thing on Twitter.

    It seems so clear to me. Maybe when explained in that way, a few Realtors will see the light too.

    I also love Jay’s comment: Use this medium for what it does best — allowing you to be you, allowing you to reach people, to engage with them, to get your message — your brand promise — out.

    So well stated. With his permission, I’d like to work that quote him in my teachings as well. Jay? :)

  • http://www.staceyharmon.com Stacey Harmon

    If 7DS doesn’t work out, I think the Rob Hahn comedy circuit is in order…but maybe it is just because I’m the topic of the opening paragraph that I’m sitting here so amused. Clearly you survived just fine without me and thank you for writing this post to fill us in on what we missed.

    Some great points in here that need to be championed out to agents everywhere. When I discuss social media with agents, I use the coffee shop analogy. I ask them if they were to spend an hour in the same coffee shop everyday for a month would they walk away with some real estate leads? I have yet to meet a Realtor who says no. You reminded me that, just like Facebook, people don’t go to coffee shops to look for property either. And the agent that walks into Starbucks, stands at the door, and annouces his new listing and starts handing out flyers, will have about as much success as he will doing the same thing on Twitter.

    It seems so clear to me. Maybe when explained in that way, a few Realtors will see the light too.

    I also love Jay’s comment: Use this medium for what it does best — allowing you to be you, allowing you to reach people, to engage with them, to get your message — your brand promise — out.

    So well stated. With his permission, I’d like to work that quote him in my teachings as well. Jay? :)

  • http://www.PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com/ Jay Thompson — The Ultimate R

    “So well stated. With his permission, I’d like to work that quote him in my teachings as well. Jay?”

    Well of course you can use it Stacey!

  • http://www.PhoenixRealEstateGuy.com Jay Thompson — The Ultimate Real Estate Machine

    “So well stated. With his permission, I’d like to work that quote him in my teachings as well. Jay?”

    Well of course you can use it Stacey!

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  • http://www.youcoach.com/ Tom Ferry

    Rob,

    I just caught this in a search while pondering the whole “human brand” conversation. I love what you said and agree 100%. Look forward to future reads. And maybe see you at a REBarCamp soon.

    TF

  • http://www.youcoach.com Tom Ferry

    Rob,

    I just caught this in a search while pondering the whole “human brand” conversation. I love what you said and agree 100%. Look forward to future reads. And maybe see you at a REBarCamp soon.

    TF