Sometimes, outside of the brokerage world, the word “mortgage” can conjure up scary thoughts and baffling scenarios for homebuyers and commercial real estate investors. Naturally, the first place everyone goes to help alleviate fear of the unknown is the Internet. That’s where you, as a marketing-savvy mortgage professional, should be too. But not just anywhere on the web. The place to go is Web 2.0.
What is social media?
Web 2.0 is made up of user-driven, community-oriented sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Digg. It’s an ever-evolving online network that people merely figure out as they go along. Twitter, for example, is the best, easiest and fastest-growing online social media tool out there. To some mortgage brokers, who are only familiar with traditional marketing methods, the prospect of sending out a 140-character tweet can seem as daunting and confounding as a mortgage does to a newly wed couple. But it’s actually simpler than you think.
“Twitter is the big one for people who aren’t tech savvy,” says Angela West, creator and owner of Working Web Copy, a technology, social media and marketing copywriting company for the digital age. “It doesn’t require much work, it’s easy and quick to use, and lots of people are on it now.”
West advises if the World Wide Web 2.0 is new to you, that you shouldn’t get lost trying to stay on top of all the various social media sites, such as Tumblr and Posterous, two popular quasi-blogging tools. Instead pick one or two that you feel comfortable with, and stick to it. She recommends the micro-blogging tool Twitter as No. 1, and the professional networking site LinkedIn as No. 2. She worries about using the social networking site Facebook. “Facebook ties too much into your personal life,” says West. But if you tailor your Facebook profile strictly to professional details, it won’t hurt you, as proved by Nolan Matthias, a licensed broker with Mortgage Architects in Calgary.
Using online networking to maximum benefit
Matthias, 27, and in his eighth year as an agent, views online social media as a tool to complement a mortgage broker’s marketing strategies. “This is a relationship-based business where you should be out there meeting people face to face,” he says. “But the benefit of using Twitter or Facebook to support your business is that people can silently follow what you’re doing professionally and educate them quietly in that way. So when the time comes to do a deal, you can talk more about their kids, family, sports, what they did over the long weekend. It’s not as much of a hard sell.”
Recently, Matthias ran into a high school friend who he hadn’t talked to in almost five years. They just happened to see each other on the street, briefly stopped to say hello and instead of trading business cards, said what many people say these days when they meet or become re-acquainted with someone, “Add me as a friend on Facebook.” They didn’t talk about work when they saw each other, but when they connected online, his friend saw on Matthias’s Facebook profile that he was a mortgage broker. “A couple of months later, he came to me because he was buying his first home,” says Matthias. “And after that, he referred another friend to me too.”
So your Facebook account doesn’t need to be rigidly professional, but as long as you maintain it like your business setting, it is another avenue to generate potential clients and keep your name top of mind. For anyone who may think online social media tools are just for a younger generation, Marianne Hobson at 46 years old shows otherwise.
Hobson became a mortgage assistant with Mortgage Architects in 2001, and in 2007 became a licensed broker with Dominion Lending Centres in Waterdown,
Ont. “I update my blog continuously and I’ve linked it to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,” says Hobson. “I also use Facebook as a tool to get appointments with
Realtors.” Before becoming a broker, she had no prior experience with Facebook. But she understood nearly everyone spends much of their work and social time online whether young or old, and found that she connected with people she may never have met otherwise.
In one case, she went to a client’s house to help them with a problem they were having. The clients were two teachers, and their Realtor got them into a situation where they owned two properties at once. “I fixed everything up for them. When I left their house, five minutes after I left, she posted on Facebook, ‘The world’s best broker just left my house,’” says Hobson. “Right after she did that, I got two calls from two of her friends on Facebook.” They were also teachers Hobson wouldn’t have met before, and she ended up working to help them as well.
So even if you have your 200 friends and family on Facebook, if you were to ask them all to post that they know a great mortgage broker, chances are at least five people will contact you. Though Facebook works best for Hobson, she echoes social media expert Angela West’s advice that it’s best to focus on one or two online tools rather than being overwhelmed trying to master it all. “Concentrate on at least one of them continuously,” adds Hobson. “Guaranteed, you will get questions, people contacting you for mortgages. You reach more and more people in minutes than you ever could in a lifetime in the old way of knocking on people’s doors and taking them out for coffee.”
Hobson notes that some people in her generation are wary of online social networking because they’re scared of information leaking out. “But if it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have half my clients,” she says. “People have to get over their fears, get on a computer and link themselves up. And it’s free clients. Your expense account is a lot less when you’re doing it this way.” She suggests to get started, take a day to set up an account, ask any kids you have or know to guide you through the beginning, and then play around with it. “It’s so easy,” she says. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist.”
Keys to long-term success
The best part about using Facebook is starting with the people you personally know to broaden your professional connections. But Matthias says if you want to use it to build your business for the long term, you should follow a topic that is very broad and bubble it down to the fact that you are in the mortgage business.
He and his fiancée Jen, also a licensed agent, run a blog called Calgary Foodies. The tagline reads, “Adventures of Two Mortgage Brokers with Taste.” “It’s about taking something broad, restaurant reviews, recipes, something that everybody needs and has an interest in, and subtly add in our business,” he says. “So when a reader does need a mortgage, our names will be on their minds, and we’ll grab them when they need our services.”
Matthias doesn’t necessarily think online social media is for everyone though. “If there are brokers who primarily connect with their clients face to face, and don’t spend a lot of time online, creating something like a Facebook page may actually hurt their business,” he says.
The difference between a Facebook page and Facebook account is people “like” a Facebook page so it essentially describes your popularity by the number of people following the page. But if you are not frequently updating, you won’t get many online followers and it causes a false impression of your reputation as a broker. While with a Facebook account, the number of “friends” you have isn’t necessarily an indication of your reputation as a broker. Instead it is just another way for potential clients to contact you, such as Matthias’s run-in with his old high school friend.
So just like any other marketing campaign you’d use, when it comes to attracting clients online, you need to invest the time. How much time is up to you, but just make sure there’s regular activity. West says one hour per week, even spread out by a few minutes each day, is enough to maintain an online presence. Don’t think once you're online, you’ll get an immediate gain of new business though. “It’s another way of meeting people,” she explains. “You might get lucky on your first go, or it might take six months to a year.” However, she’s quick to quip that the return on investment for a mortgage broker is much higher than that of a copywriter.
It’s obvious: when something new arises that seems terrifying, it pays to literally jump on to the Internet. And it isn’t as difficult to understand as a mortgage may be to an ordinary person. “You don’t need an advanced degree to use Twitter,” West laughs. All you need is a few free minutes each day.
More Web 2.0: Online bookmarking sites
Another online tool social media expert Angela West recommends to connect with and draw in potential clients is the bookmarking site Reddit.
Stumbleupon, Digg and Reddit are places where anyone can post a link, image, article, video and more to specific categories, such as real estate. Then users vote on what links they like or dislike, and the items are ranked accordingly so super hot postings can go viral, i.e. spread to hundreds and thousands, and potentially millions of people in less than a day. So if you are already maintaining a blog, take 10 seconds to post each new writeup on Reddit.
The likelihood of your mortgage brokerage story going viral is slight, but the purpose is to build your brand, create a following and essentially market yourself for free to an audience that may not have been reachable through expensive ad buys. The other advantage to using Reddit, says West, is people on Reddit tend to be tech savvy, tech-oriented, urban professionals who are in the burgeoning target market of young couples without kids, earning a solid double income. Your accessibility, authority and reliability only goes up by showing you can join the same playgrounds.
The Social Media Sites
What started as a university students-only networking site quickly transformed into everybody’s instant calling card. Sign up with Facebook, and get a profile page where you can upload photos, update your “What are you doing?” status like a headline in a newsfeed, and “friend” other users so you can check in on their status updates, and exchange messages publicly on one another’s profiles or privately through direct messages.
This site has been described as “Facebook for professionals.” Your profile page essentially reads like your resume so other people in your industry can see your past work experience. When you link with other users, you can also ask people you’ve previously worked with or worked for to recommend you so potential future employers or clients can be referred to you.
It’s the micro-blogging site where each status update can only be 140 characters long. You follow users who interest you, and if you don’t make your account private, anyone can follow your updates too. You can search for keywords to see what people are talking about, and reply back to people to have conversations live.
Tweetiquette and Twips for Mortgage Professionals
A tweet consists of 140 characters, so the idea is to be short and to the point. Here are a few hints on how to do it right, and a couple of guidelines on how not to be annoying:
- Add value. When linking to a story, write a short comment at the beginning on why you found it interesting and pique users’ curiosity
- Give credit. RT signals you’re “retweeting” what someone else wrote. HT means you reworded it but “hat-tipped” to the original Tweeter
- Be purposeful. No one cares that you ate a banana this morning (unless it was a REALLY, REALLY GREAT banana). Keep the branding relevant
- But be human. If you have out-of-the-ordinary news, potential clients like to see a personal side, and will probably send an instant reply
- Don’t spam. It didn’t work (well) for e-mail. It’s not going to work here.
- Be courteous. Keep up with who’s mentioning you, and always try to say “thanks for RTing” or “thanks for the follow”
And for anyone who thinks 140 characters is limiting—each tip could have fit into a tweet.