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Don’t Just Communicate, Create a Dialogue with Social Media

October 31, 2012

Communicating with members via social media is commonplace among REALTOR® associations. The challenge now, association executives say, is to turn that typically one-way communication into two-way engagement.

Engagement is the Holy Grail of social media: A two-way relationship means members are truly interested—and invested—in what you offer.

Members who interact with your association online often increase their participation offline: joining committees, staffing work groups, attending events, and purchasing products. Online engagement also generates member feedback, which can help you with assessment, planning, and resource allocation, and with staying tuned in to member trends.

Engagement campaigns require staff time and budget dollars (although usually more of the former than the latter), and the payoff can take awhile to build. But association executives, especially communication directors, say the effort is not only worth it but essential if your goal is to keep up with members.

How do you define success?

Successful social media use was difficult to define until recently, and associations are defining their success in a variety of ways according to the goals they’ve set for their social media engagement efforts.

Google Analytics is an easy way to measure how much traffic is being referred to your Web site from the various social channels. This tool can also help you monitor unique page views, time on page, and total pages viewed for each piece of content you create. Other social media analytic tools, such as Sprout Social, aggregate your activity into one easy-to-view dashboard where you can see if your strategy is moving in the right direction.

Another way to measure or justify your social engagement activities is to go through your social space mentions and tag them as positive, neutral, or negative. Add up the totals and measure over time. If the good mentions are growing, then your strategy is working.

“We measure social media success by the number of Facebook postings, YouTube views, shares, retweets, bitly link clicks, sellout events, smiling faces, proud board members, and whatever else we can track,” says Greg Sax, director of communications and product development at the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS®. After all, the ability to measure engagement is key to proving its value.

One example of Minneapolis’ social media marketing success is its monthly market videos, which are posted on YouTube. The association staff “shares the heck out of them via Facebook, Twitter, good old e-mail, and the like, and watches as members promote them farther,” says Sax. In addition to an average of 1,000 views per video, often the association receives requests from both members and nonmembers who want custom videos made for them. “Now it’s become a tidy product all its own, giving our association that coveted non-dues revenue we all crave and love.”

During the national association’s midyear meetings, the Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif., engaged a small group of correspondents (NAR directors, local officers, and staff) to bring news from Washington, D.C., back home to members via the association’s Facebook page. “I would post news throughout the day as it was happening, and our Facebook metrics skyrocketed during that week,” says Joe Smith, the association’s communication coordinator. Member posts generated from the news feed increased 35 percent and the association saw a 45 percent increase in online engagement (likes, comments, click-throughs). “This response from our followers reminded our leadership of the power of our social media sites and strengthened their commitment to these communication channels.”

Promotions can draw people in . . .

Social media engagement runs on some of the same principles as traditional marketing: attract participation with coupons, deals, and prizes, or just make it fun.

At the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS®, boosting event participation started with a contest to win a Kodak digital camera. The goal of the contest was to attract members to Member Appreciation Week events, but it also increased the association’s social media following. And, of course, with more followers there’s a wider audience for the next promotion.

“In all of the marketing for the event, I encouraged members to take photos and post them to our Facebook page to be entered to win the camera,” says Katie Shotts, marketing and events manager. Members were then asked to vote for their favorite photo; the one with the most votes won. A few members began posting on their personal pages every day, asking their friends to vote for their photo. “Our reach was off the charts during that time, and it was a ton of fun watching it unfold and seeing how much the members were enjoying it. We all know how much people like seeing photos, and this was the jackpot!” Shotts says. The winning photo received 233 votes and 43 shares.

To promote attendance at another event, Shotts tweeted a secret word and only those members who told event staff the secret word could be entered into an iPad drawing. “Each day I would tweet something like, ‘Today’s secret word is professionalism. Get an extra drawing entry!’” says Shotts. “We gained 30 new MAAR member followers on Twitter in those five days, including the person who ended up winning the tablet.”

Long Island Association of REALTORS®, N.Y., Electronic Communication Specialist Sathya Bridgemohansingh recently used Twitter to promote discount codes for association products and services to boost event attendance during Member Appreciation Week. “If someone commented or ‘liked’ us on Facebook, they’d get special offers too,” she says. The result was increased participation over the previous years and more member followers on Twitter.

Using the popular “events” feature on Facebook helped Michaela Mitchell, communications director at the Emerald Coast Association of REALTORS®, Fla., generate increased attendance at her events. “Members can sign up for events right on Facebook instead of replying to an e-mail or registering on the association site,” she says. Even though Mitchell has to then manually register members from the Facebook list, she says the member convenience and the 10 to 15 percent increase in attendance makes it worthwhile.

. . . But valuable content makes them stay

While social media can increase attendance at live events, it can also facilitate an active online community where members can create buzz and participate virtually. “During our two major annual events, our education conference and tech fair, we encourage our attendees not only to follow us on Twitter, but to use hashtags so that their tweets will populate our event website,” says Bridgemohansingh.  “Those who can’t make the events love the live feed of photos and comments. Many comment and engage online. It’s really great.”

Associations are finding that engaging members with social media via special offers, contests, live-event coverage, provocative questions, and insightful information sharing builds a following for association information of all kinds and boosts member involvement in the association as a whole.

In fact, there’s an entire industry focused on helping organizations leverage the power of social media to turn tweets and “likes” into real-world action. From attending events and buying products to volunteering and pressing for grassroots political change, getting members to act may soon depend on the effectiveness of your association’s social engagement strategy.