How to Build a Social Media “Farm”

Not long ago I had a conversation with a real estate agent about how to use social media to market himself. It got me thinking about the old-school real estate marketing practice of “farming.”

The way farming works is like this: An agent will decide on a neighborhood, or subdivision to specialize in and becomes THE expert for that area.

This area is her farm. She becomes an expert on property values in this community and builds relationships with the people who live there. Over time, a certain percentage of these people put their homes up for sale (typically about 5% of the houses in a subdivision are on the market at any given time) and, if the agent has sufficiently established herself, she positions herself as the first real estate agent they think of.

I’ve never sold real estate myself, so I don’t know if farming is still a popular marketing strategy, but I do know that a lot of agents in the past have done very well for themselves using the farming system.

One of the keys of the system’s success is that it begins with the understanding that you can’t market to everyone. It forces agents to specifically define their target markets and focus their efforts on building relationships within that finite group.

I once lived in a subdivision that was one particular agent’s farm and she was apparently quite successful at it. Approximately half of all the For Sale signs that went up had her name on them.

But she really worked her farm. Every summer she hosted block parties, had a paper newsletter that kept people up to date on real estate values and interest rates. But it also had recipes and puzzles for kids to solve.

She also included free ads for garage sales in the community and got local businesses to put coupons and special offers in her newsletter. Teenagers even got to post free ads for their babysitting and lawn mowing services.

She had a recommended list of nearby businesses and kept us up to date on things to do in the area.

She knocked on every door at least once a quarter to introduce herself or reintroduce herself and hand out information about property values and taxes. I know of one instance in which she helped one homeowner fight the city when he was given an unrealistic tax assessment.

Her magnetic business cards graced most refrigerators. Every household in the subdivision received beautiful Christmas cards and calendars every year.

She also taught home buying seminars which helped her have a steady supply of prospective buyers. As a result, it was common knowledge that when she got a listing, her houses tended to move fast. A seller would have to think twice before giving his brother in law a contract to sell his houses.

I’ve long since moved away from that area, but I have to wonder if that agent is now publishing an email newsletter or writing a blog to help her cultivate her farm.

Now what does all this have to do with social media marketing?

Simply this: All successful social media marketing campaigns are a lot like farming. This agent was "social networking" long before it went online.

A lot of business people target everyone who has the means to write them a check. But effective social media marketing begins with the understanding that we can’t reach everyone, and it is a waste of time to try.

Part of my interview process when I begin working with a new client is to ask them to describe their ideal clients. I’m always amazed at how hard this question is for business people to answer.

For example, I met a chiropractor who said that anyone with a spine was his ideal client. Obviously he was partly joking, but not entirely.

If you sell a service that anyone and everyone can use and needs, you still can’t build relationships with everyone. It is far better to narrowly define a specific group of prospects with whom you can build relationships.

Your farm can be people who live in a specific community, or it can be all the out-patient medical facilities within a five zip code area. It can be female dentists in the west side of your town, or it can be high school basketball coaches.

Identify a group you can relate to, and with whom you share common interests. Is there a group you like or share common experiences with? Are you a mother of teenage girls? Then maybe other mothers of teenage girls could be your farm.

Social media makes it easy to find and join all kinds of groups. And if you can’t find a specific group, you can start your own.

For example, go on Facebook or LinkedIn and check out all the groups you can connect to.

Twitter also has a lot of groups you can join.

Or start your own group (aka “farm”).

But joining or starting a group is just the beginning. You still have to “cultivate” your farm like the agent I mentioned earlier. Create events for that group, Facebook and LinkedIn make creating events very easy.

Try to cultivate these relationships offline as well as online. Pick up the phone and make friendly calls to your followers/friends.

Be informative, be a resource. And most of all, be fun.

Over time you will find that you are turning your group into a community (and friends). These people will know your name and know what you stand for.

The lessons here are:
  1. Define a finite and specific target market.
  2. You want a group of people who are both prospects AND who share common interests with each other. Obviously, if you share these same interests yourself, all the better.
  3. Either find existing groups or create your own. Cultivate ways for the members of the group to network with each other. You want word of mouth going on, as it can bestow "social proof" on you and your business.
  4. Start a blog and/or newsletter to communicate with your group. Share problem-solving information and resources. Use these platforms to further the goals of the group.
  5. Find ways to make the group fun. Remember the real estate agent who added puzzles and recipes to her newsletter.
  6. Become an advocate for group members. If there is a cause they are passionate about or pending legislation that effects the group, you might consider letters to the editor, or helping them organize.
  7. Practice random acts of kindness. Remember the real estate agent who helped a homeowner fight his tax assessment and allowed teenagers to place free ads in her newsletter.
  8. Position yourself as THE expert in your field within your group. You don’t have to be the best C.P.A. in the world, just the best known among this group.
  9. Find opportunities to expand your relationships offline (meetups, tweetups, social events, etc).

And like the real estate agent who farmed my neighborhood, you will position yourself to be the first person they think of when they need your services.

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COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown
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