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RISMEDIA, October 22, 2010—(MCT)—When real estate agent Sarah Elles Boggs walks into one of downtown Miami’s condo towers for a showing, she pulls out her Android smart phone, “checks in” on a GPS-powered Web platform called Foursquare, blasts her whereabouts on Twitter, and leaves behind a location-based “tip” in the virtual world for the next visitor.

It’s a social media routine that has become natural for Boggs, who has incorporated micro-blogging, Facebook-updating and app-downloading as core parts of her business.

And it’s working.

“I did pick up two solid new clients off of Twitter just last month alone who have already closed,” Boggs said. “And I’m working with a buyer from overseas who connected with me via Facebook.”

No longer just the hobby of a few tech-savvy agents, social media is being discussed in real estate firm board rooms and at trade group meetings, and companies are tracking their return on investments in various online platforms.

As real estate agents look for a leg up in a troubled market, and as more home buyers and sellers make the Internet an integral part of the sales process, tech-savvy Realtors are finding fresh ways to connect with clients online. Anecdotal evidence of social media’s results has spread among the real estate community, and Realtors are joining Twitter, launching blogs, sprucing up Facebook pages and vying for virtual “mayorships” in growing numbers.

At South Florida-based ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, marketing director Brad Nelson has integrated social media as a core component of the company’s marketing campaign.

For Nelson, it’s simply a matter of numbers. “If Facebook were a country, it would be the third-largest country in the world,” he said. “I don’t know of a single newspaper, of a single television program, or a single radio program that has that kind of reach.”

The company has a presence on Facebook, with nearly 1,200 fans and 185 links. ONE Sotheby’s Facebook page, links to the company YouTube channel, Twitter account, website and blog.

All of those platforms provide visitors access to the company’s agents and online listings of homes for sale, and they’re responsible for a significant portion of website traffic, Nelson said.

Real estate agents with a strong command of social media have an avenue to access potential clients, and promote their listings to a cloud of Web traffic, said Beth Butler, who owns real estate consulting firm Big Mouth Consulting, and hosts a weekly chat session for local Realtors. “Now that social media has gone mainstream, it’s very important for real estate agents to be engaged in it in some way, shape or form,” she said. “If not, your competition will be.”

Jorge Fernandez, a Realtor with Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell specializing in the Coral Gables market, has spent much of the past year building up his profile on location-based platform Foursquare.

At a number of condo buildings in and around Coral Gables, Fla., Fernandez has achieved the position of Foursquare mayor—a post granted to the most active user at a location. Each time a Foursquare user checks in to one of those buildings, Fernandez’s image pops up, along with his tips—which are often ads for units he has listed for sale in the building. That strategy has helped him connect with clients, he says, and at least two recent sales originated from social media.

More importantly, Fernandez says, it has helped him build his profile as an active Realtor in the region. “My Foursquare is tied into Facebook and Twitter, so it allows people to see ‘Jorge is checking in.’ It reminds them that I’m in real estate, I’m showing properties and I’m busy in this market,” he said.

Boggs also uses Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter to keep followers updated on her activity, mixing personal and social updates with real estate listings. She has about 1,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2,100 fans on her Facebook page, which is devoted to real estate in downtown Miami and Brickell, Fla.

She’s noticed a pattern among those followers and fans who have developed into clients. They follow her, spend some time passively watching her posts and then eventually begin to engage with her in the social media world. Soon after, she sends them on a digital walkthrough of a property—accompanied by photo slideshows and YouTube video-tours—and then speaks with them on the phone. Typically, she shows them the property in person a few days later.

One of Boggs’ clients, Lenny Tachmes, found her via Twitter and decided to reach out to her when he needed to find a new rental condo in downtown Miami.

Tachmes, a plastic surgeon who uses social media in his own practice, said he saw Twitter as a normal place to begin a business relationship. “It’s a natural extension of the real estate business,” said Tachmes, who recently moved into a one-bedroom at the ICON Brickell. “She did everything a Realtor was supposed to do.”

ONE Sotheby’s has pushed to expand its social media strategy beyond the virtual world, hosting “tweet-up” meetings at some of its high-profile listings.

In July, the firm hosted about 100 of its social media followers at the penthouse unit at the Residences at the W South Beach, in Miami, for an evening of free drinks and light bites.

The event served as a de-facto open house for the 2,752 square-foot unit, which was for sale at the time, but was also a public relations move to publicize the firm’s social media accounts. Guests had to RSVP by mentioning ONE Sotheby’s Twitter name in their own posts and were also encouraged to live-tweet at the event, telling their followers where they were.

When the penthouse sold in September for $6.2 million, Sotheby’s sent blasts out to Twitter and Facebook followers, linking to a blog post about the sale.

The link between online activity and offline results is also being explored by condo buildings, where marketing teams have created social media profiles and blogs for buildings in an effort to boost sales.

During a recent cocktail event and open house at the Marquis Residences condo tower in downtown Miami, about 500 guests were directed to become fans of the building’s Facebook page at computers set up in the building.

Lori Levine Ordover, managing director of sales at Africa Israel USA, which owns Marquis, predicted those new social media fans—many of them real estate brokers—would net the building at least five sales.

For Ordover, who hired a social media strategist for the building earlier this year, it’s a matter of keeping the building top-of-mind for followers with regular posts and updates about the condo tower. That, she says, has results, with social media credited for at least one sale in the last two months. “We consider this as important to our outreach as putting an ad in the newspaper, or hiring a marketing team,” she said. “It’s become almost an essential part of our marketing campaign.”

In the Realtor community, social media is also being used to build industry connections, as agents have used Facebook and Twitter to exchange tips, and encourage one another during a down market.

During Butler’s Sunday night Twitter chats, a couple dozen Realtors fire up their computers and discuss topics ranging from Coral Gables real estate, to condos in Miami Beach, to sales trends in Brickell. The mood is generally light and the tweets are mostly optimistic during the networking session built on exchanges of no more than 140 characters.

“It’s important to be involved in it in a meaningful way,” Butler said. “We’re not necessarily talking about where we had dinner, but talking about topics that are relevant to real estate agents in our markets.”

The chat session has led to new opportunities and leads for some of the participants.

Boggs was contacted by an app developer to try out a brand new smart phone app to be marketed to the Realtor community. The app, still in beta testing, allows users to take an image of a property with their smart phone, and get information on previous sales, tax rolls, foreclosure status, nearby schools and other details, all in a matter of seconds. “If you’re on a showing and a buyer wants to know about another home, you can find out about it right there in real time from your phone,” she said. “When you show it to buyers, they just marvel at it.”

(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.