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I’ve long believed in the power of social media to help people defy geographic and cultural boundaries to make lasting connections and build strong relationships. And this holds true whether social media is used for personal or professional reasons—or even a combination.

In our industry, many real estate agents use platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter quite successfully to create a bridge between who they are as people and who they are as professionals. The most skilled users strike such a beautiful balance that the distinction between personal and professional is seamless.

Social media is the perfect forum for showing people who we are, rather than telling them. And I recently witnessed one of the most moving displays of this over the summer.

During a nine-week period beginning in May, RE/MAX sponsored a social media contest at We asked a simple question: “What moves you?” More than 1,200 consumers shared stories about the things in life that move them—whether emotionally or physically from one place to another. And it was all about moving each other with their stories, because consumers voted for their favorites to win a weekly prize and qualify for the final round of voting. More than 70,000 votes decided the $10,000 grand-prize winner. The story of Sweet Sophie May, a beautiful 21-month-old girl who’s battling neuroblastoma, won the big prize with 10,050 votes.

I’m sure the cash prize provided some motivation to participate. But what struck us most about the entire competition was the sheer number of people who participated and how heartfelt and candid they were. They shared deeply personal stories of struggle and triumph. They opened up their hearts to show us who they are. And at RE/MAX, we were happy to have an opportunity to show them who RE/MAX agents are: people who care about family and community.

The evolution and results of the contest proved how a little creativity can go a long way in building goodwill and communicating what we value the most. The brand benefits were amazing, but what it did for the participants was the biggest payoff. It gave them an opportunity to use a forum they’ve come to trust to reach out for support and encouragement. And we hope in the process, we gained a little of their trust, too.

It all started with a simple question. Sometimes the simplest business move can hold benefits you never imagined. What’s simpler than letting your customers know you hear them and that you care?

Through the social media contest, we learned so much—most importantly, that relationships are the foundation of a successful business. You may not be able to offer up a large prize, but the real objectives of a contest like this are (1) to help consumers connect with each other and (2) to connect with you. You do this with the hope that one day when they’re ready to move, they’ll think of you first for the person you are, and second for the top-tier customer service you can provide.

Yes, a campaign like this does take a little creativity. But it also takes a little courage to try something new—something like the courage the contest participants showed in sharing their stories. They truly moved us.

Margaret Kelly (CRB) is chief executive officer of RE/MAX, LLC. For more information, visit