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Social media has changed the world in many ways, giving us almost unlimited access to the lives of friends, family, distant acquaintances and potential clients. Whatever they choose to share, we have the opportunity to consume. And consume we do. A recent study by Experian Marketing Services found that Americans are spending an average of 16 minutes out of every hour on social networks.

It’s an interesting coincidence that the rise of social media happened almost in unison with the 2007 crash of the housing market. Or perhaps this evolution wasn’t so much a coincidence as it was a business necessity. Just like any industry affected by the economic downturn, as our market declined, so did our marketing budgets. The money to run costly newspaper, billboard, bus bench, television advertising and magazine campaigns—once the center of our marketing strategies—disappeared.

During the downturn, these marketing tools were replaced by free blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sharing sites. Utilizing these new communication vehicles also meant changing our messaging. No longer were we shouting out “buy from me” and “sell with me” messages. We had to find another way to connect with our sphere of influence and potential new clients.

From this challenge, one of the most promising marketing concepts our market has seen in decades emerged: the friend-of-mine strategy. It’s something many of today’s real estate marketing stars are coming to rely on and are constantly working to perfect. Leveraging social media in every way possible, they create blogs that provide useful and relevant content, connect and build relationships on Facebook and Twitter, and showcase their professional expertise on LinkedIn. The general message is simple but powerful: “I am always there for you, available simply to connect or to help with anything you might need.”