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Real estate brokers plug in to social media

Many using sites to build trust, connect to clients

Realtor Gerry Bourgeois has a QR (quick response) code on the back of his car with the hopes that people might take a photo of his code with their smartphone. Realtor Gerry Bourgeois has a QR (quick response) code on the back of his car with the hopes that people might take a photo of his code with their smartphone. (Ellen Harasimowicz for The Boston Globe)
By Kathleen Pierce
Globe Correspondent / September 18, 2011

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What’s on your mind?

For real estate broker Gerry Bourgeois it’s selling a three-bedroom Colonial in Leominster. Turning to Facebook, the tech-savvy Bourgeois posts a picture of himself snapping a photo of his new listing and blasts it to his 1,656 friends.

That was in April. Since then the owner of Towne & Country Realtors in Leominster has hosted a brokers’ lunch at the sprawling home, inviting members of eight local offices through a Facebook group. He turned to the popular social media site again last week after he closed on the sale of the Leominster house.

“One closer to 1,000 personal sales. I’m almost there,’’ he posted next to a photo of a “sold’’ sign.

As more people live online, social media has become a fertile ground for brands and business. And no industry is more suited to the connective hive of Facebook, Twitter, and Google-Plus than real estate.

“People do business with people they know, like, and trust,’’ said Bourgeois, who has sold single-family homes in Central Massachusetts for 21 years. “This business is all about relationship building.’’

Building trust is the crux of social media, specialists say. And in a still-shaky housing sector, where consumers are wary about home prices and the overall direction of the market, a personal connection with a broker can go a long way.

To market properties, brokers like Bourgeois, whose online persona is Realtyman, work more than a dozen social media circuits - Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Foursquare chief among them. His office, known as his command center, is an ode to the tools of the times.

Bourgeois deploys up to five different screens at any time. The iPad is set to a customized magazine on real estate, his MacBook runs TweetDeck, his iPhone is a repository for Facebook messages and his two Dell monitors track fluctuations in the market and his company’s website. Bourgeois doesn’t look like the next social media guru Chris Brogan, but he may be the most connected guy in Johnny Appleseed country.

“It all comes down to exposure for the properties,’’ said Bourgeois, an early adaptor with a cup on his desk that says ‘geek.’

“If you’re not out there, you don’t exist.’’

Although it’s hard for Bourgeois to quantify just how many sales have come through social media, he believes that anecdotally it’s working. Two friends from high school contacted him through Facebook on separate occasions and over drinks asked him to sell their family homes or find homes for their in-laws. The 42-year-old doubts such business would have materialized if he wasn’t working the digital network.

“I wasn’t selling real estate in high school. Would they have even known that’s what I do? Possibly through other marketing, but definitely through social media,’’ he said.

By being present and active in the pockets of social media where potential clients lurk, referrals can happen seamlessly. Christine Braccini discovered the key to her mother’s new townhouse through a virtual friend. For months she was following a Facebook page called Tuesdays in Templeton, before realizing it wasn’t the ruminations of an informative town blogger, but rather a shrewd broker. “We moved up here six years ago and didn’t know too much about the town. I read the page, joined in. It was a lot of facts about Templeton. I never knew who it was,’’ said Braccini, who is originally from Watertown.

Broker Diane Haley Brooks started to blog over a year ago to rekindle associations with her hometown. “I grew up here and moved away. I realized I wasn’t entrenched in the community the way I was when I was younger,’’ she said.

The goal is to sell homes, but in the process she discovered a knack for blogging and a love of history. “A realtor should be connected to their community,’’ said Haley Brooks, who works for Towne & Country, “but I take my online offline. You can’t just sit behind a desk and post on your blog all day.’’

She supplements her posts and tweets by working local events, such as town fairs and meetings with business owners, but increasingly her connections are in the social media sphere.

“If everyone is hanging out at the donut shop, that’s where you would go to get business. That’s where people would meet in the old days,’’ said Haley Brooks.

Between tidbits of town lore, she will add a house listing, usually on a Tuesday. “I think it works better when you are not in somebody’s face,’’ she said.

The stealth approach worked for Braccini. Faced with helping her mother find a home in Templeton recently, she contacted Haley Brooks, having a hunch she would be a trustworthy realtor.

“She didn’t push the real estate thing,’’ said Braccini. “She gets her stuff out there; she’s a strong woman who is passionate about the community,’’ said Braccini.

And she was the right broker for her aging mother.

Haley Brooks found an affordable townhouse for Braccini’s mother and helped secure financing. “She took care of a lot of little things. She handled them and let my mother deal with personal things. She held her hand and took charge,’’ said Braccini, whose mother was going through a difficult time.

Focusing on social media is starting to pay off at Towne & Country, where realtors are encouraged to blog, tweet, and use Facebook, but Bourgeois warns it’s not a slam-dunk for every broker. If you inundate your followers with business tweets, you’ll be blocked and defriended quickly, he said.

“You have to be thinking, what’s the message that you are trying to get out? Who’s your audience? There is thought behind what I do,’’ said Bourgeois.

He’ll post a video of a new listing, take pictures of an attractive backsplash, or just check in at a law firm as he awaits the ink to dry on a deed. “I tie in the social aspect with extra marketing,’’ said Bourgeois, who strives to add humor and nonwork related posts on social media so he doesn’t come across as “too spammy.’’

Being so plugged in has it’s downsides, there are times when Bourgeois is not up for a Facebook chat. But money never sleeps. “It’s not a 9-to-5, Monday through Friday job. Theoretically we are always working,’’ said Bourgeois, pointing to his TweetDeck. “People are on this all the time.’’

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