Jan. 19, 2010, Las Vegas – Builders who scoff at social media are ignoring a powerful way to connect with female buyers of all ages.

So said speakers during a Tuesday seminar at the International Builders' Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, where a packed room gathered to hear Dina Gundersen of Atlanta's Monte Hewett Homes; Carol Flammer of mRELEVANCE in Cartersville, Ga.; Karen Dry of Building Basics in Westlake, Calif.; and Tammie Smoot of Move in Cary, N.C.

According to these four, all of whom are actively involved in social media, significant numbers of women are engaging online with friends and family, as well as brands and companies. Just consider these two stats:

  • 72 percent of female Internet users said they'd learned about a new product or brand online or joined a group around a product or brand.
  • 80 percent of female Internet users said they'd become a fan of a product or brand on Facebook.

    That represents an undeniable opportunity to the housing industry. After all, some research indicates that women influence 91 percent of all home buying decisions, according to the speakers.

    But how does a builder put that all together to sell more homes? "I hired a mommy blogger, and she got me 120 fans on Facebook," one flummoxed builder said. "Now that I have them, what do I do with them?"

    Given the laughter that broke out in the seminar room, it was clearly a question on many audience members' minds.

    The quick answer? Connect with those Facebook fans by asking questions about their homes, their neighborhoods, their lives in their new homes. "They joined your Facebook page," one of the speakers responded. "They want to talk to you."

    The longer answer involves developing and managing a presence for your home building company online through social media. To accomplish that, here is what the speakers recommend:

    1. Establish a blog with your own URL. "Your blog is the engine of your program. It is the only thing you own," Flammer said. "Facebook can and will change its rules. Twitter can and will change its rules." If your blog is the cornerstone of your online marketing efforts, however, you will retain control over your information and how it is presented, no matter how policies and practices might change at whatever social media site might be hot at the moment.

    2. Post to your blog(s) consistently. In terms of frequency, "whatever momentum you start, keep it"—whether it's daily or monthly, said one speaker. Current conventional wisdom recommends posting about eight times each month.

    3. Keep the blog authentic. Many builders—especially small ones—wonder who should or can do a blog. The speakers' answer: Whoever wants to do it, from the company president to the sales staff. To avoid worrying about creating a consistent voice across a variety of writers, simply have everyone blog under their own name. What should they write about? Whatever they are passionate about, whether it's home design, quality construction, energy efficiency, seeing families become homeowners, or anything else related to housing and the places in which you build.

    4. Monitor your company's online reputation—good and bad—by signing up for Google Alerts on your company name. Not only will you find out quickly about an unhappy customer complaining online, but you may also discover fans you didn't even know you had. (When you do come across such a person, connect with them: Gundersen sent flowers to a homeowner who posted a positive comment about Monte Hewett Homes on a real estate site.)

    5. Find and cultivate advocates for your brand. This could include happy homeowners, real estate agents, mommy bloggers in your markets, and more. More and more large companies are actively reaching out to mommy bloggers to build their brand among consumers.

    6. Think about ways you can use social media (Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, YouTube, Flickr, and more) to create a broad, integrated campaign that you might have done in the past via conventional media sources. Post photos of your new homes on Flickr. Upload videos of construction and completed models on YouTube. Ask your Facebook fans about their favorite aspect of their new home.

    7. Remember to brand your social media outlets just as you would any other marketing materials. Use customized backgrounds, icons, and avatars as necessary to reflect your company's image and message.

    Characteristics That Attract Women to a Brand

    1. Good value
    2. Trustworthiness
    3. Responsive to moms' needs
    4. High quality
    5. Money-saving
    6. Time-saving
    (Source: DinaGundersen, Monte Hewett Homes)

    Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.