How employees are tweeting themselves into new neighborhoods.
By Carolyn White
Corporations—and their employees—are using social networking platforms to interact with other organizations, individuals, and brands. Social media has the power to revolutionize the way information is disseminated and absorbed, and many of the ways that business is conducted could be changed forever.
The Social Network Explodes Exponentially
The adoption rate for social media is skyrocketing. In 2009, Facebook surpassed 350 million users worldwide, and Twitter ended the year with 19.9 million, according to Doug Gross in “Has Twitter Peaked?” which appeared on CNN.com in January. However, individuals are not the only agents embracing social media. Corporations are seeing firsthand how valuable social networking can be in maintaining a dialogue with their customers. Just last year, 91 percent of firms on the Inc. 500 used at least one social media tool.
Social media provides a means for people to connect with each other—in both good times and bad. While the most common uses of social networking are sharing personal achievements, family memories or general conversation, the applications do not end there. Social networking provides a fast and simple way to disseminate important information. For instance, in the days and weeks immediately following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, posts on Twitter served as the leading source of discussion, with online videos, blogs, and discussion boards following close behind.
Helping to Make—or Break—Decisions
Businesses need to realize the influence that social networking has on their target audiences. Now more than ever, word-of-mouth is critical to brand and company reputations. Bad news can spread like wildfire throughout the social networking landscape, and businesses cannot afford to ignore what their customers are saying.
Instead, companies must be willing to accept blame, demonstrate their willingness to rectify issues, and avoid those problems in the future. A swift and appropriate response is necessary to effectively address any issues presented. Social media is available 24/7—and that means that the longer a company takes to respond, the more susceptible it is to long-term damage.
Additionally, companies should understand that their customers are using social networking, and therefore, these sites provide an incredible opportunity to educate their customers. From announcing new products, to issuing important announcements, to creating brand ambassadors, companies should include social media as a prominent part of their communications strategy.
People are growing increasingly reliant on word-of mouth, using what they find through social media outlets to aid their decision-making process. Recommendations from personal acquaintances remain the most trusted source of information. But, according to a 2009 report from The Nielsen Company Global Advertising: Consumers Trust Real Friends and Virtual Strangers the Most, consumer opinions posted online also affect how opinions on businesses are formed. However, social media is not strictly used by consumers. Professionals are also using social networking to validate their business decisions and to shape their networks and relationships.
In the realm of relocation, social media is also affecting how people select moving companies and real estate services. In a 2009 survey, market research company Ad-ology Research reported, “nearly one in eight higher income consumers said social media influenced their choice of real estate services, the highest of all media types.”
While people might identify moving companies through a variety of resources, they probably will not hire a company until they have read reviews on the service. Relocating employees want to know how moving companies have treated other customers and colleagues. Did they receive timely service, accurate and thorough in-home estimates, and prompt claim resolution if one occurred? Most importantly, transferees are looking for moving companies actively involved with their customers—a company that responds to reviews with gratitude, explanations, or even apologies, if necessary.
Making Relocations More Personal
Relocation has always been high-touch and personal, and social media is making it even more so. Through social media tools, transferees are able to get to know the individuals and companies involved with their relocation. This increased level of connectivity helps build the transferees’ confidence in the company and services, and it also enables prompt and effective sharing of information. By enabling transferees to “meet” the people on the other end of the phone, social media helps build a face-to face relationship, even if the parties are spread throughout the country or around the globe.
Relocation service providers can help transferees learn more about their potential destinations by providing online interactive tools. At Graebel, we led the industry in this approach with the introduction of our password-protected client transferee portal, globalCONNECT.™ Through this portal, transferees can access information relevant to their specific policy entitlements, as well as other data:
• Profiles of destination cities and countries, including area school information;
• Comprehensive cost of living analysis for the destination city or country;
• Mortgage calculators;
• Home values;
• Move planners;
• Real-time access to relocation-related data, including schedules; and
• A move center, which features games, interactive stories, and links geared toward helping younger children understand the move.
Relocation companies are not the only organizations using social media to help relocatees adapt to new assignments. The U.S. Department of Defense created MilitaryAvenue Answers to help address the challenges resulting from constant relocations. The platform is geared toward younger families, who have grown up with the Internet and are reliant upon community forums for exchanging information. Using a Q&A platform, MilitaryAvenueAnswers enables the military community to tap into others’ knowledge and experiences concerning companies, base communities, and military relocation programs.
The New Welcome Wagon
With the aid of social networking, transferring employees and their families are able to settle into their new communities much faster. Social sites provide valuable resources that can help people:
• Learn about their new community;
• Use the experiences of others to find doctors, restaurants, stores, and much more;
• Locate local activities to participate in and find people with similar interests;
• Identify potential sources of employment for trailing spouses; and
• Stay connected with their friends and family regardless of where they are located.
For those who are on temporary or international assignments, staying in touch with their hometowns can be extremely helpful with relieving stress. Sometimes, people need only a simple picture to alleviate homesickness—and social networking provides the ideal medium.
As author Peter T. Kilborn described in his book, Next Step, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class (and also during the Graebel University fourth annual International Relocation Policy in February), relocating employees and career transferees experience significant isolation and stress. These so-called relos “trade a home in one place for a job that could be anyplace . . . they have little in the way of community ties.” With their next move looming in the near future, relos likely don’t want to take extensive steps to get actively involved in their new towns. Social networking could help them become more acquainted with their communities in a simple way, and keep them connected with scattered friends, family, and communities.
The Social Way of Selling Homes
Real estate agents who are actively engaged with social media might prove to be more successful at selling homes. Not only are these agents able to generate extensive exposure for their listings, but they also have the capability of reaching people beyond their local markets. Social media agents are not afraid to promote their listings in different ways and on many different sites—from Twitter, to Craigslist, to Facebook. Even YouTube provides an avenue to promote the features of a home, showcase the lifestyle and unique attributes of a community, and much more.
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, nearly half of the Realtors in the U.S. are either using, or are considering using, social networking sites as part of their promotional activities.
For real estate agents, relationships and reputations (online and offline) are critical to their success. Social media provides a method for establishing name recognition, building credibility, and developing relationships in the marketplace. While there are benefits to finding social media-savvy real estate agents, this qualification should not be the sole reason for selection. Graebel recommends qualifying real estate agents by their marketing knowledge, home marketing capabilities and plans, and their records of success. One way to determine an agent’s knowledge of the marketplace is to look for blogs he or she has written. Blogging helps build regional and national credibility, as well as provides valuable information for homebuyers, sellers, and fellow agents.
Social Media’s Long-Term Effects
Social media, and how it will alter the way the world communicates long-term, is a dynamic topic. However it seems as though social media will continue to increase in popularity. One 2009 survey reported that 65-percent of the worldwide Internet audience visited at least one social networking site in a single month.
Mike Read, senior vice president and managing director for comScore Europe, a preferred source for digital marketing intelligence, summed up the worldwide impact of social media on communication, “Social networking has become a popular online pastime not only in mature Internet markets, but also in developing high-growth Internet markets such as Russia.”
As worldwide adoption continues to increase, people will find new uses for social media—and these discoveries will likely affect companies, their employees, and the relocation industry.
Carolyn White is senior VP marketing and public relations for Graebel.