Many real estate developers have been slow to adopt social media to help market completed residential or commercial construction projects. But those who have are seeing the value in how it can bring to life the branding of new neighborhoods or shopping districts, or draw in prospective tenants or buyers.
However, there is one area where developers are still lagging on the social media front: the permitting and community relations phase of a project. This is not surprising — after all, many developers want to attract as little attention as possible to something that could be controversial and they believe that having a presence on Twitter or Facebook provides a stage for angry abutters to air their complaints.
The truth is, if neighbors are upset, they will take to social media to express their views regardless of whether a developer is on social media. And this is where having established social channels outweighs not having them, for the following five reasons:
- It can be your ears. Twitter especially can help you listen to the conversations taking place before you announce a project. Even without your own handle set up, you can go on and see who your constituents are. Local residents, business owners, elected officials and neighborhood groups are all on social media, talking about everything from traffic and taxes to petty theft and parking woes. This is valuable information. To have your finger on the pulse, and to know who is active in a community, can help shape a project and inform the communications strategy throughout.
- It makes the project more transparent. Once you have established social channels, you can begin to engage, by answering questions, or posting meeting announcements. This not only communicates facts, but communicates the perception that you are open to hearing what constituents care about and are willing to respond to them. Often, people just want to be heard. And when they think they you are not listening, they get angry.
- It helps build alliances. People love the validation that social media can offer. Simply by following someone back on Twitter or retweeting them, or publicly responding to them can make them feel like they have a seat at the table. Also, by following and engaging with organizations that reflect the vision of your project – whether it be an architecture, environmental or civic group – you can show your intent and interests.
- It prevents rumors. Social media is great for many things – including spreading false information. Responding on social channels whenever there are inaccuracies will stop others from putting them out there. People often complain when change occurs, but being prepared ahead of time with thoughtful responses, and establishing an escalation process, is the best way to handle the situation.
- It can begin the branding process. If your project vision is about historic preservation or adding more housing to enliven an area, the messages your put out through social channels early can begin to explain how you will achieve these goals, what’s in it for the community, and why supporting the project may be in their own interest. By the time the project is done, the market will already be primed for it.
While social media does not replace the all-important face-to-face meetings that drive the community relations and agency approval process, it does allow developers to hear more opinions early on, and prevent a problem from escalating, which may save time and money. It also allows them to meet their constituents where they are, and that is online.