The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Geoff Cramer, CEO and founder at SocialMadeSimple
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he spends 20 minutes getting the latest dish on social networking with Geoff Cramer, CEO and founder at SocialMadeSimple. Geoff rose through the company ranks at Century21 to the position of Senior VP & Sales Manager. Geoff's strength wasn’t just in using technology, but teaching it as well. He found that many of the brokers and agents needed help keeping up with the latest tech trends. It was in trying to bring social networking, the latest “tech trend” to his agents, that he saw the need for a solution like SocialMadeSimple, and thus began the next chapter of his life.
Eric: Geoff, maybe you can tell the audience a little bit about yourself and a little more about SocialMadeSimple.
Geoff: Absolutely! Thank you so much for having me today. We founded SocialMadeSimple going on about 8 years ago, which makes us kind of dinosaurs in the social media industry. Before that, I actually ran a residential real estate company, a Century21 franchise in the greater Boston area. I did that for about 9 years and really saw the need for agents and brokerages to take full advantage of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… then Google Plus, Instagram came along. Around 2008, the real estate market wasn’t doing so hot. I decided I’d make a change and try to solve this problem. So, we’ve been building technology and services over the last 8 years that help businesses of all kinds, but especially in the real estate industry, to take advantage of social media and drive new and referral business through their doors and to their websites.
Eric: You have a deep technology background because you were the VP of Sales and Technology for Century21 in Brooklyn, correct?
Geoff: I was, absolutely. Actually, my dad grew up as kind of a developer back in the old days when computers took up massive rooms. I was always there by his side as he was plugging away. So, I became really comfortable and familiar with technology, and that’s what I did at Century21. I found that I gravitated towards how do you solve a technology problem or how you solve a problem with technology for 30, 40, 50 agents all at once, who are not necessarily the most tech-savvy and have other things going on. They need to be out on the streets, meeting with clients and showing houses. So, I ended up driving sales and efficiency in systems, using technology. Looking back now, close to 15/16 years, it’s pretty archaic technology compared to what we’ve got these days. That’s where I found I was most successful in the real estate business, and I wanted to bring that to as many people as possible.
Eric: When you look back at the technology in real estate—you’re now using Facebook. That wasn’t always the case was it? Were you in Google Ads before or digital ads? Tell us about that progression. You’re now really specializing in the Facebook area.
Geoff: When I first started with online digital marketing, I used 2 main tools—email, trying to help make sure we were staying in touch with this massive book of business and all the clients our company had ever worked for, and Google AdWords. We were in Brookline, Massachusetts which is right outside of Boston, a nice suburb. I remember I was one of the first people to start using Google AdWords in that area for real estate. We were paying a penny a click! So, if anyone’s been in the business long enough to be doing AdWords, you used to pay one penny every time someone clicked on your Google Ad. I remember, I was furious! One day, I got an email that all of a sudden my minimum bid was raised up to 5 cents, and I was like, “This is it! Google’s over! No one’s going to pay that much for a click!” Fast-forward, right before I got out of the business, we were paying $40 a click. So, we saw Google come onto the scene and just absolutely blow up. Once Google became the behemoth that it did, people said, “Alright, if you can get people coming to a website really regularly for certain types of information, you have a massive business on your hands. That’s when Facebook first started coming around. We were just over the Charles (River) from Cambridge and Harvard, so Facebook started coming around pretty early in our area, and people started to join. I realized real estate in particular is such a social business. You become friends with your clients. You’re helping them through one of the biggest decisions and events of their lives. You have to know everything there is to know about them—from their financials to their family situation, to their work situation—to help them through that process. So, you become friends. Social media is a particularly good fit for the real estate industry for that very reason—you’re developing this kind of social/personal connection with clients a lot of the time.
Eric: What have you seen work well in real estate? You talk about social connections. What have you seen work really well in your eyes that helps make a broker use social properly?
Geoff: One of the biggest misconceptions of about social media marketing in general, is that people say, “Well, I’m going to ‘do’ social media.” I’m putting air quotes around that, but it doesn’t really work on a phone call. But, they see it as one thing, as one tool, and it really isn’t. It’s a very diverse toolbelt. You can use different aspects of social media in a lot of different ways to achieve a lot of different results. If you go at it like, “Alright, I’m going to ‘do’ Facebook”—we see that all the time, and people put in tons of time and effort, and in a lot of cases, money but don’t get a lot of results. So, you have to think about a particular objective: What are you trying to achieve? Social media (on the “social” side), when it comes to interacting with people, is a fantastic way to farm a sphere of influence regularly at scale. You can connect or ask your connections, your past clients, to connect with your Facebook page. You can put a piece of content on that Facebook page that will be seen by lots of them all at once. It’s a great way to constantly stay in front, in a very social way, of a large sphere of influence. If you think, “Alright I’ve got manual emails and phone calls”—maintaining a relationship with 500 people is really difficult! If you have 500 fans on a Facebook page, maintaining a relationship with them is really easy. On the other hand, if you want to go prospect for new business, it’s a completely different ballgame. Especially these days, Facebook is primarily pay-to-play. They made over 8 billion dollars last quarter. That's because they’ve figured out how to get businesses to spend money. And so, it’s a completely different strategy. It becomes this extraordinarily advanced and complicated advertising network unlike one we’ve ever seen before. There’s ways to recruit using Facebook. There’s all kinds of objectives. You’ve got to think about your objective, and then what component of social media—from what network is the proper one to use; is it Facebook, is it Twitter, is it LinkedIn?—to what actual part of those particular networks are the right ones to use.
Eric: So, if I hear you correctly—If your goal is to farm and stay in touch with your sphere, you should provide content and provide something you’re passionate about to keep in front of those people. If the other goal is to acquire new business, there’s other avenues than you’d normally think of that could help, like digital advertising. Is that correct?
Geoff: Yes, exactly right. One of the reasons I think that our company exists, and so important that we exist, is how much social media changes. The answer I just gave wouldn't have necessarily been the case a couple of years ago. It’s dramatically shifted. It used to be that social media and content were what think of most. We’ll talk primarily about Facebook. it’s the largest network and the one where most of your clients are going to be active. They think about, “Alright, well I’ve got either a personal profile or a business page, and I make a post. I post to that page, and people will see the post. If they like the post, share the post, or engage with the post, other people will then see the post.” You have that viral effect that a lot of people are used to in social. Well over the last couple of years, Facebook has said “You know what? We have millions and millions of business pages who are making tens of millions of business posts every day. We can’t show everything to everyone anymore. There’s just not enough time.” The average U.S. internet user is spending close to 20 hours a month on Facebook. Think about that—20 hours a month, that’s almost half a work week. But as much time as they’re spending, there’s not enough time to see everything that everyone wants to put in front of you. So, Facebook really has started to cut back on what they call “organic reach.” When you have a page or a profile and you make a post without paying any money to Facebook, that’s an “organic post.” Nowadays, that’s going to be seen, in a lot of cases, by 1 to 2 percent of the audience that you would hope might see it—a tiny little fraction.
Eric: They’ve really truncated that distribution now. Is that what you’re saying?
Geoff: Yes, they have to and it makes sense. If every time you log on you see 18 posts from your plumber, 18 posts from your real estate agent, and 18 posts from your doctor, you’re never going to get to the picture of the cute cat and your friend’s kids first day of school—the stuff that you really got on Facebook to see. They have to do it, or else people are going to start to get sick and tired of Facebook as a platform. So, it makes sense why they’ve done it, but it really changes how you have to look at Facebook as a marketing avenue.
Eric: Let’s walk back. You’re sitting 8 years ago, or 2008… was it 2008 that SocialMadeSimple began?
Geoff: Well, it started in 2009.
Eric: Tell us about that moment. What was the spark, or the inflection point? How did that conversation take place where you guys said, “Let’s just go for it!” to create this company and move in a different direction?
Geoff: Before that, I was working for the owner of the company that I’d been running for a while to actually buy him out. That deal fell through as the market started to turn a little bit. All the the numbers no longer made sense so that deal fell through. I had gotten ready to build and own something. So I said, “If it’s not this, what else is out there?” And I realized I had been trying to find a solution for my company for social media. I said, “You know what? This is the next thing. This is coming. We’ve got to find a solution.” But, every tool and every service out there was being built for the biggest brands. You would look up “social media marketing platform” and they’d say, “Our customers are Coca-Cola and Ford.” Yet, “Those aren’t me, that’s not us.” And, you would need a degree in digital marketing just to use the platform that was supposed to make the thing easier. So I said, “I really feel like I understand the average real estate agent. The average person, whose livelihood up until now has not included understanding anything about advanced digital marketing channels. If I could figure out how to solve it for that channel, it’s a really massive opportunity because no one’s paying them any mind. Over the course of the last 8 years, a lot of people have come in and tried to pay attention to a similar group of people—to the small business, independent marketer—to channel or sandbox. You look at most of them and eventually they ended up moving upstream to those bigger companies. It’s been a really difficult problem to solve—making something that changes so much, and is so complicated, simple enough that someone can do it. What we’ve found is, most success is looking at very specific situations and needs and solving those really specifically, much like what we do with you guys (QuantumDigital). We have real estate agents, they have listings, and they’re looking to drive leads because they want someone new to talk to tomorrow. Let’s solve that problem. When you really focus, laser focus, you can come up with these great solutions that are really easy and scalable. It works for lots of different people all over the country, and that’s how we built our business.
Eric: What a story. You also went to Berkeley School of Music and you play tennis. Tell us more about that. That’s pretty interesting.
Geoff: It’s true! I did go to Berkeley School of Music, and always wanted to own my own business. The goal there was to eventually someday have my own recording studio. I had it all planned out. It was going to be out in the woods. The biggest bands were going to come and record with me. It didn’t take too long at Berkeley to realize that this was a whole lot more fun doing it for love of music, than it was going to be for trying to make a living at it. I very quickly said, “You know what? I think music is going to be something I do in my spare time.” I went looking for what my career path will be. How can I make some money and do something that I still love to do. That’s when I got into real estate. I likened music and recording with real estate, which a lot of people have a hard time... they don’t really see the connection there. But, both of them are actually kind of like I talked about before—they’re both working very closely with someone through a momentous time in their life. A recording engineer, a studio engineer, is working with a musician to make an album. If you’re a musician, it doesn’t get much bigger than when you make an album of your music. Working with a person, a couple, or a family buying their home is kind of that similar experience—helping them understand something they don’t understand to get through this really big time of their lives and this big accomplishment. So, I made the connection, jumped in with both feet into real estate, and loved it. I started renting apartments in Cambridge to Harvard students. Eventually, because of technology and really understanding it, grew to where I was running the company in Brooklyn.
Eric: You played in a few bands I believe as well, right?
Geoff: I did. I still do, actually. My wife is a teacher. A bunch of the other teachers who all play instruments are putting together a little gig for the headmaster of the school who is retiring. This Saturday, a bunch of us old farts with kids and nowhere near enough spare time to have taken on something like this. We’re going to be playing a bunch of Bruce Springsteen, which is his favorite, for a group of parents, former students, and teachers. So, I still get behind the drums every once in awhile.
Eric: You’re a very accomplished guy with your music, social media, and I hear you’re a very good tennis player as well.
Geoff: Yes. I wouldn’t say “very good.” I’d would say I do it a lot. I’m probably not as good as I should be for how much as I play. But, I captain a bunch of teams, which says nothing about the quality of the tennis and more about the willingness to deal with a whole bunch of emails and people cancelling at the last minute.
Eric: Facebook is changing all the time. You’re very close to this. What’s next for this social channel?
Geoff: There’s a few things. The biggest change that’s happened most recently is this “pay-to-play” model. They’ve figured out how to make money. They’ve figured out that it’s really such a powerful tool. It’s worth spending money on, and it is. What’s next is Facebook has realized—a lot of people, when they’re sitting and watching television and the ads come on, what do they do? What do you do? Think about it. A lot of people go to their phone and they say, “Alright. I’ve got 2 ½ minutes to scroll through Facebook.” Facebook wants to become your television provider. They want to make those guys obsolete. This is kind of a funny exercise—imagine that you had to pay for Facebook. Imagine Facebook was $10 a month, and you were paying for it. You’re doing your budget for the month, what category would you put Facebook under? Would it be entertainment? Would it be communications? Would it be a utility? They’ve seeped into so many different parts of everyday life for most Americans, and they want more and more of that. If you’re going to be on Facebook for the ads between televisions shows, you might as well start watching the show on Facebook in the first place. They’ve tried this a few times in the past, but they’re going to make another push and we’ll see if it’s successful this time. They want to start to go after Yelp. The one thing they haven’t done successfully is be a discovery engine. If you’re looking for a restaurant to eat out at, you still go to Yelp or Google. You don’t go to Facebook, unless you’re asking your friends. If you’re asking your friends, then you do it. They want a little bit more people going to Facebook when they’re looking to discover a business, a product, or a service. Reviews on Facebook pages—you know, they’re there, it’s good to have good reviews, obviously—I’m telling people to start asking customers to review on their Facebook page a little bit more. I think that’s going to be really key when Facebook makes this big push. Businesses that have a history of quality reviews—just like you’d hope to have on Yelp or on Google local listing—are going to start with a leg up. So, that’s a little tip for the future.
Eric: Are you seeing brokers and agents do that now—where they’re making sure they’re getting referrals, references, and testimonials via Facebook?
Geoff: Absolutely! It’s out there. There’s a lot of review systems where you can ask people to review you on any number of sites. Getting positive reviews on the web is kind of key. People are doing their research. We find now, more and more—before working with a professional or a business—consumers are going to Facebook just to see, “Are they active? Do they have a page? Do they post to it regularly?” And if they don’t—if they can’t find you on Facebook, or if they find a page where you haven’t posted anything in 6 months—they’re moving on. They’re saying “They’re out of business. They’re not really engaged. They don’t do this full time.” They’re making a whole lot of assumptions that may be completely wrong. You might be so busy helping your clients, that you haven’t had a chance to post. But, that’s not what it looks to the consumer who’s checking you out. It’s really important that you’ve got a really solid presence. Reviews are part of it. A year ago, I would’ve told you it’s better to have a 5-star review on your Google account than it is on your Facebook page. With this kind of change and this big push coming, you may wish that you would have had some of those reviews on your (Facebook) page.
Eric: I want to close this off by going back. And I think you said that people are now spending up to 20 hours a month on Facebook. What would you suggest to the agents and brokers? How would they portion up that 20 hours? What should they be doing if they want to spend that much time on these social channels?
Geoff: The 20 hours, that’s what the consumer is spending, just scrolling through. Just spending the day reading posts and seeing what’s going on. So, what you want to do is you want to think about what the most productive way to insert yourself into that time. How do you do it? Are you doing it with content? Are you doing it with messages to your past clients to check in? Are you doing it with ads? Ads are such a great way. You can ensure, you can target such specific niche groups of people based on so much big data. You hear about “big data” all the time. Big data sounds like something reserved for big brands and big companies. It’s totally not. We spend tens of thousands of dollars a week on Facebook ads for our clients. We do it because we get access to big data through Facebook. I can target someone based on an immense amount of data. I can target people who drive Fords, but wish they drove Cadillacs. I can target people in specific age ranges, geographies, people who live in Boston, or people who don’t live in Boston, but visited Boston recently. I can target people based on their interests. I can target people based on how many credit cards they have and how much balance is left on those credit cards. I can target people based on the types of things they shop online for vs. what they shop in stores for. Do you buy organic or regular groceries? Facebook has a lot of this information from the things people do, say, and click on in Facebook. Then they partner with all the giant data companies and buy it and kind of push it all into your accounts.
Eric: So, it’s really robust. What I’m hearing you say is you need to understand your audience first because of so many targeting elections. You need to nail who your audience is to take advantage, to really support that with all the provisions that these new tools have.
Geoff: Absolutely! We use the term “slowing the scroll.” If you’re trying to use an advertisement or put something into that newsfeed that you want people to pay attention to, you’ve got to slow their scroll when they’re just flicking that thumb. Facebook is a 90% mobile platform now, so it’s on phones, it’s on handheld devices—they’re flicking that thumb. You want them to slow that scroll up, and stop and look at what you did. You don’t do that with generic messaging. You don’t do that with messages that just target everyone. I see real estate agents all the time, they say “Oh, well I’m going to do a Facebook ad, and I’ll just target everyone who owns a home in my town or in these 3 towns.” You know what? It’s really hard to come up with a specific piece of advertising content that really speaks and slows the scroll when you’re putting it in front of someone who’s 82, lived in the same house since they were 10, vs. someone who just bought a home, vs. a renter. You’ve got to really think about what message you want to to put in front of a very specific group of people. You use all those really advanced targeting tools to get that message in front of just those people. That’s where Facebook is really powerful. It gives you the opportunity to compete with big businesses. Big businesses have a really hard time doing it. They don’t know just one little town or one little area the way a real estate agent might. So, you can actually compete in this. You’ve got Ford spending millions and millions of dollars a month on Facebook ads. You can actually kick their butt, because you know the little target area, and those people you’re going after better than they ever could. That’s one of the things I love. It’s like David and Goliath, and David gets to win if you really know what you’re doing.
Eric: If you can slow the scroll, you can level the playing field. Wow! I really feel your passion. You know this space well, and you have a really eclectic background. What a pleasure getting to know you more, Geoff. I really appreciate the time, and I want to thank you for being part of the podcast today. Good luck in the rest of 2017, my friend.
Geoff: Absolutely! Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
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