Bobby Palta explains social media strategies for retail professionals
In the highly competitive world of retail leasing, any edge a broker has over the competition can make the difference in getting a prime tenant into a center. One of the most cost-effective and quickest ways to advertise a space, product, or service to a large group of people is through social media, and today’s retail leasing agents are catching on to the trend.
We spoke with Bobby Palta, Vice President of CBRE’s Orlando Office, on his social media tips and tricks for retail professionals. Bobby has more than 16 years of experience and has executed over $120 million in retail leasing and sales transactions. He also has more than 1,500 Twitter followers and a personal blog, bobbypalta.com. Read on to see Bobby’s take on how leasing agents can use social media to attract tenants and build a professional network.
Why do you think social media is important to retail real estate professionals?
Bobby Palta: In a word – exposure. It’s very important to stay visible to not only clients but prospective tenants, future clients, and the public in general, which was something we hadn’t really had the opportunity to do without social media. It does take a little bit of work, like posting frequently and providing consistency, but it does pay dividends over time, just like anything else. Prior to social media, your only chance to get that kind of exposure was if someone from the media called you or you had a press release that was picked up. From a real estate perspective, this puts a little bit more control back in the hands of individual brokers.
By using the internet and social media, real estate professionals have a way to shape their own brand online. When most people meet someone, one of the first things we all do these days is Google them. This gives real estate professionals more control of what comes up on the other end of the Google search, which is very important.
The real estate industry as a whole has taken longer than perhaps some other industry sectors to adopt this technology. What do you attribute this to?
Palta: I think residential is probably leading the pack. They adopted it a little faster than commercial real estate. Part of that is a demographic aspect where we do tend to be a little older, maybe a little bit more homogeneous; at least that has been the case for the industry for a while. Now I think post-recession, you’re starting to see a little bit more diversity out there with some of the newer hires and different people from different industries. It’s slowly changing but I think by and large, brokerage professionals, landlords, and retailers are each members of a very long-standing industry. It’s not just social media, but technology in general that industries have been very slow to adapt to, so I don’t think it’s isolated to this sector. Certainly there are some developers out there like Rick Caruso at Caruso Affiliated and Mark Toro of North American Properties who are harnessing the power of social media to help their causes, whether it’s getting approval from the community or driving traffic to their centers.
On your personal Twitter handle, you have more than 1,000 tweets, about 75 photos and videos, and a following of over 1,800 people. What’s your personal social strategy and how do you keep people engaged and incorporated into your workday?
Palta: I knew about Twitter when it started but I didn’t really jump onto it probably until spring of 2012. At that time, it started to interest me because all of those changes were happening with the Arab Spring and activists were using Twitter to spread the message about the uprising. That’s when I took interest and thought there might be something more to this little trend that was going on.
What I started doing was very simple. I started following topics and people and basically used Twitter as my newspaper, as my own personal magazine, and as my own DVR of different things that I find interesting. In commercial real estate, there were hundreds of people that did a phenomenal job on sharing cool topics, interesting trends, and up and coming concepts, and I would follow them. If I found something interesting, I would retweet it and I would do that over time. Social media has a compounding effect, because over time, your followers continue to tumble in. If you keep doing the same thing consistently, it’s just like interest compounding in your investment account and it continues to pay off over time. You can never really quite tell how someone gets to your web page unless you’re very analytical about that stuff, but you put enough things out there into the web and eventually it comes back to you.
For my personal strategy, I just try to keep it to things that my audience would be interested in. My core audience is developers and other retail and restaurant concepts that I find interesting. I’m not trying to appeal to everybody, only the clients that I want to work with, so I’ll try to keep it interesting for them. I’ll even throw in something cool or something funny occasionally, so it doesn’t have to be so stiff.
As far as how I incorporate it into my workday, I tend to do it just when I’ve got nothing going on. I might be sitting on the couch and have enough tools to fill my Twitter pipeline for the next day or two. If you’re waiting for a meeting or just sitting around, you can go and fill your pipeline during off times. I tend to do it in the morning. I might even check it as I’m waking up to get my mind back in work mode. Just try to find a good time that works for you.
Have you used social media to help attract tenants to a shopping center?
Palta: Yes. I have a project out by the University of Central Florida that gets a lot of attention. It’s located at a very busy intersection, the third busiest in town, so I get a lot of high-profile calls and inquiries. Since it’s a mixed-use project that is combined with a student housing component, I obviously knew my client was going to have a social media presence, so I got involved early on and started the Plaza on University Twitter page. The property manager of the Plaza on University Center and I used that page to share what’s going on with the project, some of the tenants, etc. We’ll do announcements too where we will engage a little bit more with students. There were a lot of students that would tweet which was interesting to see because you’d get replies on what they would like to see in the shopping center. I’ve also used it for announcing tenant signings, and I would get lots of favorites, and retweets after that, so that’s always encouraging.
One thing I’ve also done is put together a compilation of our tenants’ concepts. They will often have brand videos and you’ll find those online or they’ll submit them to you. We put a compilation together and made a YouTube channel out of that and now I use that as a leasing tool. When you get four or five different concepts and they have good videos, you can string those together in a playlist and send that to a prospect. It conveys, “Hey, this is what we have here. Here’s a restaurant you can go to, here’s a store where you can buy this, and here’s how you can enjoy our property.”
For your professional use, do you prefer to use Twitter, or Facebook, or any other business-oriented platforms, such as LinkedIn and Google Plus?
Palta: I stick with Twitter and LinkedIn. Typically when I tweet something, I’ll just go ahead and post it on LinkedIn as well, and with the tools I use, it’s instantaneous. You don’t have to do any extra keystrokes or anything. I use Hootsuite. It’s pretty simple. It’s great and it does everything that I need it to do. There’s another one called Buffer, which I’m trying to use a little bit more. I haven’t quite worked that into my flow just yet but I know that’s a pretty useful one.
What are potential tenants usually looking for a shopping center space and how can you market that on social media?
Palta: Well, it’s different for everybody. But what they all care about is how they are going to fill their cash registers, so keep that in mind. You want to be able to convey that this is the shopping center for them, and maybe it’s not, but assuming that it is, they want to know that there’s an abundance of their customers that will frequent their store. Due to the nature of social media, you have to be careful. People don’t like to be sold on social media. They don’t want advertisements. Twitter is doing more promoted ads, so if you feel that you need to do it that way, that’s probably an avenue, but it’s probably not the best idea to just sit there and blast your email or listings out. Keep it relevant, and have a different angle to the story.
Any other social media tools you recommend?
Palta: YouTube is in the public’s mind. I’d say most people have it on their phone already. If you have a video, I would post it on YouTube if it’s targeted for the masses. If you need to control who gets to see what, I find that Vimeo is pretty good, and you can password protect names and control access.
Whenever I bring Pinterest up with colleagues and clients I have to take it with a grain of salt because when most people think of Pinterest, they think of people posting their recipes of their casserole or the new clothes they just purchased.
Pinterest is great to use for business. If I see cool concepts or design ideas, for my development project, wherever I may be, I’ll take a picture of it. I’ll just take my photos and when I know I have a meeting or some kind of presentation, I’ll go through and sort through my own photos, search the web, use Google Images, and I’ll create a Pinterest board. By using that board, I can tell my side of the story using the photos. I don’t know anyone else who’s doing that. I just kind of made it up as I went along. But it’s worked out pretty well and you can also use it for marketing your shopping center.
Aside from all the different tactics that we’ve already discussed, what other engaging ways are you promoting your services?
Palta: There’s a blog that I started up recently with an attorney friend of mine called Sights on SITES, and our purpose is reporting the transactions a little ahead of some of the other publications. It’s fairly new, only a couple weeks old. Over time, we feel like it will drive traffic to both of our corresponding websites, ultimately translating into business.
Are there any pitfalls that people should look out for or do you have words of advice for people looking to undertake a similar type of social media campaign?
Palta: I think you need to be careful with what you post on social media, which may not be as challenging for older folks as they’re going to err on the side of caution because it is so new and there’s a healthy fear that if you say something dumb, it’s going to get retweeted. Not to mention the many stories of tarnished reputations and job loss due to social media, so you have to be careful about what you say and don’t say.
For the younger folks, that’s probably more of a problem because social media is used as a form of general conversation. Don’t think anything bad is going to happen if you don’t send a tweet, but if you do send one it can come back to haunt you.
Also, if you have multiple Twitter accounts, you might want to just make sure before you hit post, which one it is you’re sending it from. I am also the voice behind CBRE Retail. I started that about a year and a half ago on behalf of the company, so I share that responsibility with another person in London, England, so we retweet out as the voice of CBRE Retail. Occasionally, I have to check and make sure it’s what I want to send on behalf of the company or if it’s what I want to send on behalf of Bobby Palta at CBRE Retail Orlando.
As far as any other trends, I think one of the more interesting ones out there is community activism and NIMBY (not in my backyard), where people will come out and fill the town halls and city halls to fight any new development proposed. Developers might want to look at what some of the more progressive cities like New York and San Francisco are doing. Sometimes, developers will go the opposite direction and be transparent and share what it is that they’re doing and how it’s going to impact the community and engage them a little more, instead of the whole “us vs. them” scenario. It’s probably not appropriate for every project, but certainly somewhere you know there might be community opposition, you have a good story to share, and can control the message a little more. I know that there are a couple of websites for that, like NeighborLand, and you can do some of the same things with a good blog, a Twitter account, and maybe even Pinterest, to let the community know what it is that you’re planning and how it’s a good thing.