Word-of-mouth may be sufficient for custom-home builders that complete a handful to a dozen high-end projects annually and need only referrals from satisfied clients as marketing to secure new business. Then there’s everybody else. Getting that next project calls for a mix of advertising and networking. Social media isn’t that new, and while Facebook was an easy first choice for many, more builders are now discovering the potency of Instagram.
Molly Sullivan-Reeves—a self-proclaimed “Facebook fanatic”—took that social media account for Living Stone Building + Design, where she is the sales manager, from 200 likes a couple years ago to more than 3,000 likes and followers today. And a handful of those followers have turned into leads for the Asheville, N.C., custom-home builder and remodeler.
Sullivan-Reeves “rebelled” when acquaintances and colleagues recommended she also post on Instagram, telling them she didn’t have time to take on more social media management. But about a year ago, she relented.
The result? “It was unbelievable,” she says. “I got 50 Instagram likes for every two Facebook likes, so I quickly became a believer.” Living Stone’s Instagram account now has 12,300 followers. “I received good direct messages from followers that turned into leads,” she adds. “I now see the value so much in Instagram.”
Because the Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous and Living Stone Building + Design projects typically include outdoor living spaces, images such as this one of an infinity pool with its striking view make for popular Instagram posts.
The posts that attract the most likes, typically in the thousands, are the before-and-after images of whole-house renovations. Living Stone’s remodeling project budgets start at $400,000, and professional photographers shoot just about all of the post-completion images. Consequently, Sullivan-Reeves has many quality photos from which to pick, and posting is as easy as selecting an image in her Dropbox app and sending from her smartphone.
So do before-and-after photos of renovations, such as this remodel, which also attracted the attention of interior designer Becki Owens, who shared the post, significantly boosting its reach.
One Friday evening, while lounging at home on her couch, she posted a before-and-after split-screen shot of a vinyl-sided ranch house Living Stone had transformed into a modern-style home with a glass, stone, and timber exterior. That post was shared by Becki Owens, an interior designer with more than 1 million Instagram followers, and it garnered 32,927 likes on her page.
“When Becki reshared, I grew my base,” Sullivan-Reeves says. “My goal was to hit 10,000 followers, but now I’m at 12,300.”
Looking for a Specific Client
For Francisca Alonso, co-founder and CEO of AV Architects + Builders, in Great Falls, Va., Facebook and Twitter had a baby and named it Instagram. It offered the best of both platforms, with the images and friend network of Facebook and the hashtags of Twitter (Facebook added functional hashtags in 2013).
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were in the marketing mix for the design/build firm for eight years, until the company dropped Twitter in 2017 and focused on connecting with prospects via Facebook and Instagram. As of late November, AV Architects had more than 2,000 Facebook and 9,600 Instagram followers.
“We use Instagram the most because it gives you the ability to localize your image to a specific ZIP code,” Alonso says. “We’re growing, so we’re always looking for new business, and I am looking for a specific type of client—one who is knowledgeable, well traveled, and has exquisite taste. Those clients are hard to find, so I need to be out there all of the time.”
AV Architects + Builders shows off what it likes from other designers and builders (center), such as this combination of white and wood-texture ceramic plank flooring by Spanish manufacturer Wow
AV Architects averages 20 to 30 hashtags per post. Broad categories that are trending, such as #homedesignideas, #luxuryhome, and #dreamhouse, are used along with localized categories like #WashingtonDCRealEstate, #DCHomes, and #VirginiaRealEstate. Posts fall into one of three categories: one-third highlight the company’s work; one-third are concerned with matters AV Architects cares about, such as charities; and another third feature other designers and builders that are not local competitors.
Among AV Architects’ more popular posts is a sculptural staircase in Mumbai, India, designed by Mexico’s Arquitectura en Movimiento Workshop, and the cascading blend of wood textured and white ceramic plank tile for a bathroom floor by Wow, a design house and tile manufacturer in Spain.
“Social media isn’t about bragging; it’s about education and sharing expertise,” Alonso says. “We want to share with our viewers things that we like, that we’re passionate about, and that they haven’t seen. Viewers may not be in the market to build a house today, but they’re going to follow you because of what you’re showing them, not because of what you’re selling them.”
AV Architects + Builders shows off its own work as well.
Get the Word Out
Instagram is free marketing, says Stephanie Culler, marketing and branding associate for Patterson Custom Homes. The Newport Beach, Calif., builder has been posting since 2015 and has 84,300 followers. Patterson’s territory includes Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, and Dana Point, which are the geotagged locations (displayed in the top left corner) from which it posts.
Culler uses no more than three or four hashtags. Two are always branding hashtags, #PattersonCustomHomes and its marketing tagline #TheNewStandard. Patterson builds a variety of homes from traditional to contemporary, so the other hashtag will call out the architectural style of a particular project, such as #BeachViewTraditional, #BayshoreGreekRevival, and #PortStreetMidCenturyModern.
“We recognize that people are so mobile with their smartphones, so it’s easy to find us just by typing a hashtag,” Culler says. “Going to Instagram is an easy way to find us, as opposed to saying, ‘Go to our website,’ or ‘Here’s a brochure.’ It’s a trend in society, and it’s a great way to market. Hashtags are another way to reach people and get our posts out there.”
Patterson Custom Homes’ post (top) featuring locally handcrafted Riviera Bronze doors swinging out to an ipe patio drew 1,900 likes.
Every project post includes credits for the architect, interior designer, and photographer. Not only does crediting comply with Instagram guidelines, but when an outside party has been tagged, they’re likely to share with their followers, and the networking snowballs. Sullivan-Reeves saw a Living Stone post of a hobby barn that houses the client’s motorcycles and collectible cars attract more than double the typical number of likes because it was equipped with two glass garage doors made by Clopay, which picked up the image, reposted it, and flagged the local garage door installer in its post.
Social Media Time and Effort
Although Instagram is free marketing, Culler cautions that the Patterson account “takes a ton of time to manage.” She posts every day to make sure the firm is always top of mind. Strategizing about what to post involves tracking trending hashtags and being mindful of what’s happening in the community (holidays and festivals) and within the company, such as a project nearing completion. Culler also pays attention to the “aesthetic” of Patterson’s profile by picking photos that have a consistent color palette and mixing up images so there isn’t too much of the same thing. Finally, there’s the task of responding to feedback on the posts.
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced in November that the platform is expanding tests in the U.S. that would stop publicly displaying “like” counts on all posts. The move is an effort to make the space less of a popularity contest and more focused on connection and community. Sullivan-Reeves, Alonso, and Culler applaud the move, adding that it’s the visuals, not the number of likes, that draw viewers.
As for time commitment, the three builders vary on how much effort is involved, from a couple of hours per week to a task that demands daily commitment. Living Stone is putting more effort into digital and social media, with the addition of a marketing manager and a videographer. Alonso has used apps such as Hootsuite and Hubspot to advance plan Instagram posts, and now her company has hired a marketing and search engine optimization firm to do the heavy lifting of analyzing and managing posts. All three are looking at increasing their use of video on Instagram.
“We have to spend time on things that are worth our time,” Alonso says. “If you have enough business where you don’t need social media, then I wouldn’t spend a single second on this. But I do a lot of networking, and this is part of our marketing effort. We have a strong social media presence because we are looking for very specific buyers.”