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Using Social Media to Build Relationships and Market Presence in the Digital Age

Market Trends & Analysis Technology & Innovation

Industry conferences offer attendees a unique opportunity to network with colleagues from across the globe, share insights and strategies for success, discover the latest trends and technologies, exchange network and conduct business, and develop lifelong friendships. However, while in-person connections are irreplaceable in this relationship-focused business, a digital presence is fast becoming an integral element of any long-term strategy for success.

"ROI is not the ‘Return on Investment,’ it’s the ‘Return on Involvement.'" ~ Wills Elliman, SIOR

At the most recent SIOR Spring Event, held just off the northern Florida coast at Amelia Island, SIOR presented an educational session, “Leveraging Social Media for CRE,” to help SIORs gain a deeper understanding of how to build or grow their digital presence. The panel discussion, moderated by Wills Elliman, SIOR, Senior managing director at Newmark in Wilmington, Del., not only offered digital strategies, but also provided practical guidance on the nuts and bolts of brokerage, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to achieving greater success.

The panel notably included Bob Knakal, chairman and CEO of BK Real Estate Advisors, who has brokered the sale of over 2,300 buildings with a market value of approximately $22 billion; Rod Santomassimo, president of the Massimo Group, who bills himself as “the world’s top CRE broker growth coach”; and Faraz Cheema, SIOR, managing director at BK Real Estate Advisors, who maintains a robust digital presence but is equally active on the in-person conference circuit. 



Broker Coaching 

The session kicked off with Knakal explaining to the audience why coaching can benefit even the most successful CRE brokers. In 2011, Santomassimo approached Knakal about being featured in his book profiling top CRE brokers, Brokers Who Dominate. During their conversations, Knakal told Santomassimo that while he was happy with the money he was making, he wanted to spend more time with his wife and then three-year-old daughter. Santomassimo offered to coach him. “I thought to myself, Michael Jordan has a coach, Tiger Woods has a coach, Olympic athletes have coaches, so what the heck?” said Knakal. “The experience was so remarkable. It absolutely rekindled my passion for the business. I spent more time with my family and tripled my income from my best year ever. People still ask me, ‘Bob, why are you still being coached?’ And you know why? Because nobody knows everything.”

It's Still the Fundamentals

In his experience, Knakal says that elite brokers share three distinct characteristics:

  1. Local Market Knowledge: Top producers are expert at a very small slice of the market, know that market better than anybody, and can articulate the most frequently asked question, “How’s the market?” with statistics rather than adjectives.
  2. Passion: They are passionate about what they do. The best brokers eat, sleep, and breathe their specialty.
  3. Discipline: “A lot of what we do as brokers is not glamorous stuff; it's blocking and tackling. You have to do it day after day, week after week, month after month. People are not disciplined. Discipline is a tool.”

Digital Presence Augments Traditional Tools 

Before the panel began laying out effective strategies for employing digital tools, Elliman reminded the audience that “when it comes to social media, ROI is not the ‘Return on Investment,’ it’s the ‘Return on Involvement.’” 

Santomassimo drove home the point that social media is not a means to an end but another tool in the broker’s toolbox for success. “You’re SIORs. You're not going to get rich being a social media influencer,” he emphasized. “You’re in the business of selling buildings and leasing space. Social media is a tool that gives you more presence that allows you to potentially get more opportunities. So if your goal is to have two billion followers, you may be famous, but you’re not going to be rich.”

Social Media Engagement “Hacks”

The goal of social media as a marketing tool is to get people to engage. Panelists revealed some simple practices that they have employed to increase engagement with their posts, including:

  • Follow Those with Followers: If you want to increase your followers, “become friends with someone who has a lot of followers and comment on their stuff,” says Santomassimo. When Knakal began following and commenting on one prolific real estate poster, his number of followers grew, and in turn, Santomassimo’s followers grew because he was following and commenting on his client Knakal. “It’s a domino effect,” he said.
  • Use Imagery: Santomassimo’s firm recently rolled out an AI chatbot named MIA (Massimo Intelligent Agent) to assist with prospecting. When he began posting with imagery, his post engagement grew exponentially. “The results were astounding. While his top posts typically garner 5,000 hits, one post with imagery garnered a quick 25,000 hits. The following day, that number rose to a quarter of a million. (According to LinkedIn research, posts with images result in higher click-through rates and a 98% higher comment rate on average.) “So, how do you get social media engagement? Use imagery. It’s a huge hack, and that’s how you get a return on involvement. People say, ‘Rod, I’ve seen your stuff.’ And it really helps when you prospect.”

Making Time for Social Media and the Importance of Time Management 

For brokers trying to find time to create social media content amid all their other responsibilities, panelists stressed the importance of disciplined time management. Knakal spends 2-3 hours every Sunday writing content for the week (including columns for the Commercial Observer), which his social media manager then publishes. He also tries to limit his own social media time to 30 minutes per day. 

Investing time in creating content is nothing new for Knakal, who began writing newsletters and market reports in 1984 as a young broker. He began utilizing social media in January of 2023. Cheema started utilizing social media at the same time and is now ranked in the top 10 on the CREi List (which highlights the most influential and positive people in CRE on social media). He posts content on a near-daily basis, including polls, deals he’s closed, and reports from and about the bi-weekly conferences he attends. He emphasized the importance of generating content on a regular basis. “You’ve got to be consistent, you’ve got to put out content that is relatable to your followers, and you’ve got to engage with people and look at building connections with those people,” Cheema advises. 

But social media is just one piece of the marketing pie for successful brokers. Knakal still makes 20 hours of prospecting calls per week, does speaking engagements, email campaigns, X (formerly Twitter) campaigns, and even direct mail campaigns (“hard mail is grossly undervalued and underappreciated, but it’s very, very, sticky).” The key to successful marketing, said panelists, is executing a comprehensive, multi-channel presence strategy.

Which Platform?

With so many platforms, including LinkedIn, X, Instagram, YouTube, and now TikTok, which is the best for establishing and growing your digital presence? While LinkedIn is still the generally acknowledged winner for CRE purposes, Knakal says that his social media manager has him on multiple platforms, because “if you did a Venn diagram of all the social media platforms, the overlap is very small… so I'll post the same piece of content everywhere.”

Cheema, a millennial, is active on several platforms, including X, LinkedIn, and Instagram, but when he speaks with younger people, they’re not on the traditional business platforms. “The younger demographic that is now entering the workforce, they're using TikTok,” said Cheema. “So if we're looking forward to the next generation and trying to engage with them – whether we love it or hate it – I think we have to start considering TikTok.”



While social media may not directly generate listings, it can be a powerful tool when combined with disciplined fundamentals, expertise, passion, and networking at events like SIOR conferences. It can facilitate lucrative business opportunities by opening the door to connections. "I made so many meaningful connections,” said Cheema. “It's opened up some amazing opportunities and great friendships that would not have happened without social media.”
Michael Hoban

Michael Hoban

has worked as a Boston-based freelance writer for over two decades, specializing in commercial real estate and construction. He is also the owner and principal of Hoban Communications, which produces content for CRE and A/E/C firms. He is a regular contributor to the various publications of the Urban Land Institute, including Urban Land, as well as a primary contributor to The Real Reporter, which was honored as the Best Commercial Trade Magazine by the National Association of Real Estate Editors in 2015.