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Social media builds stronger community engagement


According to a national consumer poll commissioned by NeighborWorks America, 1 out of 4 consumers and 41 percent of millennials use social media platforms when taking their first step toward homeownership. But when Kate Sommers became the new executive director of the HomeOwnership Center (HOC) in Elkins, West Virginia, in January 2016, she quickly realized the organization had little presence on social media, hurting its ability to reach new customers and engage as broadly as possible with the large, rural community it served. A strategic goal to increase homeownership among younger consumers in the organization's far-flung market meant HOC had to rethink the way it used social media.

Wooden post with signs pointing in different directions that say help, support, advice, guidance

Sommers decided the organization would take small steps, electing to first revamp its use of Facebook—an important social media platform for businesses, but especially for millennials.

"Our Facebook presence was not consistent, strategic or productive," Sommers says. She laid out a plan and by April 2016—just three months after taking the helm—the organization was better positioned itself to get noticed, thus becoming a more interconnected part of local business and social activity.

To help it push its social media plans forward, the organization applied for and was awarded a grant from the NeighborWorks America Strategic Investment Fund. HOC used the injection of cash to hire a company to redo its website and manage its Facebook postings. Sommers and the team at HOC chose Illume Media Group, a woman-owned business specializing in online marketing and digital media. Although Sommers didn't set out to select a woman-owned company, she is glad she did.

"I am very happy to be supporting a small, West Virginia-owned and woman-owned marketing firm. They put in the time and effort to get to know and understand our market, and that is valuable to us," she explains.

Although the posts are written by outside partners, Sommers is a hands-on manager of the organization's Facebook activities.

"I review the month's scheduled posts and make suggestions and changes in close coordination with the outside creative team," she says.

Sommers adds that since June 2017, Facebook "likes" of the HomeOwnership Center page have increased by 50 percent. While still small in total number, the impact has been clear, especially on the posts the organization chooses to "boost" or, basically, pay to promote.

"Just after Thanksgiving, we boosted a post about our down payment-assistance program. Our reach for that post was more than 1,500 people—of which 1,218 were from our paid outreach. We got 54 post clicks and shares by 19 people. That has been one of our most successful posts," says Sommers. "We budget $10 for each boosted post, and boost a handful each month."

As important as it is to use Facebook to showcase the organization's activity, Sommers notes it also is critical to use the platform to connect with and support local partners and businesses.

"We'd like to be known as being an organization that shares information and helps on a variety of fronts. Our posts can't just be about self-promotion; they have to be relevant to people's lives in general," she explains. "If we establish a rapport with a person about issues that are not just housing-related, we hope they then are more likely to turn to us when they need the types of services we provide."

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