Behind The Hashtag: Meet The Women Making #CREChat A Viable Networking Tool
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Two women in commercial real estate are proving retweets are just as important a networking tool as handing over a business card.
Memphis-based Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors Senior Associate Casey Flannery and Nashville-based Foundry Commercial Vice President Melissa Alexander have run the @CREChatLive handle on Twitter for just over a year. The account hosts a monthly industry “chat” dubbed #CREChat where people from all sectors and points in their CRE careers can weigh in on that month’s topic.
Discussions have ranged from how to encourage more female leaders in CRE on International Women’s Day to the importance of data in CRE. One planned for the end of May will cover millennials and commercial real estate.
“It’s like we’re doing a little bit of research with a small group each month and figuring out how we can work together more and implement good changes,” Flannery told Bisnow.
The co-founders created their social media channel less as a tool to advance women’s issues and more to connect with industry voices around the country — and each other. Alexander moved from Memphis to Nashville last year and wanted to keep in contact with Flannery and others in CRE while she was between jobs and cities. The two women came up with the idea to launch #CREChat and its Twitter handle, @CREChatLive.
“Our clients are getting younger. The people we work with range in age and many are millennials, so where’s the first place they are going to look for you?” Alexander said. “When they Google us, the first thing they usually see is a tweet. Our use of Twitter and the information we tweet shows we are thought leaders in the industry. If you don’t have social media, it’s almost like you don’t exist.”
They make a point of not excluding any voices from the channel and have found mixed-gender networking to be more effective than if they had made it a women-only group, Flannery said. Rather than focus on women’s issues each month, they make a point of maintaining gender diversity with featured participants.
“Most of our topics may not focus on women’s issues, but what we’re doing is still bringing women to light as leaders,” Alexander said. “Social media is this great equalizer.”
Both Flannery and Alexander say they have been able to connect with others in the industry due to their growing network of #CREChat participants. When Alexander was new to the Nashville market, she was able to meet people in her new market due to her Twitter presence, she said.
Memphis doesn’t have a CREW Network chapter, and Flannery said it is easier to make connections at the organization’s national conferences because of prior conversations had on #CREChat.
“Gen X or older brokers may be all about ‘network, network, network’ and that’s great, but there’s also a supplemental way to network,” Flannery said. “Sometimes it’s easier to get in touch online than at some of these networking events.”
High-profile guests have also been tuning in. CREW Network CEO Wendy Mann participated on the International Women’s Day chat earlier this year. SIOR Global President Robert Thornburgh and SVN International Corp. Chief Operating Officer Diane Danielson also participate in the chats.
“It’s important to both sponsor and amplify other voices, and that sometimes happens by just retweeting ideas and deals,” Danielson said. “They really are part of this new guard of women in CRE.”
Other women in the industry are also tuning into #CREChat to participate in the monthly industry discussion while they build their own brand. Boston-based Hunneman Director of Research Liz Berthelette joins in the monthly discussion and said it gives exposure to her research, helps in professional development and is a learning experience.
“I’ve been able to gain a wider audience through connecting and participating in the chats,” she said. “I gain insight on various topics from some big-name professionals in the CRE industry. I’ve learned of new software or processes from tuning in every month, which is one of the biggest benefits to participating.”
Given the positive feedback, Flannery and Alexander are exploring ways to grow their brand. They recognize not everyone in the industry is on Twitter, so they are in the early stages of expanding the monthly chat to a podcast. But creating their new networking front isn’t without its rules or challenges.
CREChat’s followers love getting to see a personal side to Alexander and Flannery, so the two include updates on everything from building site tours to a trip to Memphis’ World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
But Flannery said they also recognize clients and potential clients are also participants on CREChat, so there are some rules: Political opinions and the Twitter fights they often cause are off-limits.
“We’ve always taken an approach where there’s a line and you don’t cross it,” Alexander said. “It’s your personal brand, and you have to guard it.”