Social media, like loan origination, is often a popularity contest. And while many find it difficult to get noticed, AMC Lending Group's Logan Mohtashami has found a way to rise to the top. His strategy of using social media to spread useful market analysis has garnered a personal following of over 15,000 people, and media attention everywhere from Benzinga.com to Bloomberg.
While Mohtashami has noticed a nice uptick in business since he waded into the waters of social media more than three years ago, consumers were never his target audience. Instead, he's trying to engage with the financial industry's loudest voices by offering his own analysis.
"I rarely talk about my business, rates and selling the dream of homeownership," he says. "I believe when everyone sings the same tune you become a Stepford loan officer and it becomes a race to the bottom."
His blog, loganmohtashami.com, as well as his Twitter, @LoganMohtashami, and Facebook profiles, are constant sources of news and analysis on the housing market and on the economy in general. He talks about his own business so little that many of his followers mistake him for an economist or a housing analyst on Wall Street. But that was by design.
He began his blog in 2010 as an attempt to challenge the financial media, who he believed were doing an "awful" job covering the housing market.
"[These reporters] aren't economic soldiers — they don't bleed in the battlefield. They are just ivory tower watchers," he says. "They can't have high-level discussions in a short amount of time, so instead they are just bringing on people who want to promote their products."
Mohtashami admitted his first blog post — which was appropriately titled "The Real Problems with Real Estate" — was "rough." But after a few months of blogging, he became more comfortable with writing and began branching out into other forms of social media. And although he says it took him a few years, he eventually learned to use his blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn together to voice his opinion.
"If you want to stand out on the crowd, you have to have your own view," he says. And for him, that means a lot of hard math. "I think I've gained a following because I'm not known as a spin guy, I'm just known as a data and charts person."
He says he sees others using social media to share commentary, but that they are just rehashing the opinions of others instead of offering a unique take on the market. His willingness to voice his own opinion is what Mohtashami believes gained him such a loyal following.
"You don't have to be an expert on everything," he says. "But you want to be a source daily on all social media platforms, and then if you succeed in convincing people that you bring value to them, then they'll come to you every day."
Mohtashami has been using his social media success to offer a view of the market he says other people sometimes don't want to hear, and that has made him something of a "black sheep" in the industry.
"Everyone says the market is down because lending standards are tight, but they aren't. We just don't have enough qualified buyers," he says. "I think there are the haves and the have nots, and if you do a sophisticated breakdown of the housing data, then that's what it's been telling us."
Mohtashami has been using his voice in social media to offer that sophisticated breakdown, posting dozens of charts and his own data analysis every day, and engaging with notable housing experts on Twitter and Facebook.
Social media engagement is its own form of dialogue, and one that can easily get heated. But Mohtashami says he doesn't have a problem keeping his cool when he's in a virtual discussion with someone he disagrees with, because he feels he is speaking the truth with the math to back it up.
"I don't believe lending standards are tight and that is something that 95% of the people in my industry might not agree with," he says. "However, when I show the math, data and facts, a lot of them understand what I am trying to say. People will respect that, even if they don't agree with you."
Rather than developing an extensive education in economics or math, Mohtashami actually took a less typical route to achieve success in the financial industry. A former basketball player, his plan was to teach history and coach a high school team. But after he bought his first stock in 1996, the financial industry quickly won him over.
"The unlimited amount of information and the competitive nature of finance was better suited to me," he says. "Plus, the pay was better."
Mohtashami's father started the Irvine, Calif.-based AMC Lending Group, so finance runs in his family. And he says it helps he's a part of what he calls "Generation Bubble."
"I got here at the right time," he says. "When you see it live, when you are a part of the financial meltdown, you get to see how we got there and how we recover. That's internal knowledge instead of from a book."
But his years of studying history haven't gone to waste. He says his history background has helped him understand the importance of sticking to the facts and avoiding the "spin" that is all-too common in the financial industry.
"No matter what you believe in politically or financially, you can't stray from the facts, because you leave yourself open to very-warranted criticism," he says, noting that his all-facts approach is one of the reasons he believes he's earned such a high level of trust with clients.
"I didn't think [my analysis] would gain me business, but it really has been my best marketing," he says. "My discussions on Twitter and Facebook have allowed people to see me as a truthful outlet on housing. I get questions from all around the country asking me about what I think, and it's definitely led to new business."
For example, one new client looking for a $2 million loan says he was attracted to AMC Lending Group because he saw Mohtashami debating with a reporter at The Wall Street Journal on Twitter.
"I would have never gotten in contact with almost every single person that has helped me so far if it weren't for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn," he says. "You can't buy that scale from normal advertising or sending flyers out."
But the notoriety Mohtashami has gained through social media hasn't come easily. The demands of his blog and social media activities require him to begin posting at 4:30 a.m., and doesn't stop until around 8 p.m., and often even later than that. The world of social media is 24/7, and Mohtashami says his success comes in part because he is willing to participate with anyone at any time of the day.
"Getting in touch with people on social media means hard work," he says. "You have to carry yourself with class, but don't be afraid to get into economic fight and show some personal social flare while you're at it."