By George O’Neill
We real estate professionals are a lucky bunch. Really. We not only become proficient, but many of us over time become true experts in sales, negotiations, client management, business management, networking and marketing. We stay on top of trends, often before our clients embrace them, and appropriately integrate new techniques into our businesses to better serve those valued clients and to stay ahead of our competitors. We look “over the horizon” for opportunities to deepen client relationships and to increase sales. In our business, change is constant, and if harnessed correctly, one can leapfrog those who continue to muddle along using out-dated business practices. Even if you are a newly minted sales representative, you can now, more than at any other time, stake out your own territory and build your own brand in a consistent manner on-line.
The application of technology and the exploding use of the Internet in real estate are the focus of much discussion and debate, and are rife with confusion. The recent ruling by the Competition Bureau to have the MLS opened up to new competition further amplifies the importance of technology in real estate. During any period of change there are informed leaders, zealous evangelists, early adopters, many laggards, a number of doubters and a few people who just stick their head in the sand, covering their eyes and ears saying things are just “fine the way they are and there is no need to change”. Yes, just fine indeed. How many buggy whip manufacturers remained in business after the introduction of the automobile?
Today, social media marketing is changing the way most businesses engage with customers. We are well into the information revolution with the democratization of that information underway. The first wave of Internet sites included those that contained helpful information such as AltaVista and sites like Amazon.com. That was the so-called “Web 1.0” world, where websites were really just on-line brochures where information was posted by marketing people hoping consumers would read the information and be attracted enough to contact the company to discuss buying their services or products. Some of those organizations evolved (Amazon.com now allows buyers to provide direct feedback for all the world to see on the products they sell) and some sites have disappeared or have been marginalized because they could not adapt (today do you use AltaVista or Google?).
Most sales representatives’ and brokerages’ websites are stuck in Web 1.0 brochure-ware days. Many post for sale listings, proudly boast sold properties, and often include information about the market. But those sites are not designed to truly engage the viewer, and do not allow the consumer to provide direct input and share their voice. Many sites are designed to try to trap the viewer to fill out a “Top 10 List Of Seller or Buyer Do’s and Don’ts”. Those sites are not really trying to engage the consumer – they are only trying to get their e-mail address and phone number. Consumers can see through this, and move on quickly. You don’t believe this? Check out the average time spent on your website per visitor, and the ratio of the number of people who visit your site versus submit their information. Study the numbers – I think they will be revealing.
What we need to do is engage consumers, give them information (yes, with NO strings attached!) and demonstrate value, knowledge and our expertise, and then consumers may be willing to discuss with us how we may be able to serve them. This is just old-fashioned relationship building, something the best Realtors have been doing for decades. When you meet someone for the very first time, do you ask within the first couple of minutes if you can help them buy or sell a property? If so, under most circumstances you would be seen as being too pushy. Although we agree we do not want to be pushy, this is exactly what many are doing with their Web 1.0 websites. There is a real disconnect between desire and action.
Today, we are in the Web 2.0 world, which is a place where there can be a much more interesting and interactive two-way dialogue between the service provider and consumer occurring. Interactions are based on creating conversations, sharing information, and if there is common interest by both parties, hopefully a relationship can be built to the point where business is conducted. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TypePad, Blogger and WordPress are tools that are essentially free to use (but take considerable time to add good content), and allow us to create those conversations, build trust and deepen those relationships. These tools are great to build new relationships and to stay close to existing clients as well. But, the tools do not work their magic on their own. They must be used as part of a marketing and branding strategy for your business. Remember grade school dances? Unless you know who you are interested in and make the effort to cross the floor to ask that person to dance, you will continue to stand there talking to yourself.
Don’t be caught holding a buggy whip when you should have a blog.
George O’Neill is a full-time, second-generation Realtor with Royal LePage Estate Realty in Toronto. He is available to speak about how to appropriately integrate social media marketing into your businesses. He is organizing and speaking at a conference on November 30 in Toronto about this topic. Phone (416) 690-5100; email [email protected]; website www.SocialMediaMarketingSummit.ca