When it comes to crushing the competition in 2011, the formula for success will continue to vary by agent, the community in which he or she operates, how a particular clientele uses the Internet and the ever-fluctuating market, among other factors. Despite these varying circumstances, following the guidance of seasoned agents with proven success can be greatly helpful as you seek to top your rivals once again in the coming year. By Morgan Phelps
Building Your Brand through Social Media
According to the National Association of Realtors, 95 percent of consumers begin their real estate search on the Internet. Therefore, how you brand and market yourself on the Web is likely to become increasingly more important in 2011.
A survey conducted by NAR last year found that more than half of real estate agents in the U.S. are capitalizing on clients’ Internet use by putting social media to work for their businesses, compared with 35 percent in 2009. With more than 500 million active users and more than 700 billion minutes spent per month on Facebook, it seems highly likely that your clients – and individuals to whom they may refer you to – will have a presence on the site and on similar platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
While sites such as Facebook and Twitter have an undeniable social use, many agents find them appropriate – and often necessary – for business purposes as well. Each agent must determine whether they will use such sites to facilitate purely social interactions with friends and clients, or if they will use social media to promote their business by listing events and other business-centric content. Even when communication gets personal, agents must remember to keep it professional since these sites are public forums.
“The biggest mistake for Realtors using social media is that all they talk about is real estate,” says Bryan Bomba of Coldwell Banker Hinsdale. He claims to use Facebook to maintain personal relationships with clients, while shying away from Twitter, which he calls virtually useless in a real estate capacity.
However, Robert John Anderson of Baird & Warner City says if clients choose to associate with him on Facebook, then “they’re asking for data, they’re coming to me as a resource.” He claims he is trying more and more to use Facebook in his business, noting that it remains a challenge to stand out in the social media arena, where clients can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of messages facing them.
Bomba and many other agents prefer to use social media sites to contact existing clients rather than to prospect for new leads. However, Anne Blumenstein, vice president of marketing at ERA Franchise Systems, says, “Facebook is the new prospecting landscape, the new referral network for agents.”
Social media sites can also be used when researching what it takes to build a successful real estate brand for yourself, since you must know what your clients want and need before you can begin to reach out to them. Instead of relying solely on often time-consuming and costly market research, consider perusing Facebook to learn more about your existing clients and their “friends,” who could become referrals in the future. Additionally, Blumenstein recommends using Twitter in particular to monitor the conversation in your market.
Catering Communication to a Client’s Needs
Research can also help you determine a communication strategy, as how you reach out to and correspond with your clients is heavily dependent on wants and how they prefer to keep in touch. For young clients, this can mean a preference for texts over phone conversations, while others may prefer e-mails or Facebook messages. Knowing your target client base is key to setting your communication strategy, which includes everything from how your customized website is laid out to how you use your Facebook and Twitter pages.
For some agents, such as Ginny Stewart of Adams & Myers, keeping a hands-on approach remains a top priority for her clientele. “With the Internet and social media, you sometimes don’t want to take time on a cold day to go out and get your feet wet,” Stewart says. “But when you see [a property], there will be something intangible that may change your mind about it.” She says her client base prefers in-person meetings and phone conversations over e-mails and texts, although these can be used for quick correspondence.
Meanwhile, Anderson continues to utilize “passive marketing,” including postcards and snail mail, since such mediums respect people’s time and allow them to absorb a more visual form of content. But he also has a growing presence on the web to add to his printed materials.
Blumenstein says texting has become more important for agents in recent years, particularly as Generation Y begins to hit the market. But whether you choose to market and correspond via text, postcards or e-mails, Blumenstein says it’s important to track the success of each medium to cater your strategy going forward.
Establish a Unified Brand across all Platforms
Although you must take the time to cater your message to your clients’ needs and the platform from which you are sending it, don’t forget that it is equally important to ensure that your brand is uniform across all mediums. Whether it’s your name, face, a slogan, a color scheme or any other unifying factor – whatever makes your business uniquely yours – it should be present on all platforms.
For example, Bomba says he employed a marketing company in 2004 to do an in-depth survey of his past clients to find out who they are and what they want. The company found that his clientele are drawn to Lexus-type advertisements that are simple, clean and “less cheesy” than some forms of real estate marketing. Bomba used this information to establish his brand image and ensure it remains present on all his marketing materials going forward. “You have to define what is valuable about yourself and communicate that to the consumer,” says Bomba.
Knowing your consumers can help you avoid wasting time on trends just for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses.” If your typical clients have no use for Twitter, you probably do not need to worry about wasting your time tweeting just because it’s become popular in the real estate industry. Maybe the brand image you’re trying to project is a better fit for Facebook, LinkedIn, a bus or bench ad, a postcard, a holiday card or another medium. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you are making marketing decisions based on your past track record and future potential, rather than just your desire to save time or other personal motivations. Also, you should always remain open to changing your strategy as needed.
Stomping the Competition in 2011
As in the past, solid relationships, great customer service and open communication will continue to be important drivers of business for successful agents in 2011. What will become increasingly more important this year, according to many agents, is the role of the Internet, specifically social media, in how they brand themselves and communicate with their clients.
Additionally, Blumenstein was careful to note that planning will play an even more important role this year than it has in the past, given the absence of the tax credit and other incentives, which makes it even more essential for agents to understand the dynamics of their marketplace. Planning is also key to developing social media and communications strategies that align with your brand and clients.
Anderson reminds agents to continue to be themselves and be genuine even as the market frequently fluctuates and they dive into the social media world, since it remains “all about going back to the basics” to stomp the competition in 2011. CA
Robert John Anderson
Baird & Warner City
ERA Franchise Systems
Coldwell Banker Hinsdale
Adams & Myers