WordPress at Real Estate Connect SF?

Are you breaking the rules with WordPress in real estate? I wanna know!

wordpress sticker on laptopThe good folks at Inman News have asked me to moderate the WordPress Summit at Real Estate Connect this summer and I couldn’t be more excited!

While we haven’t tried to confirm any speakers yet (that’s where I want your help), I’m positive the lineup is going to be awesome. We’re going to be covering themes, plugins, strategy, advanced installs, listings, and the future of WordPress!

The idea of a half-day at Real Estate Connect dedicated to WordPress is simply awesome.   I love WordPress and have been using it since the very birth of Rain City Guide (over 5 years ago!).  Over the years I’ve been a part of too many WordPress blogs than I could count… And unlike a lot of software I was using in 2005, WordPress has continued to improve with each iteration!    Especially now that website vendors are building in advanced IDX and CRM tools into the platform, it’s become a no-brainer option for real estate professionals!

By the way, did you know the new conference website for Real Estate Connect was built on WordPress?

I think it’s a pretty slick design and implementation, although I’m probably a bit biased since we designed and built the site!  🙂

Coming full circle… If you know someone in the real estate space doing interesting things with WordPress, send ’em my way!   I want to make this the best half-day on WordPress educational event around!

And finally, a huge hat-tip to Dan Woolley for the idea behind this post when he wrote about his ConnectTech Workshop!

“How likely is this person to send me business?”

Lately, I’ve been putting a huge focus on thinking through how we (as professionals) can use social networking tools to build and strengthen our relationships... and in particular, our relationships with people who are key to growing our business (i.e. our “sphere” or “referral network”).

And this has led me to my new favorite tool, Gist.  (much thanks to Gahlord Dewald for the intro!)

The main idea behind Gist is pretty similar to other social media aggregators like MyBlogLog, FriendFeed , Seesmic and Google Buzz in that you add all of your other social media accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc) and then use one tool to see all your updates.

However, there’s one HUGE improvement they’ve made.  Rather than forcing you to view updates based on a timeline (i.e. most recent updates first), they allow you to view updates in a “people” mode where you can view all the updates from that person (whether they are on Facebook, Twitter, their blog, foursquare, etc.) based on the importance that you’ve selected. (Facebook has tried to do this with their “top news” feature, but it’s crude at best and doesn’t do a great job finding updates that are important to me).

After a few days of using Gist, I can tell you that there’s no turning back to this style of update consumption.    If I’ve got 5 minutes, then I can quickly navigate all the people that are super-important to me, whereas if I have a bit more time, then I can dive deeper into reading updates from people that are less important.   And because I’m not missing out on updates from super-important people any more, I’m finding I’m MUCH more active on places like Twitter and Facebook because I spend less time sorting through the noise.

However, there is a HUGE problem with the tool.  There are so many options and ways to configure things that it could definitely be off-putting because it can take a few hours of configuring before the system is humming.   Nonetheless, it’s totally worth taking the time, so let me walk you through the steps to setting up a configuration that’s working really well for me.

1) Import contacts (connect) from four main tools:  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Email. For Facebook, Twitter and Gmail (my email), this only needs to be done once and then will get updated automatically afterwards.

2) Configure your dashboard view to get updates.  My configuration is listed below, but the important parts are:

  • show all news, blogs, twitter and facebook updates
  • show people and companies
  • show importance level 1 and above
  • show all tags
  • Sort by “importance”

In other words, just show EVERYTHING and then sort the results by importance.

3) Start prioritizing people within your sphere.  All you need to do is go through your people and start ranking them on a scale of 1 to 100. Initially, I’ve been adjusting EVERYONE’s priority, even if only just a bit to make sure I put some thought into how important this person is to me.  To make this as easy as possible, I’ve been basing my ranking of each person based on one simple question:  How likely is this person to send me business some day?

Here’s a screenshot of my page where I’ve ranked Scotty Brown a 100 (out of 100!).

Using the criteria “how likely is this person to send me business some day?” might sound a bit cold and calculated, but I’ve found it works quite well.  The people close to me (family and good friends) are almost always referring business my way, so they show up highest.   Other people have been ridiculously great to my consulting practice in terms of referring business my ways, so of course I want to see and respond to their updates whenever appropriate.

4) Use Gist instead of Facebook, twitter.com, seesmic, tweetdeck or whatever else you use to check status updates of your contacts.   If you configure things just as I have, you’ll find that there are a ton of updates coming into the system all the time… almost definitely too many to check on a regular basis.  However, there’s no need to read all the updates.  Start at the top (i.e. the most important people) and wind your way down as you have time.

To move from one person to the next (and this is critical!), all you have to do is click on the check mark to the right of the “importance” bar (this is the “mark all as read” option).  For example, while I’m reading Linsey Planeta’s updates, if I click on the check mark, the tool will bring up Scotty Brown’s updates because he is the next most important person with an unread update.

And, of course, if I want to respond to any of these updates, there’s always a link that takes me to the appropriate place to respond.

Another useful feature is the “remove” button to the right of the check mark.   This will remove this person’s updates from showing up on your dashboard.   If you find a person or company that you never want to see updates from, simply hit the remove button.  In order to make the tool as useful as possible, I’ve adjusted just about all of my contacts by either revising their “importance” or “removing” them.

5) The hardest part of using gist is configuring the importance for all your contacts and this is only hard because it takes a decent amount of time.  However, if you ignore tags and all the bells and whistles besides “importance”, it doesn’t have to take all that long before you can start using the dashboard and getting some decent value from the tool.  At least a few times you’ll almost definitely want to give yourself an hour or two in order to filter through updates from everyone on your list. Gist tries to auto-prioritize folks for you, but tons of folks from Facebook and Twitter who might be super important to you will likely be have the default importance levels of “50,” “25” or “1”.

The beautiful part of the tool is that once it’s configured, you end up with so much more control over which updates you see.

Here are just some of the most obvious benefits to this style of consuming updates:

  • Better focus: rather than letting the “noisiest” people (i.e. the folks who tweet the most) take up the most mindshare, you can rank those people low on importance and only see their updates on a day when you’re bored and get to the people who rank at lower levels of importance. By the same token, if there are a few folks rarely update, but whose updates you never want to miss, you can make sure to rank them high in importance and you’ll get to see everything they say.
  • Remove noise. If a friend is having a super-busy day on social media, you can quickly scan their updates and hit “mark all as read” rather than have them clog up your twitter and/or Facebook stream all day
  • Network integration. For the people I care about, it shouldn’t matter where they are active (Facebook, Twitter or their blog), I just want a tool to connect with them where appropriate, so I’m loving that Gist mixes and matches updates based on the person, not the network.

Finally, Gist is still in “beta” and there are a few bugs (and they mention they will likely start charging some day).  However, even if they start charging some outrageous amount, or go under for lack of funding, I can tell you that this approach of  filtering people based on the importance you place on them is here to stay.  It’s just too darn useful!

Screw consumers… Let’s use internet tools to do what REALTORS do best!

I gave a presentation last week in Portland where I asked the audience of about 300 REALTORS two questions:

  1. Do you drive most of your business from referrals… friends, family, past clients, other agents, etc.?
  2. Do you drive most of your business by reaching out directly to consumers… ads, online home search, etc.?

A little over half the audience raised their hand to the first question, while under 10% raised their hand to the second, which didn’t really surprise me because I asked a similar (but more convoluted) question in an online poll about a month ago and got similar results (i.e. 58% said referrals).

I think it’s extremely safe to say that in terms of generating business, most real estate agents (and most professionals for that matter), are better at reaching into their network of friends (and friends of friends) to drive business than reaching consumers directly.  And yet, almost all online tools, commentary and critiques of social media within real estate focus on the inability to of the tools to directly reach consumers.  (One of the more eloquent critiques was written by Marc Davison).

Let’s break down the skills and tools that an agent needs to successfully run online campaign that directly targets consumers:

  1. Project management. Hire someone with web design, marketing and coding skills (or sometimes a team of people with these skills) and make sure the site actually gets built!
  2. Writing. Either need to write content, or at least advising and managing the person creating the content.
  3. Online promotion. Either need to optimize your landing pages and drive lots of inbound links to your site (so that you can get free traffic from the search engines) or buy traffic through online ads
  4. Conversion optimization. Optimize your site to get consumers to register (probably through a IDX/home search tool, which also has to be integrated into your site)
  5. Prospecting. Prospect the database of users (assuming your IDX allows for this) and ask them for your business. Otherwise, wait for the consumers to contact you (probably when they “request a showing”).

None of these skills are particularly hard, and I’ve seen agents with almost zero internet experience pick them up and start generating business in less than half a year. However, I’ve seen way more agents get frustrated at the lack of results afte they “master” only one or two of these skills…

For example, I’ve seen agents spend two years just trying to get a good site built (project management #fail)… or they get a beautiful site built for them, but never add any content (writing #fail)… or they write well, but don’t know how to get anyone to link to their content (promotion #fail)… or they get people to their site, but don’t give users a logical way to register (conversion #fail)… or they get people in their database, but aren’t setting appointments (prospecting #fail).  In other words, none of the skills are all that hard, but they aren’t necessarily intuitive to everyone either.

Now, let’s compare that to the skills and tools used for a referral campaign that’s the bread and butter for most agents:

  1. Networking. Make a connection with friends, family, past clients, other professionals, etc. (could be through events, organizations, or outreach via postcards, etc.)
  2. Sales. Ask them for your business (or more likely, if they know of any business they can send your way)

If it’s not obvious, the skills that drive the bulk of real estate business today (i.e. referral business), are vastly different than the skills needed to convert consumers into clients on the internet… so no wonder most agents get frustrated when their initial internet activities don’t effectively reach online consumers.    It’s a completely different set of skills.

    Instead, if you’re an agent that does most of your business from referrals, you should be thinking “how can I use internet tools to reach and build my referral network?”

    And the answer to that question is definitely something I’m going to continue exploring in the near future.   My opinion is that the tools currently marketed to real estate agents do really crappy job of building up a sphere because they almost inevitably focus on helping REALTORS reach consumers directly.  When I searched for a referral networking tool last month to feature in this article: Getting Serious about Lead Management, I couldn’t find one that I liked well enough to mention.

    However, I’m going to write a post in the next day or so on a new favorite tool of mine: Gist.   It’s the best sphere building tool I’ve used, because of the way it let’s me filter through people within my network based on criteria that I set… a feature simply not available on tools like Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Seesmic, TweetDeck, etc.

    I’m going to be presenting the general idea mentioned in this post at lots of conferences in the next few months (Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Toronto, etc.) and more than your agreement, I would really love to hear your critiques…

    Where are the holes in my argument?   Am I screwed up thinking agents should forget focusing on reaching consumers directly and instead focus on building up their referral networking?

    The 1st 4RealzEd event was yesterday and…

    4ealzEdI think I’ve recovered enough now to actually post about it! 🙂

    Despite our best efforts to be prepared, the day started off a bit rough with a nearby mudslide taking out power in our building in the morning (meaning no hot coffee and no projector) and a 9-car pileup on a nearby freeway slowed me down tremendously. AHHH

    So, to say it started rough would be an understatement… But once it started, things seem to get on a roll quickly.

    I started with an overview of consumers expectations in a web2.0 world to set expectations for the day… Jim followed up with presentation on optimal features and design for a real estate website. Then it turned back to me for a presentation on social networking… lunch… then another presentation by me on creating value through blogging about communities. And we returned for the day’s finally with Jim giving a engaging presentation on measuring and tracking marketing results to ensure a positive ROI.

    All around, it was a wonderful day! And, maybe they were just being nice, but the attendees who talked with me said only good things about the education.

    Because I promised attendees I would give them a list of all the sites I mentioned in my presentations (so that they wouldn’t have to ask me to spell out each URL), here is the list for everyone’s benefit.

    Consumer Expectations in a Web2.0 World:

    Engaging in Social Networking to Earn Clients

    Using Blogs to Build Communities

    I wasn’t tracking the sites that Jim mentioned, but there were not nearly as many of them in his presentations…

    And thanks again to all the bloggers who have helped spread the word about the event, the sponsors who helped us keep the price low and all the attendees who made the day possible!

    I received some incredible feedback from all three groups, which is going to lead me to make some changes to the upcoming events (I’ll announce those early next week!). Great stuff all around. Thanks again to everyone!

    Michael thinks IC should do a better job of…

    …acknowledging their business connections when advocating for a Point2 solution… and I agree. But I also wonder how long competing products (like Top Producer) will continue to sponsor RealTown products if IC continues to advocate for Point2 solutions.

    Top Producer ad on RealTown