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?

    Why bother with Facebook Pages?

    Call me crazy (you won’t be the first), but I think Facebook nailed it with their updated news feeds and new functionality of their Facebook Pages. But before I can explain why, I need to give some background on the difference between a Facebook Page (also called a Public Profile) and the standard Facebook Profile.

    A Facebook Page is geared toward giving businesses, brands, public figures, etc. a way to engage an audience on Facebook. With a Standard Facebook Profile, you make “friends” and engage with people on a very one-to-one level. With a Facebook Page, people become “fans” of your page, which doesn’t require you to connect with them at all… In many ways, it becomes a “broadcast” tool similar to twitter, but like twitter, you’ll need to engage with others, be interesting, etc. in order to get any real value out of the tool…

    And here’s where it gets interesting…

    Like a Standard Profile, Facebook Pages allow you to give status updates, share links, create videos, host discussion boards, and generally interact with other people (your “fans” in this case) in much the same way you might interact with them if you were friends. To get an idea of how you might use features like this, check out my Facebook Page:

    fb-pageIf you check out my “wall”, you should notice that since I created the page a few days ago, I’ve left status updates, recorded videos, shared links and generally interacted with people in much the same way I might interact with people using my “personal” profile… (note: you’ll need to be logged into Facebook to see all of the updates)

    However, this begs an obvious question… if these Facebook Pages are just like your personal profiles, why bother?

    I can think of three reasons:

    • Unlike a standard profile, Facebook Pages are public and get indexed by the search engines
    • With a Page, you *can* send updates to an unlimited number of fans, whereas (I’m pretty sure) Facebook limits you to sending messages to 20 friends at a time
    • Because people become “fans” of a page, you won’t need to follow them back in order to have them follow you

    This last point is extremely important to me because as I hit up near 1000 friends, my news feed is getting pretty polluted with updates from people I have no connection to other than we both travel in online real estate circles.

    Interestingly, I reached the point on Twitter where there was too much noise a few months ago when I was following around 1000 people. At that point, I would see so many automated tweets (i.e. “just posted on ActiveRain…”, “view my latest blog post at …” and “view my latest listing at…”) that reading my twitter feed felt like a chore.

    At one point, I unfollowed a ton of people (over 700), and now that I much more cautious about how I follow, my twitter experience has improved 10-fold as it’s now much easier for me to follow and engage in interesting and (sometimes) meaningful conversations…

    Returning to Facebook

    Going forward, I’m going to be using my Facebook Page to give online marketing and online real estate tips, links, videos, etc, and my Personal Facebook Profile to connect with family and close friends. While it might seem a bit mean, over the next few weeks, I’m going to “unfriend” a bunch of folks (probably hundreds) whom I simply do not have a personal connection to…

    Obviously, I highly encourage anyone reading this post (that means YOU!) to become a fan of my page… and order to give you some encouragement, I can tell you that my plan is to keep the page interesting and worthy of your attention by posting a steady stream of social media links, commentary and videos in a similar (but cleaner!) way that that I was using the 4realz Hotlist.

    In the big picture, I’m going to continue to reserve 4realz.net for my “big” ideas, and share my little insights over on my FB Page.

    One more thing…

    If you made it this far on this long post, I figure you must be a glutton for punishment, so I thought I’d indulge you with a video I posted yesterday on my Facebook page. This video highlights 6 ways Facebook Pages excite me in a similar way that business blogging did nearly 4 years ago when I started Rain City Guide:

    n20186119572_5897jpgP.S. Did I mention that Scotty Brown and I both published our pages around the same time (over a cup of coffee the other day)? He thinks that just because he’s a Reality TV star he’s gonna end up with more fans than me. We can’t let that happen, can we? Go become a fan!

    P.P.S. I also want to thank some of the folks who first signed up to be my “fans” like Alex Scoble, Scotty Brown, Cecilia Camps, Bob Maiocco, Susie Blackmon, Ines Hegedus-Garcia and Victor Lund. Each and every one of you rock! 😉

    Now Open! The 4realz Bookstore

    Early today I was having a conversation with Eric Bryn on twitter when he said:

    have you read Guy Kawasaki’s book Art of the Start’?

    which was all the impetuous I needed to finally get around to publishing my very own online marketing bookstore here on 4realz. This is something I’ve been thinking about doing ever since I built a similar (Amazon-powered) bookstore for a client, but just never took the time to do for myself.

    4realz-bookstore-screenshot

    So far, I have three categories of books:

    • Online Marketing
    • Starting Your Business
    • Blogging

    and only two books in each category.   My idea is to limit the books under each category so as to make it a “best” of breed books…

    Nonetheless, I like the idea of adding a few more books to each of the categories and potentially even another category of two, so if you have a book that should be included because it’s been particularly inspiring to you, definitely let me know!

    Joe describes how to embed YouTube videos in a PowerPoint, but…

    …I’d hate to rely on a working internet connection when in front of an audience!

    When I embed an internet videos in a presentation, I always make sure to be running off a copy that has been saved to my hard-drive.

    Here is one way to make this happen:

    1. Install the Firefox extension DownloadHelper
    2. Download & install Riva FLV Encoder (freeware – PC-only)

    Using the DownloadHelper, you can now download video from just about any online site to your hard-drive. Assuming you want to embed a YouTube video, you’ll need to convert the resulting flash video to an MPEG format before you can embed it in your presentation.

    Using the Riva software you can convert your file to MPEG format, but one step is a bit counter-intuitive since the software is “designed” to go from MPEG to flash.  (Detail on the steps can be found here)

    Once you have the video in an MPEG format, you can use the standard tools within PowerPoint to embed the video into your presentation and you won’t have to worry about loosing an internet connection during your presentation!

    Head’s up: I honestly have no idea about the legality of using YouTube video in your presentation, but my guess is that depending on who owns the video, this could be against YouTube rules and could be illegal.   Nonetheless, in the past, I’ve had a lot of luck by simply asking the permission of the person who posted the video if I could use it in one of my presentations…