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?

    I hit publish on a RCG post earlier toda…

    I hit publish on a RCG post earlier today talking about how I’m super excited about the HomeQuest Social Media Summit that’s set to take place next week in Portland!

    In addition to myself, the HomeQuest team has lined up David Gibbons, Gahlord Dewald to talk about Search Engine Optimization and Garron Selliken, some of the smartest folks in online real estate marketing.

    [One of my inspirations for this post was to test out the “eventbrite” countdown widget. Pretty slick, huh?]

    Nothing like an Inman event in NYC!

    I’m always get excited before heading out to an Inman event… The team at Inman has always made sure I get some great visibility through speaking and moderating panels, and truth be told, I simply have a blast meeting up with all my real estate friends.

    This year is no different, they not only have me speaking about Facebook, but I’m also moderating a technology and media track where I get to host conversations with industry leaders on mobile, wordpress, twitter, and the extendable web (How cool is that???).

    But there’s more!

    Spinnio Event on InmanThis year, we’re also going to be running Spinnio interviews out of the Inman booth on Wednesday. So far, we’ve got Craig Newmark and Brad Inman confirmed and the Inman team is sure to line up some other great guests over the next few days!

    Maybe even cooler, Kris Berg is scheduled to host all the conversations!!! She really is one of my favorite people in the whole world, so I couldn’t be more excited.

    What’s up with Spinnio anyway? Why not just live stream the events?

    I know I’m a bit biased since Spinnio is my baby, but what excites me (and obviously a few others) about Spinnio events is that they’re meant to get YOU engaged. Using either Facebook chat or Twitter, you get to ask the questions of the guests… You get to banter with them… We’ll be actively monitoring the live streams from both Facebook and Twitter, so getting involved really is simple.

    Spinnio really is different. It’s not the usual “live streaming” of interviews or conference sessions. We’re letting you ask the questions of real estate and technology leaders… and all you have to do to take part is to show up at the spinnio event landing page on Inman on Wednesday.

    Can’t wait to see you in NYC!

    P.S. We’ll be updating this schedule of events as we confirm new guests:

    Capturing the Hallway Conversations at NAR

    Last Friday one of my companies, Spinnio, ran a live video chat with David Arquette at his Propr Clothing store that was hosted by Shira Lazar. It was so much fun with the two of them (and the many guests that walked into the store during the event) that it’s inspired me to do something similar at NAR this year.

    Spinnio at NARMy hope is to create a place to capture some of the most interesting banter of a conference… i.e. the hallway conversations…and then invite you’all to take part. So, I recruited a partner in crime with the plan being that we’re going to stream live video conversations to Spinnio.com throughout the weekend (starting at RE BarCamp San Diego).

    And if you want to take part in our conversations, I’ve set it up so you can ask questions and leave comments directly on the Spinnio page using either Facebook or Twitter. In other words, we’re not only going to do mobile video, but we’re bringing in the two most popular social networks so you can take part from anywhere in the world.

    The only catch with this operation, is that I have no idea when we’re actually going to turn the cameras on… (although I expect it to be often). So if you want to be notified, make sure to follow Spinnio on twitter, where we’ll do our best to give some head’s up! (Won’t hurt to also make sure you’re following @tyr and @ribeezie since I’m sure we’ll be letting people know through those accounts as well)

    And finally, if you know someone who should get some time on Spinnio (maybe you!), let me know. As I “confirm” guests for specific times, I’ll update this post!

    UPDATE
    Ricardo and I are going to use a shared google calendar in order to track guests and allow you to see who we’ve scheduled and when. Here it is:

    Another Rock’n Inman Conference

    As always, the Real Estate Connect Event put on by Inman this year rocked!  The information, the people, the food, the fun…  it’s just way too much fun (honestly too much!).  And I know I’m a bit biased, but I hang with a really great group of people, even if you’all do stay out a bit too late.

    125x125_nyc_09Combine a great New York City trip with being able to team up with Jay Thompson for a session on blogging and you know I’m going to have fun.

    Follow that up with a great opportunity to moderate a discussion on the future of mobile technology in real estate with Brad Blumbert of SmarterAgent, Mark Ford of Qwasi, Dawn Doherty of StreetEasy and Jamie Glenn of Trulia and I was feeling pretty darn good!   But then give me the opportunity to moderate another panel on web analytics with Gahlord Dewald of Union Street Media, Marty Frame of CyberHomes, Ed Freyfogle of Nestoria and Anita Gandi of Hitwise and I was in online real estate geek heaven!

    I learned a ton from so many folks at Inman this year, so thanks again to everyone who connected up over the past few days!

    Sadly, I’m going to be missing out on the last day of the event (thanks to the fact that I doubled up my NYC time with a client meeting on Friday), but I did that very reluctantly as I cherish every minute I get to soak up from the great folks in online real estate!

    Can’t wait to see you’all in San Francisco!

    NAR is upon us once again!

    As I write this on a Wednesday night, I can’t help think what a long week it’s been!   And yet, the week (and the fun) is just beginning.

    Tomorrow morning I leave for NAR…. and it’s not until I hit Orlando that things really heat up.

    First major stop:

    Friday @ 12:30 I’m moderating a panel featuring  Teresa Boardman, Jim Duncan, Ines Hegedus-Garcia, Ginger Wilcox titled Driving REAL business with blogs.

    I’m really excited about this panel! There’s a great group of people assembled with very different styles of blogging and I’m really looking forward to peppering them with questions.  The one warning I’ve given to the panelists is that I expect this to be an extremely fast moving panel and I’ve prepared a ton of questions that will let us get through a ton of information out of this crew!   I’ve prepared the panelists that we’re going to move fast and I expect to get through a lot   If you’re going to NAR, this is one of two can’t miss events!  😉

    By the way, you might remember way, way back in the beginning of February when I first reached out via twitter to start assembling the panel.   It may be almost a year later, but that only makes it all the better to watch this panel come so close to fruition!

    2nd Major Stop:

    Sunday @ 11am, I’ve teamed up with Jeff Turner and Rudy Bachraty, to put together an “event” on Using Social Media to Engage Clients.

    I don’t want to set expectation too high, but this is not going to be just another presentation…   This is going to be an event. We’re going to have a lot of fun and have plans to involve people from all over the country!

    By the way, this presentation started with a simple blog post from CRT that I picked up and was so lucky to have Jeff and Rudy join me in taking on this adventure.  This presentation is going to be fun!

    There’s more!

    Jeff has tons of details on connecting with others within the social media space @ NAR.  Here’s some highlights:

    Some great posts about NAR events:

    And on the off chance you want to meet up with me in orlando, the best way to reach out is to connect with me on twitter!   Can’t wait for the fun to begin!

    Real Estate Gathering Monday Night in Long Beach

    Taking advantage of the fact that there’s a bunch of real estate folks in town for the CAR event in Long Beach, Jessie B of Retrove has organized an event for Monday evening and you’re invited. It should be a fun night of food, drinks and conversation!

    If you’re interested in attending, let me know in the comments and I’ll happily send you an invite to the event page on Facebook where you can get all the details!