Did you ever go to a school dance? Was it awkward for you? Were you paralyzed by the fear of having to dance with a classmate, the fear of being rejected, the fear of embarrassment?
The current Internet environment can be a lot like that sometimes.
Let’s face it, if you are a real estate agent who is surveying the current Internet landscape and trying to figure out what your next step is going to be, it is very easy to get confused and to suffer paralysis.
The Internet provides so many marketing opportunities that the choices can sometimes seem overwhelming. Sure, you may have your own personal website, complete with all the bells and whistles (content management, SEO optimization, user registration, customized property search, lead generation, etc.) but you want more. You want to be on the bleeding edge of technology, innovating and moving your business forward. In short, you want to dance, but choosing the right partner can be difficult.
You may have heard of social media (or user-generated content). Even if you haven’t, you are sure to have heard of its examples: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, blogs, and wikis, just to name a few. The expansion of social media is the latest and greatest phase of the Internet. Because of this, it should at least be on the radar screens of real estate agents who are interested in more completely leveraging the power of the Internet to grow their business.
Since the social media options can sometimes be so overwhelming that brain freeze can quickly occur, I thought that it might be helpful to offer what I think is a basic primer on using some of these sites to benefit your business. This is a basic primer, designed just to expose you to sites that can be of some benefit, and also sharing strategies for realizing that benefit. This is not meant to be an exhaustive review by any means, but is should be enough to put you on the road to building meaningful relationships with clients, customers, prospects and other professionals.
If the Internet is like a dance, then your song is about to come on. . .
The Philosophy Behind Social Media
The first thing that you need to understand about the social media movement is that it is built around relationships. Social media sites exist to foster conversation between people. The people who use these sites want to engage with others, not just experience one-way communication.
The majority of traditional real estate marketing is one-way (i.e. look at my listings, read about my service, visit my website). Social media sites are different. The expectation of people who use these sites is that they will have a part in the conversation. The good thing about this, for agents, is that it enables agents to cultivate relationships with people. Rather than marketing to prospects, you can converse with them and build trust in a more natural and meaningful way. Traditional Internet marketing takes your hand and says, “dance with me!” Social media sites offer a hand and ask, “shall we dance?”
4 Resources You Can Use RIGHT NOW to Build Meaningful Relationships
1) Blogging— You are reading a blog right now, but you probably knew that. The reason that blogs can be beneficial to agents is that you can use the blog as your own personal slice of the Internet to show people what you are really about. A blog gives you a way to share your insights and expertise with people as often as you would like. At the most basic level, a blog gives people a way to meet you before they ever meet you face-to-face.
How to use your blog: Use it as a way to converse with and inform your readers. Your goal should be to share with them your insights, opinions and experience is such a way that benefits them. After writing a few posts, and receiving a few comments, you will find that you will be learning just as much as you are sharing.
How NOT to use your blog: To advertise listings. There are plenty of other ways to do that. If you really want to use a blog for advertising your inventory, create a separate blog for such a purpose. I did just that.
2) Facebook: Facebook was a sight that was originally created as a way for college students to communicate with each other more easily. Originally the exclusive domain of colleges, the site has since been opened to anyone with an email address. That means you. Facebook is a social-networking site that allows you to share as much or as little information as you want with others, but especially your “friends.” Aside from being a cool place to find friends, former classmates and colleagues, Facebook can also be a valuable business tool.
How to use Facebook: Use it to establish yourself as an expert in your community and build relationships with people you already know and also with potential clients. If you are looking for great ways to use Facebook for business, you can find some here, and some real estate-specific possibilities here and here.
How NOT to use Facebook: Remember that if you are going to use one Facebook profile for both business and personal use, anything that you put in your profile should be appropriate. You may have had a great time at that party the other night, but do you want your real estate clients and prospects viewing that photo of you with a lampshade on your head?
3) LinkedIn: LinkedIn is like the big-business brother to Facebook. While Facebook is a personal social networking site that people use for business, the explicit purpose of LinkedIn is to foster business networking. It isn’t quite as social as I would like it to be, but their Q&A section can be a great resource for learning. The basic purpose of LinkedIn is to start a profile and link yourself to other professionals, thereby increasing your overall network by degrees. I have linked myself not only to other real estate professionals, but also to any of my clients who have profiles. The networking potential is enormous.
How to use LinkedIn: Build as detailed and creative a profile as you can. This will be people’s first impression of you. Answer as many questions as you can on the message boards as a way of making additional contact by sharing your experience and expertise. Who knows, you may even be able to leverage your network to create new business opportunities.
How NOT to use LinkedIn: Don’t spam people, and don’t use it to advertise your listings (again). Like all the others, LinkedIn is a networking site, not an advertising outlet. Engage people and become part of the conversation.
4) Twitter: Twitter is a site that I recently started using. It is essentially a micro-blogging platform. While many people use it just to publish status updates (telling people what they are doing at any given moment), the site has possibilities far beyond that. The most valuable feature of the site is the ability to follow the tweets of others. Find some interesting people, and you will have insight into what is catching their attention. A lot of news breaks on Twitter, since it can be disseminated instantaneously. Also, by using “@” replies, you can actually converse with people, like the chat rooms of yore. Right now, there isn’t a tremendous real estate industry presence on Twitter, but I hope that will change.
How to use Twitter: Read this first. I am sure, however, that there are plenty of other innovative uses for the site as it pertains specifically to real estate. Most of them are going to require building a cadre of followers for your tweets, so you are going to need something interesting and compelling to follow, first.
How NOT to use Twitter: While the original purpose for Twitter was to answer the question, “what are you doing?” Don’t get carried away. No one wants to know when you are going to grab a cold one from the fridge. If you are doing something that you think people may find interesting, than tweet away. Oh yeah, “I just listed ‘such and such house’ today,” does not qualify as interesting. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so choose wisely.
Get Out on the Dance Floor
Those are just 4 social media resources that I think are valuable. There are plenty of others. I included these because I have personal experience with them. Doing just a little bit of research will yield plenty of other possibilities. My advice is to pick a few and use them faithfully for a while. Only use as many as you can effectively manage. That is why I use the 4 listed above. Any more than that would get a bit unwieldy for me. I like them, and I have experienced some degree of success with all of them.
The main thing to remember is that social media is about building relationships. In order to do that, you need to do something. Maybe you just start a blog and see how it goes. Maybe you build a Facebook profile and find some groups that are interesting to you. Whatever it is, believe me when I tell you that your colleagues, friends, clients and prospects are out there socializing right now.
Remember those school dances? If you have been standing on the wall, waiting for the music to change, the time for waiting is over. Now is the time to dance!