Successful sales professionals know their careers depend upon good networking. Connecting to consumers and other industry players remains the purpose of REALTOR® Associations, chambers of commerce, condo associations and country clubs. Networking is the source of new leads and referrals. Yet in a faster, busier world, where there’s less time to go to the club or make it to a meeting, social networking opportunities have evolved to take place more conveniently, with greater access for everyone. Social networking has moved online, all the time, on the web.
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Engage the Web: Social Networking
Social networking online isn’t new. For nearly two decades internet users have joined "discussion lists" and “chat groups” to make friends, exchange ideas and generate business. Traditionally, these forms of networking were based around a daily email with entries from participants talking about different subjects. Over time the email digest moved to discussion web sites where threaded entries were posted on message boards. Users could browse the latest entries then post their thoughts to the author or publicly so the entire group could read their comments. Conversations were generated much like a kind of letter correspondence group, although faster and with greater numbers of participants.
Today’s social networking opportunities are more sophisticated but their purpose remains the same. Get a group of people with shared interests interacting – but this time, use tools that let everybody access the discussion whenever and whenever it’s convenient. No more scheduled meetings or missed ideas. Instead, real-time tools such as blogs, instant messaging and video conferencing have made it possible to network anytime, with larger and larger groups of people. Cool sites such as YouTube, MySpace, and Blogger, have transformed the very concept of websites – from online “merchandise showcases” to interactivity opportunities between the host and its visitors. Just about anybody today can create and facilitate online networking, with virtually no programming knowledge or even cost!
In the real estate industry, the core social networking tool today is the blog. Essentially, a blog is a daily newspaper (or diary) of postings on a website by an author. Unlike a website where “news” is posted from time to time, blogs are updated nearly every day, or multiple times within the day. They also encourage readers to add their comments to the postings. Modern consumers are used to taking opportunities to interact with authors on topics that concern them. Most news sites have featured a “talk back” tool alongside their news stories for years. It’s only natural for real estate websites to evolve this level of interactivity between consumers and real estate professionals.
Social networking through a blog can be as easy as creating a public page on Blogger.com, then adding daily short postings on current real estate events, local market conditions or particular property opportunities. As the agent or broker grows and promotes the site daily, the public will return to the blog frequently (the more postings, the more returning visitors), especially if it offers them ways to directly interact with the REALTOR® other than picking up the phone or emailing. The result is the creation of a real-time mechanism for engaging the public rather than simply presenting to them.
In addition to interacting with the public, social networking tools can also be used between agents and brokers to generate referrals, learn new ideas and build their sphere of influence. For example, agents can create a free blog on websites such as RealTown (http://www.realtown.com/), which hosts more than 60,000 active participants from around the globe. These agents interact on each others’ blogs, sharing news and ideas from their marketplaces and experience. They also engage in daily email-digests which facilitate discussions on hot topics such as technology, sales, marketing and agency. By creating a variety of online meeting mechanisms, RealTown has made it possible for agents learn from the entire real estate community, not just their local participants. Leveraging such networking tools, an agent can make friends and possible generate business with virtually no cost other than their time and participation.
Blogs and email digests have become popular social networking tools because they let anybody participate by simply “word processing” their thoughts into a web page. They also include tools for uploading a photo, video or audio recording (podcast) with the text, so interactivity goes beyond the written word. Gaining importance in this area, though, are faster forms of interactive tools such as instant messaging and video conferencing. While most real estate professionals continue to dismiss instant messaging and online chat as something “their kids do,” the irony is, that’s the point! It’s clear that the pathway into the first time home buyer marketplace online is through instant messaging.
Generations X and Y use instant messaging almost daily; most certainly to communicate with friends and increasingly with customers at work. In their experience, the social networking never stops. Phone calls and voice mail have been replaced by cellular text messages directly to one’s cell phone: no need to “check” when messages are automatically (and instantly) displayed. In essence, these generations have created an always present and available culture of networking. They form, build and maintain relationships – personal and professional – in real time, all the time. And while most agents are still “challenged” with getting their email in real time (with a Blackberry) these future real estate consumers are communicating with each other in an almost endless live cycle.
The key to social networking is that it’s interactive. This means that it requires daily (or real-time) participation between people in order to be successful. For many agents, this is a whole new challenge to leveraging the internet. Gone are the days where being successful online meant simply uploading new listings and sending out an e-newsletter once a month. The competition to engage – and keep – consumer’s attention has moved beyond the correspondence model and evolved into the networking model. Real estate online is no longer the “catalog” model – where consumer browse web sites for listings or agents that might catch their interest. Smart consumers want much more than “new and updated” inventory. They want access to people. In fact, social networking means the entire reversal of the old model of real estate website marketing. Real estate agents must start reaching out to customers through social networking rather than waiting for consumers to reach out to them! It’s already happening – from MySpace to Toyota’s Scion – websites. There’s no better time for real estate agents to go start networking online.
This article was authored by Matthew Ferrara of Matthew Ferrara Seminars, Inc.
Reprinted with permission of Matthew Ferrara Seminars, Inc.