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RISMEDIA, April 2, 2011—Today’s consumers are seeking two things. The first is social proof—in other words, that you are who you say you are and you do what you say you’ll do. The second is social ranking. Forget about how many awards you’ve won or your latest sales figures; tell me instead how the public rates you.

In today’s economic climate, the consumer rules, and consumer ratings will have a greater and greater influence on the decisions people make, including which real estate agent they choose.

We’re well aware that 50 percent of our business should be coming from our spheres of influence, and we’re well versed in the traditional ways of making this happen. But in today’s technological climate, we need to start focusing on gathering more and more online endorsements as well. As Dawn Thomas of the Dawn Thomas Team in Altos, California, says, we need to create an “online synergy.”

One of the best tools to help build online capital is Yelp, billed as the site for “real people and real reviews.” Yelp is very strong in two key areas: it gives you the ability to provide consumer ratings of other businesses, and to receive positive ratings in return. Yelp enables us to make inroads and build relationships in the community that will ultimately help facilitate more home sales for us in the community.

When Yelp first came on the scene in 2005, there were no reviews. By the end of 2010 there were over 15 million reviews. Done the right way in the right manner, it is an excellent tool that can yield some huge benefits.

Here are some steps to get you started:

1. First and foremost, make a list of all those you know in business in your community. Then go on Yelp and see how many or how few of those businesses are already listed there, and how much information is included. Are there pictures? Are there a number of people leaving reviews? Are the directions clear and accurate? Is there enough information in the reviews to encourage you to go there for dinner, a donut, or to drop off your laundry?

2. Next, identify the top 10–20 businesses you frequent. Then, if they happen to exist on Yelp, go ahead and make some comments. Your starting point is to become a contributor. This opens the door for the businesses you’re reviewing to, in turn, make rave reviews about you. Be sure to write a lengthy or more specific review for maximum effect. Instead of just saying, “We highly recommend Joe’s Bistro,” say, “We highly recommend Joe’s Bistro and don’t miss out on the Bananas Foster and try to get a seat by the window because the sunset is magnificent.”

3. Take the next step with a page out of Beth McKinney’s book. The Realtor® from RE/MAX United in Cary, North Carolina, utilized Yelp to tell a story about one of her favorite businesses, the Southern Bread Company. She then printed out her review on Yelp, which included a picture of her standing in front of the shop and the Yelp logo, had it framed, and presented it to the business owners, who in turn, hung it on the wall behind their cash register. Now, every patron who comes to the store knows McKinney and everyone on the streets of Cary knows McKinney. She has created celebrity status for herself in some of these establishments.

This is what’s known as “Chamber 2.0.” If you become a local supporter of business, they will, in turn, do the same for you. As McKinney says, Yelp has allowed her to become an ambassador who trumpets the great things about her community. And now, people are talking about her because of her knowledge, sincerity and style. As the adage has long held, you reap what you sow.

George “Gee” Dunsten, president of Gee Dunsten Seminars, Inc., has been a real estate agent and broker/owner for almost 40 years. Dunsten has been a senior instructor with the Council of Residential Specialists for more than 20 years. To reach Gee, please e-mail, gee@gee-dunsten.com. For an extended version of this article, please visit www.rismedia.com.

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