By Maria Patterson
No matter what business you’re in, the role of information in influencing consumer decisions is nothing short of a major paradigm shift. But while we can all agree that providing consumers with relevant content is essential, not everyone may realize that how that content is delivered is now just as important—especially in today’s competitive real estate market. In the information game, it often boils down to a classic case of whoever gets there first, wins. So the challenge for today’s real estate professional is two-fold. One: Do you have the right content? And two: How are you getting that content to consumers? Succeeding in today’s environment requires steadfast attention to both.
First Things First: Content
The truth is, consumers are overloaded with information…and that overload has caused them to become much more discerning. Consumers want the right information—precise information that speaks to their specific needs.
Given the volumes of conflicting information circulating about the housing market, gathering relevant content to deliver to consumers is a daunting task for most real estate professionals. This dilemma led RISMedia to place serious emphasis on developing content solutions for brokers and agents. As an independent source of real estate information for more than 30 years, RISMedia is in a unique position to deliver pertinent, credible content to consumers via its loyal audience of real estate professionals.
With the launch of RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN) less than two years ago, RISMedia provided a content solution to brokers at the enterprise level. RREIN was designed to offer top real estate companies a turnkey, Web-based system for sharing quality information with both their agent and consumer base.
RREIN member Ken Crowley, broker/owner of Maryland’s RE/MAX Realty Group, firmly believes that good content is an essential part of doing business in today’s real estate market. “People have gotten very savvy about what’s good content,” he says. “There’s a lot of junk content out there and people can discern very quickly what’s relevant and what’s not. People don’t want to know how much experience you have or what plaques you have on your wall. They want service and information.”
RREIN member June Slusser, broker/owner of Blue Ridge, Georgia’s Coldwell Banker High Country Realty, credits information—and the implementation of new tools and systems such as RREIN—as having led her firm to a 49 percent increase in homes sold in 2011 over the previous year.
“Today’s real estate consumer has demonstrated that they have a strong desire to work with real estate firms that are willing and able to supply real-time information about real estate,” says Slusser. “We took the stance that we were going to be the company that provided more knowledge to consumers than anyone else. We were able to accomplish this goal through a strategic relationship with RISMedia and RREIN.”
RISMedia recently took another major step toward content solution with the introduction of REsource this past November. REsource provides real estate professionals of all levels with affordable access to RISMedia’s vast archives of trade and consumer articles and videos. Content, which is updated daily on REsource, can be purchased in three different packages or a la carte.
In just three short months, REsource has already garnered upwards of 500 users (as of press time) who are using RISMedia content to populate their blogs, social media sites, newsletters, or any other communication delivery vehicle they utilize.
The overarching goal of RREIN and REsource is to systematize content delivery for real estate professionals, however, in today’s consumer environment, it’s not just about having the right content, it’s about making sure that content reaches your audience…fast.
The Value of Social Media Revealed
While there’s been a lot of debate in the real estate industry over the real value, if any, of social media, today, that question has been answered. The value of social media lies in its ability to be an expedient delivery mechanism of relevant content to consumers.
Regardless of your own comfort level with social media, the better part of the population is hooked. In fact, researchers from Chicago University’s Booth Business School believe that social media has become more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. As one researcher explains, “Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities.”
As Delaware REALTOR® Dave Ilif of Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate aptly says, “Technology won’t replace REALTORS®, but it will replace REALTORS® who won’t embrace technology. I see a large part of my business being generated by social media—and I am hoping for a 25 percent increase (in deals generated from social media) by the end of the year.”
Ilif recently completed RISMedia’s Social Media Marketing Course (SMMC), taught by CRS instructor Gee Dunsten. The SMMC was designed to offer brokers a cost-effective way to teach their agents how to best utilize social media to build better relationships and exponentially increase their marketing reach. The day-long course is based on Dunsten’s interviews with top producers across the country who have increased gross commission income through effectively deploying social media.
“Brokers are interested in one thing and that is, ‘how will this education help my agents and, thereby, my company, earn more money?’” says Dunsten. “We’ve designed this course with extremely affordable pricing because we believe it’s imperative for real estate professionals to use social media and use it the right way.”
According to Donna Greenspan, director of Marketing and Technology for Patterson-Schwartz, hosting the SMMC course for her agents was a necessary step in helping the firm’s agents operate efficiently in the social media space. “The industry has been struggling with how to get the most out of the social media environment,” she explains. “We, as a company, want to try to provide direction, especially as it relates to content. We’re working hard to educate agents about the types of content they should be running. Real consumer engagement comes from the content we’re sharing.”
Stan Powell, a REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker Advantage in Shallotte, N.C., also took RISMedia’s SMMC course and signed up for the subsequent SMMC certification.
“I like social networking because it’s more appealing for multimedia-savvy consumers and so much more powerful when you add links, pictures or video,” says Powell. “I knew it was a game changer when I’d go to events in areas I’d never been before and people were walking up and saying hello because they saw my picture on Facebook or had heard my name.”
The foundation of any good social media marketing strategy is relevant content, of course. “Social media provides real estate professionals with a free way to position themselves as thought leaders in their respective markets,” Dunsten explains. “This is an imperative stance for any real estate professional to take in order to be successful long-term.
“Right now, we cannot offer enough social media education,” says Greenspan. “We have agents all over the board in terms of their knowledge of social media. When we looked at the cost per agent for the SMMC course versus other classes, it was very competitive. Our agents came away from the course with a lot of strategies and are already trying many of the different ideas they learned about.”
Powell says he’s been busy ever since the SMMC Course, “making deals and touching people I would not have the ability to reach without social networking.”
Mobile Technology: The Linchpin
Today’s information-packed environment ultimately proves overwhelming to many real estate professionals. There is, however, one tie that binds: mobile technology.
Whether it’s immediate access to property information, a blog entry on the latest neighborhood values, or a tweet on a listing that just dropped its price, the mobile device has become the number-one gateway to information delivery.
Last year, according to market research firm Canalys, more smartphones shipped than PCs, for the first time…ever. As Canalys analyst Chris Jones said in a statement for PC Magazine, “In the space of a few years, smartphones have grown from being a niche product segment at the high-end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass-market proposition.”
John Lim, founder and CEO of Mobile Real Estate (MRE), recognized the massive potential of mobile technology for real estate professionals back in April 2008 when he launched his firm. As Lim explains, content delivery is now primarily directed toward the mobile device. One of Lim’s many rallying cries for real estate brokers is to make sure their websites are viewable across all devices. Consumers must be able to view a real estate site on their mobile device with the same user-friendly experience they get from their PCs.
Lim stresses that this demand comes straight from the consumer. “Since when did it become our place to tell the consumer how to interact with us?” he says. “There are more emails sent than phone calls made, yet we did not eliminate our phone numbers on our business cards. If anyone thinks they can control the way every consumer accesses information, they’re in for a rocky economic recovery.”
Slusser is one of many savvy brokers who can attest to the power of mobile technology. She attributes part of her record-breaking 2011 success to smartphones and the ability to text property codes. “The new mobile website for Coldwell Banker High Country Realty includes GPS so consumers can more easily find the properties in which they’re interested,” she explains. “The technology permits consumers who are passing by a property to text the code to Coldwell Banker in order to receive complete listing information within seconds.”
“Although some may find real estate websites entertaining or simply visit out of curiosity, a different phenomenon occurs with mobile,” explains REALTOR.com®’s Vice President of Marketing Frederick Herot. “In fact, NAR’s 2011 data tells us that 40 percent of homebuyers actually find their home on the Web, and that includes the mobile Web. The audience on REALTOR.com® is comprised of serious buyers, and our mobile buyers seem to be even more serious and ‘in hot pursuit’ of a property. Plus, we’ve found that these mobile buyers are even more likely to follow-up with an inquiry to an agent.”
REALTOR.com® has been well ahead of the curve on the mobile movement, introducing its iPhone app in January 2010, followed by an iPad app in April 2011. The firm predicts that 35 – 40 percent of its traffic now comes from a mobile or tablet device.
“We all know mobile is big, and Internet usage from mobile devices is projected to eclipse usage from wired devices in the next 18 months,” says REALTOR.com® Creative Director Amit Kulkarni. “And mobile isn’t just handheld mobile devices like a cellphone; it also includes tablets. The iPad is by far the dominant device in this space, and it’s a device that is tailor-made for a beautiful and elegant search experience. For us, it made perfect sense to release an app for this device.”
According to Herot, the success of REALTOR.com®’s iPhone and iPad apps is due in large part to the accuracy of the data. Unlike syndication sites, REALTOR.com® has direct feeds from over 933 MLSs, and updates most of the site’s listing data every 15 minutes.
“When it comes to mobile, this is really where the rubber meets the road,” says Herot. “If you, as a consumer, are using another app that relies on bad data, it becomes very apparent as you are out and about looking at homes. Other apps that aren’t accurate won’t cut it in the mobile environment. Our intent is to engage the ‘serious buyer’ with their REALTOR® or the listing agents immediately.”
According to Lim, there are other mobile entry points to consider in addition to apps. “Due to the great marketing of Apple, we are now programmed to think everything you view on your mobile phone is an app,” says Lim. “But what every broker needs is a 360-degree mobile solution that covers all mobile entry methods (QR Code, SMS, URL Redirect) and formats for all phones. Over the years, since the advent of the Internet, real estate professionals have spent tremendous dollars on SEO and winning the local market, not to mention countless hours developing unique content; driving traffic to a variety of mobile entry points ensures this investment is properly utilized.”
“Companies like REALTOR.com®, Zillow and Trulia receive tons of traffic to their mobile apps,” Lim continues. “It is difficult for a local broker to compete with that. However, with mobile browser technology today, the browser can do virtually everything the app can do as well as allow buyers to download the site right to their phone.”
Lim also stresses the importance of not limiting access to consumers with apps that are only supported by iPhone and Android devices. “Over 25 percent of today’s homebuyers don’t have one of these phones…and since when did the economy become so lucrative that we can afford to be discriminatory?
“The interactive touch points that have been created via new mobile technologies, such as SMS and QR codes, work very well with the mobile Internet,” Lim adds. “These real-world touch points are crucial in connecting potential buyers to property information with mobile technology.”
Embracing the Equation
When it comes to the power of the information engine, there is one ultimate truth—there is no turning back. And as technology continues to advance on every level, staying in tune with innovations—in the areas of social media and mobile technology in particular—will be critical to the ability to effectively communicate with real estate consumers.
“The truth is, no one can really stay ahead fully,” says Lim. “REALTORS® need to work with experts that live in the mobile space everyday and only develop mobile solutions.”
Smart brokers know that guiding agents toward becoming trusted information providers is an integral part of their firm’s relevance and subsequent success in the current and future marketplace. “Anything that we can do to help make that an easier process for our agents is invaluable,” says Greenspan. “A lot of people want to be out there in the social media world but are afraid and not sure what they should be doing. Being able to offer them a turnkey solution is critical.”
For more information on RISMedia’s Social Media Marketing Course & Certification, please email SMMC@rismedia.com.
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