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RISMEDIA, April 28, 2010—The proof is in the numbers. It is estimated that video comprises 32% of all Internet activity and that today’s consumers prefer video 6 to 1 over text. Those are pretty staggering numbers, according to Stephen Schweickart, CEO and co-founder of VScreen, a provider of tightly focused and branded video for the real estate industry. “Video has moved from being an exception to an expectation,” says Schweickart. “People are reading less and watching more. We’re fast becoming a visual society…and there’s no turning back.” In this exclusive interview with Schweickart, read how video is becoming the medium of choice, why he believes real estate needs to move quickly on the platform and how VScreen has positioned itself to provide everything a broker and agent could need…and more.

Stephanie Andre: How is VScreen different today than from what you originally anticipated?
Stephen Schweickart:
My father, Jim, and I started the company more than three years ago. We were originally heading into the home tour market. However, we quickly realized that it is difficult to find a cost-effective way to do that, so we decided to keep the focus on the luxury market. When the market went sideways, we reinvented ourselves and began offering more evergreen video and content to relicense. Agents can offer our videos to their consumers and be the local “go-to” authority. With the trend toward social media, we now also offer programs that help agents with the integration of video into their social media efforts and strategize with larger companies on how they can integrate video into their company-wide social media initiatives.

SA: Have you seen a significant shift toward the integration of video into social media and how do you think agents are adapting?
Yes, definitely. In the last year, video viewership on Facebook alone is up over 2,000%. But convincing agents they need to move in this direction is one of the challenges we have in this industry. When you say “video” to an agent, most think “virtual tour.” Video has moved from being an exception to an expectation. Video has been a sleeping giant that is just now coming into form in the real estate industry. It’s more than just showcasing a house; it’s a high impact, multifaceted tool that can highly empower many different platforms: from social media sites to e-newsletters and even personal correspondence. Like it or not, people are reading less and watching more. We’re fast becoming a visual society…and there’s no turning back.

We always say that “differentiation” is so important in this industry. Well, integrating video into social media is where you can showcase why you are different. Video allows brokerage firms to brand themselves at new levels and start providing patrons with the type of information that is far beyond anything we’ve seen before. It’s an emotionally appealing tool to connect with the end user. Video’s power lies in the fact that it impacts all of the major senses, including sight, hearing and interactivity. And that translates to greater retention and learning effectiveness.

The real estate industry is quickly realizing that video’s potential goes far beyond showcasing a listing. We’re talking about corporate branding, agent profiles, testimonials, video town tours, informational and educational video content for consumers. For brokers and agents, it’s about training videos and industry news updates…all sorts of social media applications.

SA: How will using video help you attract consumers
It’s all about numbers. Forrester Research recently released information showing that properly packaged videos increase your Google SEO (search engine optimization) by up to 53 times. It’s based on the algorithms Google and other top search engines use. Consumers prefer video 6 to 1 over text and photos. Therefore, Google gives uneven weight to video. For example, once you properly post a video, oftentimes it will show up in the search engines in less than one day.

SA: Why is video so intriguing to consumers?
Because establishing a relationship with the client is key. People like to do business with others they trust and like. You get a better sense of who someone is through video. Like it or not, we are becoming a visual society. The number-one buyer demographic right now is the first-time home buyer, which are your Gen ’Xers and ’Yers. They watch videos; they are on social media sites. If you’re going to try to communicate with the number-one group, you need to talk to them the way they want to be communicated with.

With an annual growth rate of 40%, online video will soon be the mainstay of any serious website or social media marketing effort. It’s not a question of if, but rather when.

SA: Why is video so powerful?
It affects different senses. I can explain. When I speak to different groups, I’ll start by showing them a picture of Rocky Balboa on a slide. I’ll have the crowd hum the theme song and as they’re doing that, I’ll flip through a number of slides from the movie, “Rocky.” After about 30 seconds, I say to them, “Imagine this was a movie trailer. Would you want to see that? That’s how you’re marketing.” When we go to the movies, there’s a reason they’re not showing you a PowerPoint presentation with music attached. That’s not what people want to see. We’re stuck in the Dinosaur Age.

Video is powerful because it touches people emotionally like no other medium can. It’s also unequalled in its ability to organize and present information in a manner that tells a story…and people love stories.

SA: How does video help a website’s growth as it relates to SEO and how can agents use this information to help themselves?
The stats show it. On average, video more than doubles a viewer’s time on the website. The average viewer stays on a website seven seconds before deciding to keep exploring or navigate away. Now, you can have a window of 14 seconds to convince them why they should stay. Video immediately sucks you in. That said, it all boils down to content. If you put up blatantly commercial material, people will leave. That’s why we offer relevant, quality content that is professionally done.

For example, let’s say you showed a commercial during this year’s Super Bowl—for last year’s product. While you may have reached people, the commercial won’t have a large effect because it wasn’t practical. The content needs to offer a true benefit. It must have at least three to four takeaways. There’s no substitute for quality content.

Search and commerce made up 20% of Internet traffic last year; content made up 40%. Get them on your site via content, then sell them a home.

SA: If a broker wanted to get started with video, where should he or she start?
There are two schools of thought on this. You can begin from the ground up. Start building a powerful video machine and incorporate it into everything you do.

Or, if you already have an existing marketing plan, start off small and enhance what you already have. Areas like client testimonials—or even agent testimonials—are not hard to get. Include a video tour of your local community. Then, the sky’s the limit.

SA: Why do you think VScreen’s been so successful in this video evolution?
I would say networking. It’s been years of networking at conferences and meeting people. We were learning as we went, too. As we were learning about what people were looking for, we also got to know key people and industry movers and shakers. When companies started looking at video, our relationships with them had already evolved and we were the first ones they called.

For any business, you have to be able to ask yourself, “Where is the industry going to be six months from now?” We used to do long-range planning, but now we don’t because you never know where the technology or economy will be. We look at the short-term, within six to 12 months. What’s coming out? How do we take that and meet the needs of the real estate industry?

One of the things we’ve learned has been that every time we roll out a product or service, there’s about a year before people realize it’s what they need and then about six months before they buy it. That could be shortening a little bit as people become more comfortable with video.

VScreen’s strength lies in its ability to customize video to impact marketing at multiple levels. Our multi-channel video dashboard allows users to quickly view videos of their choice and easily share them with others through social media. It also allows brokers to tightly focus on featuring a variety of videos that showcase what they do best and use video to translate features into benefits that customers will appreciate.

SA: What do you see in the next six to 12 months?
Video training and internal communication. Marketing is obviously a mainstay. That’s what people understand now. Moving forward, I think you’ll see more video in social media. The question then becomes, “what kind of video are they posting?” Hopefully, it’s consumer content. It has to be relevant.

I think you’re also going to see agent training through corporate relationships; pointed messages to agents through streaming three- to five-minute videos.

As time goes on, there’s going to be a growing expectation from the public to have video. We’re rapidly approaching a point where if you don’t have video, there’s going to be a negative perception about you or your company. Video is now part of branding and how you relate to the public and tell your story. Print media still has its place, but video will empower marketing online that we haven’t seen before.

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