Sep. 4, 2011 - The Answer Site: a Social Media Tool for Successful Real Estate Communities
“Not another social media column,” you grumble. “I am Facebooked and GooglePlused and Tweeted to boredom and back. And I haven’t got any new satisfied customers to show for it. Social media is hype—all Stetson and no horse.”
“Now just a minute,” I reply. “Social media is not about Tweeting your breakfast cereal preference. And it’s not about finding new buyers for your product or dropping breadcrumbs of information in front of your members. Social media is about creating a community—a group which shares interests, beliefs, or knowledge. It’s about bringing people together, enabling them to bond through shared interests and information. It’s not about YOU, Bucko, it’s about the community you create or join.”
In real estate, the community is about buyers, sellers, and property owners. As real estate association managers, we often think our community is our members—but that target market definition is expanding and shifting as we speak: as our members become more and more aware that the consumer’s interests will direct their business structure, so must associations realize that public demands will shape the future of the association.
In a recent blog from the WAV group, the author observes that traditional MLSs are focused on communication with their members. However, “More aggressive MLSs are putting themselves in the center of the conversation about real estate issues by communicating to consumers. They do this with public facing websites, publishing market trends, issuing press releases to local media outlets and hosting real estate related events. In this regard, the MLS is an advocate and connector between consumers and the professional real estate family.”
I know, I know—there are still the foot-draggers who mutter imprecations about the MLS that competes with the broker business—but those are the folks who don’t know a whole lot about current consumer interests (“give me efficient, anonymous access to all the information I need in one place”) and search engine optimization (“eighty percent of house hunters begin their search on Google or a similar search engine, so you need to get mentioned ‘above the fold’, i.e. in the first eight responses”). These are, of course, results which a large group such as an association or an MLS organization can produce better than a single company can.
Cooperation, after all, extends to areas far greater than individual property sales. And a cooperative community is what a trade association is all about.
As the WAV group blog points out, there are many ways to cooperate in building a consumer community which is supportive of the real estate business, and which is knowledgeable and informed about property and property transactions. The creation of such a community does, of course, benefit everyone—brokers and salespeople, buyers, sellers, and the real estate business periphery as well.
The bottom line for associations and MLSs: adopt building such a community as one of your goals. Be direct and proactive about it—ask yourself, “WWCW” (“What would consumers want?”).
One thing we know without much additional research is that consumers want trustworthy, complete information. In my many years as a real estate association executive, I came to dread The Cocktail Party. Invariably I would be cornered by some member of the public with a real estate question (“What’s a good price for waterfront property?”) or a horror story (“MY agent never told me about that perfect house on Sycamore Street and somebody else bought it before I had a chance!”). I had a great deal of sympathy for my doctor friends, who admitted that they studiously avoided those same parties because someone always needed an on-the-spot diagnosis, or wanted to show them a surgery scar.
My question to Associations and MLS organizations is, why not create a consumer conversation site as a part of your web presence? These sites have become increasingly popular in recent years: perhaps the most well-known popular one is the Yahoo! Answers site, which encourages community questions and encourages a game-like atmosphere of building points for answers.
Most real estate answer sites would most likely be simpler than these examples: such a website could be limited to real estate-related questions, particularly as they involved the local or regional marketing area. It could be set up with a bank of ‘experts’ providing answers and resources—and including zoning administrators and others, as well as invitees for specific issues. Of course you might want to build some controls into the answer providers: avoiding liability, wrong answers, and blatant sales solicitations are pitfalls to avoid.
As far as the technology is concerned, a Q & A site that is narrowly focused will probably have a manageable amount of traffic, and can have a simple format: give the public a place to post questions, and give your organization a column to answer them. If you want more elaborate interface, explore the online answer site providers like AnswerBase or QHub . The Q&A Script program will look a lot like the Yahoo! Answers format, if that better suits your site, or you can explore the possibility of the Wordpress Plugin for a blog: for an $89 investment you might turn a blog into a wealth of information (and generate a little cash and a few more visitors) in the process, or there’s a geographically specific Wordpress Real Estate plugin which incorporates real estate answers for your specific zip code area.The benefits of a Q&A site:
· Your organization becomes an authority on the subject.
· Generally Q and A sites have good public relations value
· Q and A sites index quickly on search engines
· Traffic can be instant, even less than a minute if it's a fresh question.
· You are creating a stronger, more positive and helpful real estate community
It’s time to move our thinking to creating more dialogue with the public—with using our MLS and association websites to move beyond our members as a target market. In so doing, we can indeed create a better environment in which our members can flourish.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
The Answer Site: a Social Media Tool for Successful Real Estate Communities : Off Stage