Before we get into how to create a great real estate content strategy, I want to preface this post with the backstory of how it came to be.
Last week a conversation erupted on Twitter, initiated by one of our industry’s thought leaders, Matthew Shadbolt of The Corcoran Group, asking: “What is great content?” The question arose from an Agent Reboot session where Darin Persinger suggested that agents should create “great content” to attract buyers and sellers online (which I agree with.)
It set off a terrific conversation between myself, Rob Hahn, Maura Neill, Matthew Shadbolt, Daniel Rothamel and others. Rob Hahn explored what he believes great real estate content should be. In the comments of Rob’s post we discussed how real estate writing needs to be more passionate while I also argued that local content, while generally bland, should be considered great content if done properly. Matthew also offered a game changing point when he suggested that “being passionate” and creating content that you like is only part of the process, not the endgame.
Bringing us to where we are today: Rob has countered Matthew’s point by illustrating how passion can be considered an endgame because even though someone can craft something to look professional and polished, it can still be utterly uninspired and dreadful to watch. Matthew touches on something similar in his linked comment above when he notes how poor lighting and unimpressive sound quality could just as easily be swept under the rug of interest by consumers because it’s not usable given its production quality.
Both Rob and Matthew’s points are valid and valuable. We still haven’t established a sure-fire strategy for online success in our industry. While the outline below will show you how I feel a great real estate content strategy should be created, keep in mind that yours may differ.
In the planning phase, start by asking yourself three questions:
- What is the goal of my blog/website? – Why are you putting the effort into this site in the first place? For most brokers and agents it’s to build a website that serves as a 24/7 prospecting tool so they can grow their businesses by working with people who are interested in buying or selling in their markets. It’s a wonderful way to meet new people and it’s a far more passive way of prospecting than, say, cold calling.
- What types of content do I need to create? – If you’re running a one person show and don’t have the resources to hire a team to write, photo and video the local area, you’ll want to outline the different types of content you need to accomplish your goals. I recommend mind mapping to come up with a list of content you want on your site. Check out an example of a mind map I created using MindNode Pro below (click image to see full size version):
- How am I going to use the content I create to generate leads? - Not all of your content needs to be built for the sole purpose of generating leads but when creating local content, you’ll want to focus on aspects of the area that someone new to the area would be most curious about (e.g., commuter transit, shopping, schools, things to do etc.) We’ll talk more about the other types of content (passion-based, branding and community building) in a bit.
Choose Your Medium(s)
In Rob Hahn’s response to Matthew Shadbolt’s comment, he highlights how you should choose your craft. If you’re a great writer, write. If you don’t do well with video, don’t do video. I’m in agreement that you need to play to your strengths when choosing what mediums you’re going to use in your content strategy. Be a critic; if you try recording a video and hate the results, don’t post it. Just try to record it again and practice until it’s at the level of quality that you’re happy with.
When I recorded a 2 minute, 9 seconds long demonstration video for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate® (shown below) it took more than five hours to record the voiceover track, record a video guide on the iPad and put it all together into a final product. Take your time and do it right or don’t bother doing it at all.
After choosing what mediums you want to use in your content strategy (e.g., video, podcast, blog posts, eBooks etc.) it’s time to start flushing out each section of content. Sticking with our mind map example from above, our example content strategy is going to be made up of:
- Local Content
- Content That You’re Passionate About
- Content That Builds Your Brand
- Content That Will Help You Build an Online Community
Before we dig into this further, I want to forewarn you of the potential to overindulge in the tools you post your content to. You don’t need to be signed up for every service under the sun. If hosting your videos on YouTube works best for you then there’s no need to post them on Vimeo and other sites.
Similarly, you don’t have to be on Twitter just because you have a Facebook Page for your business. The worst possible thing you could do while posting your content and trying to build a community is to leave half-hearted breadcrumbs in 300 different directions. Stick with what works best for you (that you also enjoy using) and move on!
You Still Need Local Content
While the idea of writing about the local area may be unattractive to some who have seen it done by hundreds (or even thousands) of agents across the country, local content is still vital. Local content is vital because your prospective buyers and sellers are seeking it out and search engines still reward sites with unique posts and information. It’s still true, you need local content. Build a foundation with local content like neighborhood profiles and share what’s happening in the area.
In real estate we have a tendency to think about things in a very technical way. So often when someone says “write local content” we think “Oh great… Boring market report after boring market report. Half melted cheesy Wikipedia-esque entries about each town. How is that fun to write?!” to which I would say: you’re right! That is completely uneventful. There are no explosions and nothing interesting when you think about it from that perspective.
However, when you change things up a bit and start adding neighborhood videos like the one below, you can see the value of having local content on your site.
Take a look at the YouTube page for the above video. It has 14 comments, all from people talking about Short Hills, NJ. The video has over 3,000 views. Local content doesn’t need to be boring. Spice it up by writing conversationally about what’s happening locally on your blog and don’t be afraid to touch on real issues affecting the area. Life isn’t rainbows and unicorns so write about what’s happening, both positive and negative.
Joe Spake’s blog offers numerous posts on the Memphis, TN flooding that took place earlier this year which is a fascinating and sad situation brought to life for those of us not in the Memphis area through Joe’s blog. Joe also has a great post on zombies making their way through Memphis which gives an outsider like me a fun look at some of the culture in Memphis.
Discover Your Niche
Once you have a foundation of local content in place, it’s time to move on to discovering your niche. When I was an agent, I knew new homes inside and out including timeframes for each phase of construction, potential issues that could delay the closing date and what needed to be done to make sure everything went smoothly. I love new homes and everything about them from the ability to customize each part to watching families move into a house for the first time. I was passionate about it.
What are you passionate about? Do you love trying new restaurants in the area? Write about it. Grab a camcorder and interview the chef of a local restaurant you adore. Immerse yourself in the local foodie culture by chatting with other food fanatics on sites like Yelp. Were you in the builder or home inspection trade prior to joining real estate? Write about home inspection experiences or, better yet, film bits of a home inspection showing prospective buyers what to look out for.
Do you sell luxury homes? Go deeper than the “big picture” of the home and start focusing on things that really matter to a luxury home buyer: surface textures, security features and zoning laws (can you build a helipad?)
In the end, your passion-based content is whatever excites and comes naturally to you. What do you think about without even trying?
Tell a Story
What is the story of your brand? If you’re an agent, how did you get into the business? What makes you different from every other agent in your office who has access to the same tools and services? Further, what about the real estate business drives you?
Most of the time when I read an “About Me” profile for an agent it reads like a dry résumé. Sweeping words will be thrown around like “visionary”, “leadership”, “number one” etc. This is boasting. If you boast, consumers aren’t going to be interested. We’re humans and one of the caveats to roaming the earth in these fleshy digs is that we’re predisposed to being inwardly focused. Buyers and sellers want to know what you’re going to do for them, not your accomplishments.
Allow your expertise to speak for itself when prospective clients meet with you to discuss their needs. Your brand story should be about what makes you unique and why and how you strive to be the best agent to represent their needs.
To put this into perspective, consider the following profile written by agent #1:
“I’m the #1 real estate agent who can help you find the perfect home. I’m trustworthy and negotiate better than anyone else. Other agents say they’re the best but I mean it and will prove it to you every step of the way. If you’re considering listing your home for sale, I’ll get you top dollar for your home and sell it in the least amount of time! Call me today at 973.555.1234!”
Compare that with agent #2:
“I started my real estate career 15 years ago when my husband and I bought our first home through a very careless agent who didn’t tell us the foundation needed repair in the home we put our wedding and life savings money into. $30,000 and 2 years later, we finally had the home we always wanted but I was determined to never let that happen to anyone again so I got my real estate license. I have read six books on negotiation and studied with one of the nation’s top negotiators to make sure I get the best price for my clients, whether they’re buying or selling a home.
Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to find trustworthy professionals in the legal, mortgage and home inspection fields who help me make your real estate experience as seamless (and pain free!) as possible. I look forward to being of service and can be reached at 973.555.1234.”
See the difference in the tone between the two profiles? Which agent are you more likely to call?
The content you use to build your brand should put emphasis on transparency, honesty and be conveyed in a conversational tone. If you built a Facebook Page (which we’ll talk more about in a moment) you could use it to help grow the business of the other industry professionals in your network. Imagine working with an attorney to answer questions on your Facebook Page about buying or selling a home in the area. What would that be worth to home buyers and sellers? For your brand?
Build Your Community
You know you have great content when you have a growing audience. Let’s take a look at two of the most popular social networks in North America and how you can create content to build a community around your brand.
Most of us see Facebook as a way to communicate and stay up to date with friends and family. We post our family photos, vacation pictures, videos of soccer games and everything in between. With something so personal in nature, it’s easy to get mixed signals on what type of content is appropriate for your business on the site. First, be sure to create a Facebook Page for your website or blog. Ideally your website branding will mirror your in-person brand (you) so you can use the page for both client work and promoting your website.
The content question then becomes what do you post on your Facebook page to keep people interested in staying in touch? Here are a few suggestions:
- Connect new neighbors (this tip was inspired by the always amazing Sue Adler who does this beautifully for her clients on Facebook)
- Share local zoning and other quality of life changes
- Hold contests in conjunction with your network of professionals (e.g., free garden nursery certificate ($75) to the first person who knows the answer to the question “How many individual flowers are in a single sunflower?” (It’s typically 1,000 – 2,000 individual flowers according to Wikipedia.)
- Get your team of experts to help answer questions pertaining to their professions in exchange for free exposure to your network of clients, prospects and followers
The key to Facebook is to remain relevant to your brand but to be more engaging. People who are on Facebook want to interact with you and your brand. If you post something they enjoy, they’ll “like” it. If you post a poll posing an intriguing question, chances are they’ll answer it. In between, feel free to share photos of new listings and what you’re doing in your business. Just remember to interact as much as possible and to experiment to see what content (questions, contests, types of news stories) interest your Facebook Page followers most.
Twitter is much different from Facebook in that you don’t have a full set of options to build out your brand presence like a photo gallery, videos or other customizations. It’s all about the conversation and topics. Twitter makes it easy to search for specific topics by going to http://search.twitter.com and typing in a keyword. So, for example, if I wanted to see what people were saying about San Francisco on Twitter at this very moment, I could search for it and see what people are talking about.
To connect with consumers on Twitter, I’d recommend following some of these searches about your area and answering any questions someone may have about the area. It’s a good way to meet new people but there is a much greater opportunity within Twitter than connecting with people who are talking about the area and that is by building a referral network.
Twitter is the ultimate way to build a referral network because there is a vibrant real estate community using the service to talk with each other about the real estate industry and other commonalities. Although I had not been using Twitter specifically to build a referral network, I did receive a $499,900 listing referral from an agent friend of mine, @jolenta, whom I had met through Twitter.
Between the two, I’d invest most of my community building efforts (outside of my website) on Facebook because that’s where people are, on average, spending at least 25 minutes of their day, every day.
Use “The Rules” as a Guide, Not Gospel
New York real estate broker J. Philip Faranda nailed it when he recalled advice from dearly missed real estate icon Joseph Ferrara who told him “not to worry about the rules.” Many well intentioned speakers (myself included) will share a list of “ideals” to help you get started with creating your content strategy.
- Ideal Facebook update length
- Ideal blog post title and length
- Ideal video length for YouTube
and so on…
Unfortunately, bless our souls, we try to follow all of the ideals to a ‘T’ which can, after being inundated with so much new information about blogging and new media at a conference, overwhelm us to the point where we hit the point of inertia and freeze indefinitely. Alongside Daniel Rothamel, the best advice I can give is to get started and to follow Joe’s sage advice: “don’t worry about the rules.”
As you create videos, write blog posts and take photos, you’ll get a sense of what works best for you. The ideals are simply there to serve as a guide to help you get started. If a testimonial video from one of your clients runs over the 2-minute limit you’ve been told to follow, so be it. There is a point where the value of the content supersedes the self-imposed limits we establish as “rules” and it should be allowed to run it’s natural course (even if it takes 4 minutes!)
The Role of Brokers as Media Service Providers
Getting back to Matthew’s point that poorly produced content might as well be invisible, I see the role of brokers being redefined over the next decade. I suspect brokers who will be most successful moving forward are ones that retain the services of professional media producers like videographers, photographers, copywriters and graphic designers.
I’m not referring to the types who create gussied up web versions of the awful tv real estate ads from the 90′s but actual talent like Gebbs who have the ability to capture a real story. Copywriters who can write intriguing listing descriptions and landing pages for listings that make it irresistible for prospective buyers to reach out for more information. Photographers who have a passion for their craft and explore all options when photographing a home including pole aerial photography (shown below):
For many brokers this role may seem like a huge expense and I have no doubt retaining such talented individuals would come at a price. Still, it’s a service I’m sure many agents would be willing to pay their share of because, in the end, it will help them sell more homes and make the broker more successful at the same time.
Matthew Shadbolt said it best when he said:
“We cannot realistically expect agents to be photographers, copywriters, videographers, analytics experts, content strategists or programmers.”
He’s right. Agents affiliate with brokers because the broker provides them with things agents cannot/may not be able to create for themselves like a known national brand and access to services that might otherwise be unattainable on their own. Brokers: Your opportunity awaits.