SAN FRANCISCO — Agents learned from real life examples Monday at Inman News’ Agent Reboot conference how they can use a "hub and spoke" strategy to manage their Internet presence and drum up business.
Attendees also got insight into how consumer behavior is changing from Wendy Forsythe, vice president of network services for Realogy’s newest franchise, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC.
The days’ presentations also included a briefing by executives with three San Francisco Bay Area brokerages, who detailed the attributes and skills agents need to succeed in today’s changing world.
The move away from traditional branding on for-sale signs, billboards and bus benches to "lifestyle branding" means that agents need to have a Web presence that demonstrates their integrity, authenticity and ability to perform, Forsythe said.
Today’s consumers are able to help themselves to much of the information Realtors have traditionally held themselves out as the experts on, Forsythe said. Whether it’s access to listings, market stats or data on schools and communities, it sometimes seems consumers have more information at their fingertips than Realtors, she said.
Realtors must demonstrate that they are willing to collaborate, innovate, scrutinize, simplify, and customize, she said.
The ability to connect with agents online, through a blog, Facebook page, or other mediums, "gives consumers the ability to almost be a voyeur into our business, and see what it would be like to work with us."
Forsythe advised agents to focus their branding on neighborhoods or communities, and use social media tools to demonstrate their expertise.
"More and more people are making buying decisions around neighborhoods than around inventory," she said.
That’s the strategy employed by Virginia-based Realtor and blogger Heather Elias. Elias and consultant Stacey Harmon of AgentApplause.com talked about how any agent can use the "hub and spoke" system Elias employs to manage their Web presence.
Elias’ "hub" — the centerpiece of her online presence — is her blog, LoCo Musings, named after Loudoun County, Va., where her business is located. The "spokes" are Elias’ Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites she uses to drive traffic to her hub.
"When I sit down and write a blog post about local events like holiday celebrations or the Fourth of July, after I post I do a status update on Facebook" with a link back to her blog, Elias said.
You don’t have to be a blogger to employ a hub and spoke strategy, Harmon said — a LinkedIn profile or Facebook page might also serve as a hub. But be careful about using a site you don’t have total control over as your hub, Harmon warned, because you might have to start over if you are unable to continue using it.
Necessary tools of the trade include a personal digital assistant (PDA) with camera and a text and Internet plan, and a notebook with a wireless card. While those won’t come free, their cost compares favorably to print advertising costs, Harmon said.
Other handy tools for managing your Internet presence include TweetDeck (for postings to multiple Twitter accounts and monitoring other’s Tweets), Google Analytics (for gauging reader interest in your blog posts), Google Alerts (for staying abreast of breaking news and other topics), Facebook Insights (Facebook’s free metrics tool), MailChimp.com (for creating and managing e-mail campaigns), Bit.ly (to abbreviate hyperlinks and track clicks), and Picnik.com (for managing images).
Not everyone will choose to use as many spokes as Elias does, but regardless of your approach, it’s important to maintain a consistent look wherever you are putting yourself forward as a real estate professional, Harmon said.
She cited New Jersey-based Realtor Walter Burns’ Web site, "Living on the Hudson," which employs a visual theme that carries over to his blog, and his presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook.
Getting "your brand or your promise right" should be a top priority for every brokerage and agent, said Mark Mclaughlin, CEO of San Francisco-based Pacific Union International.
Mclaughlin also recommended that agents invest in themselves, earmarking 9 percent to 15 percent of their gross commission for advertising.
Charles Moore, CEO of another Bay Area-based brokerage, McGuire Real Estate, is a fan of hyperlocal landing pages.
"If you are an expert in an area, tell them about the local restaurants, the schools, what happened last night," Moore said.
Available markets include the San Francisco Bay Area, parts of New England, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas.
Although consumers may have access to market statistics, they’ll also expect brokers and agents to be experts. McGuire real estate relies on Altos Research for statistics its agents can use in newsletters, blogs and websites.
A strong Internet presence is a must, but the end goal remains the same as it always has — creating relationships, said Gino Blefari, CEO of Silicon Valley-based Intero Real Estate Services.
Agents should have strong sales skills, know their script, and know what buyers’ and sellers’ objections are likely to be. Above all, success requires a strong work ethic, Blefari said.
"A lot of work gets done before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m.," Blefari said. "The only time success appears before work is in the dictionary."