- Brokerages are still not doing enough to be on top of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
- Company heads should be leading the way with marketing strategy and tools, not agents.
- Give agents plenty of time to get to know a new piece of tech so they can see the value.
Share but don’t sell on Snapchat. Use this Twitter hashtag to earn more listings. Visually engage your Instagram audience.
There’s no lack of advice like this about succeeding online and mastering social media. Sometimes it’s helpful, and other times these tips come at you from all directions, piecemeal and clichéd.
Digital guru and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk boiled down all of this into a binary perspective, a one-and-zero game: “You either understand that your customer’s attention is in these spaces, or you don’t.”
If you’re in camp “believer,” there’s really only one thing to do: “Get into it — deep.”
Of course, when it comes to real estate, leadership plays a big part in how an office operates and what it prioritizes.
The way president and CEO Scott Gibson has saturated his Los Angeles-based firm, Gibson International, with access to tech training and opportunities to learn about the latest online trends, stands out as a prime prototype for this all-or-nothing digital age approach.
He’s got to be doing something right, as the indie office was named one of the top five L.A. brokerages this year on the Real Trends 500, and it appears to be growing — the company started 2016 with 142 agents and will end the year with around 175.
Facebook exec cameo appearances
Although social media is a high priority for Gibson, he doesn’t think many of his counterparts are doing enough across these platforms, both in their own use of it and the training and support provided to agents.
The independent luxury brokerage of 160-plus agents offers weekly technology and marketing classes that cover social media. Facebook executives are sometimes invited to contribute.
One recent class was dedicated to getting started with Facebook ads, and a guest speaker from Facebook led the workshop. For a more hands-on opportunity, a follow-up event allowed agents to bring their computer and assets and build the ad themselves.
“When you have 1.13 billion daily active users on Facebook, how could you not be there? We think it’s critical,” said Gibson. “Agents can quantify the exposure to clients; they can show how many people click on the Facebook ad.
“Some people think it’s just air. We show what the value is.”
‘When you have 1.13 billion daily active users on Facebook how could you not be there?’ -Scott Gibson
Squeaky clean digital presence
In addition to focusing on client marketing and relationship-building online, Gibson International’s helps agents scrub their digital footprint clean.
Gibson and his team work closely with agents on their “online reputation management” right off the bat.
“I sit with new people, and the first thing we do is an analysis of their online presence, their reputation management,” said Gibson.
The company also works with agents on getting external reviews composed in the latest formats.
Speaking to the rise in video reviews, he added, “We know it’s here; we’ve been working to find the right vendors.”
He wants to use more polished video marketing to represent the company culture, not just content shot from an iPhone. He is looking at video to share listings and branding opportunities.
“That’s a big push for us this year,” said Gibson, who, along with his clients, is a fan of Matterport. “The company has to take the lead. You get a lot more out of it if the whole company is pursuing it.”
Small but nimble
With a strong focus on tech since the company’s inception, Gibson thinks smaller independent brokerages are more nimble in adopting tech because they don’t have to get buy-in from thousands of agents for a new tool.
The CEO said he prefers introducing tech products on the cloud.
“All technology we select has to be mobile-first and accessible from anywhere,” he explained. “Agents spend a huge portion of their time out of the office with clients, and we want them to be able to work from anywhere.
“For us, we are in a much better position than larger corporate firms when we adopt a new tech platform.
“A franchise isn’t very adaptable. When you turn the ship, it’s harder to do and more expensive.”
Gibson’s progress has been recognized by the industry.
“We have been approached countless times since opening, but that’s to be expected when you have a great reputation with top-producing agents and a quality company culture. However, we have no interest in combining with a larger competitor, so I’ve made it clear we are not interested.”
The secret to winning agent buy-in to new tech
With his experience at NRT and Coldwell Banker, Gibson has learned a thing or two about bringing his agents with him as he introduces innovative tech products.
“You need to have tools and services that agents can easily use and understand and that are relative to the business,” he explained. “A lot companies offer a multitude of tools but have less than 10-percent adoption.
“The tools we select have to fit into the overall strategy of where we think tech will go.”
“Giving people adequate time to learn new tools is half the battle of adoption — everyone didn’t learn email overnight.”
The company has introduced a cluster of new technologies in the last three months, including EdgeCMA, RealScout and GibsonONE, a curated platform of marketing and technology tools.
What Gibson likes about real estate search tool RealScout, introduced to his agents in June, is it facilitates a collaborative search within a broker- and agent-branded environment and generates more offers in less time.
“RealScout is a better interface for buyers,” he said. “When looking at properties, they can do a comparison that is much faster than a similar program provided by a local MLS.”
Buyers are able to “sift down” through the information they are looking for, such as a big backyard or a house with a pool, he added.
The company also offers “Gchat” (not to be confused with Google Chat), an internal social media and resource platform, to all staff.
Gibson explained: “It’s Facebook meets Google meets Wikipedia for our firm. Agents can share pocket listings, find recommended vendors and contractors, watch how-to videos, share buyer needs and more.
“We believe in finding the best tools available inside and often outside the real estate industry,” added Gibson. ”
The CEO is happy with the way his agents are responding to the new tech and recognizing the value it offers.
“Things like RealScout and EdgeCMA give us an advantage over the competition in getting new listings and working with today’s buyers, both of which demand fast, mobile-friendly communication with their agent.
“For agents, the value is readily apparent and it is a format they can easily to use. We also provide a ton of training — a critical aspect of adoption.”
The Gibson International growth story
A member of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, the L.A. firm, led by Gibson and executive VP, Pat Heller, has taken pains to be fast responders to industry innovation from the beginning, carving out its own niche in the well-serviced Los Angeles market.
“LA is a pretty crowded market, from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices to Coldwell Banker to Sotheby’s International, Keller Williams, Re/Max, every model in between, every company is open here,” Gibson added. “As an independent, it’s important that you stay on top of things.”
The firm has a person on staff dedicated to the neverending “stay in the know” chase: the senior director of integrated marketing.
Gibson International also has offices in Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and Marina del Rey; a fourth location in Santa Monica opened earlier this year.
Beverly Hills is likely to be the next target as the business expands east; the company is handling three listings there at the moment and has a regular flow of business from the high-end suburb.
In sales volume, Gibson International will do little over $1 billion this year with 160 agents onboard right now.
In the year to date, the company’s average sales price for condos and single family residences is $1.47 million.
While agents at the firm deal with properties at all price points all over L.A., the range tends to be $1 million to $10 million listings, though some are up to the $15 million or $16 million mark.
An “invitation-only” brokerage, agents coming to Gibson International should be earning $100,000 minimum to meet the firm’s “standard of excellence,” said Gibson.
“We don’t just hire agents to add bodies,” he added. “It’s bad for culture and a firm’s brand in the marketplace. We have a very high capacity for top-producing agents — for well over 200 agents.”
The strategy extends beyond office walls. Indeed, hiring experienced people adds to your reputation, Gibson explains:
“Our brokerage is recognized as a quality brokerage. It is known you are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing and who has a strong management. That’s how we stand out.”