Editor’s note: Real estate agents are learning that online community sites can be useful in reaching their target audience. Agents can use community Web sites to raise awareness about their services and drum up local business, while consumers can use the sites to rate, review, recommend and reach agents in their desired locations. This three-part series uncovers how a few savvy agents are using these sites and building their own. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)
With an eye towards maintaining local connections in the online world, Cleveland-area Realtor Dave Crockett has given his Lake County, Ohio, community a virtual sister at a community blog site called LakeCountyBlog.com.
Crockett’s new venture enables his real estate company to stay front and center on a local Web site, while connecting other aspects of the community like schools, nonprofits and sports groups.
While online communities MySpace and Flickr have brought together people from across the globe, the Lake County Blog aims to connect organizations and people from the same location.
“It’s got some energy to it,” said Crockett, a Realtor with Howard Hanna Smythe Cramer. “As a community, we were so disconnected in our messages. Everyone is doing fliers, ads, but there’s no collection point. This is our online town hall meeting.”
Visitors to LakeCountyBlog.com, which launched this year, can browse what’s new in local business, real estate, schools, arts and culture and politics. They can read community blogs with content created by local chambers of commerce, the Lake County Visitors Bureau, Crocket’s own real estate team, the United Way and the News Herald, to name a few.
Crockett is using the site to raise awareness about his services and drum up local business while offering a communication platform for all members of the community to engage in.
There are more than 20 blogs in total that are part of the Lake County Blog network.
“It’s a mix of all sorts of parts of the community,” Crockett said. “You’ll see Chambers of Commerce in there, the Business Journal, a day spa is in there and there’s a section on sports and what’s happening.”
While inside the real estate blog, users can click through to search available properties in the area displayed on a Howard Hanna Smythe Cramer Web site. The real estate blog section also includes entries on tips for smooth closings, creative offers and information on upcoming first-time buyer seminars.
Crockett does not charge community organizations for the service. As part of his marketing strategy, Crockett’s real estate team will remain the only real estate organization within the blogging community.
The site does not accept advertising, but includes sponsored links from local businesses to help fund the operating costs. Crockett paid the initial costs to set it up and considers it his gift to the community.
Each blog within the network links to that organization’s Web site and contains an author profile, a section for photographs, calendar, and a recent posts section. Crockett said bloggers can link to things like restaurants and hotels, but no ads can be posted on the blog.
“The major piece of news from every blog gets on the main news site and the events get put on the calendar,” he said of the structure. Readers also can comment on individual posts.
Prior to Crockett’s initial meeting with local groups to pitch the community blog idea, most didn’t know what a blog was, other than MySpace, he said.
Mary Wise, an office manager and administrator for a local community leadership program know as Leadership Lake County, has been participating in LakeCountyBlog.com. “I thought it was very exciting and am hoping it will be a way to coordinate calendars (with other local organizations),” she said.
Like most others, this is Wise’s first blogging experience. She said someone from her office of three will post events and notices once every week or so.
The leadership organization’s purpose is to create networking between local businesses and nonprofits and to build a network of volunteers. Prior to the Lake County blog, Wise said the group relied on its members to spread the word to others.
Crockett has been running ads in the local newspaper for the Lake County Blog, inviting readers to join community discussions. “When it starts to take off people will start to see the value in it,” he said.
Crockett had the idea for the blogging community about a year ago. He had the main portions of the site built first and then presented the idea to local organizations in March. “I tried to build a site in which everyone can belong, and it kind of dissects a community in a fun way,” he said.
The site was built on the idea that it had to be very easy to operate while still including good information, he said. And Crockett hopes that outsiders looking to move to the community will take note of the site.
“This gives our community some real juice… we’re in the greater Cleveland area and we have a great community with great hardworking people, but it’s not like we have beaches to sell,” he said. If people can go to a Web site where they see some energy and vitality to the community, they may be more attracted to the area.
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