Two years ago (aw, c’mon guys, I swear I’m still a rookie) I wrote a column about hanging out on the Internet to gain customers. I expressed shock about how mean people could be when they could hide behind electronic identities, and I questioned why chat boards weren’t a better place for lead generation.

I have just closed a deal with someone I met on the Internet nine weeks ago — a rental deal, but still a check and a possible sales lead — I thought it might make sense to revisit the subject. The chat boards have changed and I’ve changed, and it seems like the perfect time to formulate some guidelines for others who want to do real estate chat:

  • Thou shalt identify oneself as a broker. The Internet is magical — as long as there’s a backspace key it makes us all wittier, and as long as there’s no video camera it makes us all prettier. But fundamentally you want to sell your services, and the way to start is the way you would in person: to identify yourself as a salesperson. The other rules are just rules, but this is a commandment.
  • Try to key in on your positioning. As more and more pros chat, you’re not necessarily the only agent who can work a keyboard — but just as in real life, there’s a market niche for you. If you work with first-timers, try to jump on questions like "which comes first, the mortgage or the house?" If you sell upscale, try to answer queries about which remodels will pay off. My positioning is "downtown, downtown, downtown" — often to the point of scaring away potential clients. But guess where the guy whose deal I just closed wanted to live? Uh-huh. He could see from my previous posts, I was THE expert.
  • Be specific. This game is all about giving away information to gain trust. You have a ton of information that is unique to your market: how long it is taking properties to sell, the state of buyer psychology, what the mortgage climate was like two days ago, whether most buyers are favoring colonial or contemporary architecture. The more specific your advice is, the more expert you sound. I had an agent in real life walk through a property and tell me the tub in the master was great and the tub in the second bath was run-of-the-mill. Her client ate those remarks up with a spoon — that was the reason he hired her, because she could see those kinds of things. Now obviously you want to be very careful about saying in writing that any brand of anything is run-of-the-mill, but a remodeling homeowner would value an answer that included a brand name of bathtub that would pull in buyers in your area.
  • Be nice. Be very, very nice. Church manners. Even though you’re in a mud pit, you don’t slam the competition, ever. In the Internet world, you are too classy to insult others. If you can’t keep to this rule, you can’t play.
  • Don’t pitch constantly. This is sort of like real life. Sometimes you just go meet people, and you say, "I’m a broker and I love it, if I can help you on the East Side let me know" — and then you drop it and talk about sports. You’re chatting with people about real estate, they know you’re a broker, you don’t have to sell, sell, sell. My particular variation on this is I don’t pitch FSBOs. You’re there to sell your own home, I’ll give you one pro tip, smile at you, and move on. In a fishbowl where many potential customers are watching me, this keeps me from looking desperate.
  • Don’t forget to use spell-check. A lot of real estate pros who are new to chat think that to go over their posts makes them too formal and dorky — that it’s like ironing their jeans. But that’s the wrong attitude to take, says Zac Bissonnette, a writer with AOL Money & Finance, who notes that he was put off from buying a condo by a contact who misspelled three words in three sentences. "Don’t misspell things," Bissonnette says. "It makes you look incompetent."
  • Don’t be afraid to research. I’m 41, and I was thinking about what works on the Internet, and I thought maybe I should ask a member of ‘Generation Text’ — so I asked Bissonette, a college-age financial blogger with a huge following. Similarly, if someone asks what property tax increases have been in your town in the past three years, feel free to post something like "I’m an agent and can get you stats on that, check back here at ‘X’ time," and then find the answer.
  • Make sure people can find you. Some sites, like Trulia Voices, are set up so that potential customers can click through to your profile and get your e-mail and your Web site. If you’re on a different kind of site, make sure your identity somehow ties back to your firm or something a potential client can Google.
  • Remember, you don’t have to answer every question. It’s like a cocktail party — you can wander around and participate in different conversations, but you don’t need to be in EVERY conversation. That would make you a bore.
  • Make sure this activity generates leads. If you’re a good Realtor, you measure many, if not most, of your activities by whether they generate leads. Hanging out on the Internet isn’t any different just because it’s fun.

Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."


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