Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of real estate industry profiles, titled, "About Us: People in Real Estate." These profiles will reveal rich anecdotes, historical tidbits, and personal insights that will introduce — and perhaps reintroduce you to some of the real estate industry’s most colorful and storied characters. Got a suggestion for someone who we should profile? E-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line: "About Us: People in Real Estate."
This is a tale of two Tweeters. They’re tackling the microblogging phenomenon in ways that are polar opposites — and are equally convinced that it’s a great way to build their real estate businesses.
Kelly Mitchell is a Honolulu agent who uses Twitter.com to send out brief dispatches that spotlight news in the real estate market, and also focus on her daily life and her feelings — about being stuck in traffic, about an inspirational quote, and talking to college students about social media, for example.
Kevin Cottrell is a St. Louis-area agent who also uses Twitter, but there’s nary a trace of anything to do with feelings. His tweets, or brief messages, are all business: a link to a duplex for sale in Webster Groves, Mo.; a synopsis of new economic data; a link to a news story about whether rising home prices can last.
Both are, by most any measure, doing well on Twitter, the free microblogging platform that allows users to post brief, public messages no more than 140 characters in length. Mitchell has about 56,000 Twitter "followers," or people who have elected to receive or watch her messages electronically. Cottrell has about 85,000 followers.
They go at Twitter from opposite directions, and both say they’re reaping professional benefits.
"My goal on Twitter is not specifically to do a deal," said Mitchell, an agent for Prudential Locations. "My goal is to expand my reach and meet other people who are like-minded and have some of the same interests I have.
"When you go into a relationship on social media, if I’m constantly pushing out (business-oriented) content and advertising for people, that’s a ‘Let’s see what you can do for me’ sort of thing,’ " she said. "But I just want to interact with people."
Thus, Mitchell’s Twitter postings, which can be seen at Twitter.com/HawaiiRealty, have a certain free-association quality — or sometimes might seem to the uninitiated a bit like walking into a friendly conversation about daily life, with its aggravations and joys — albeit among chums.
She made a conscious decision not to tweet about listings. "One of my repeating tweets is, ‘I love to buy but I don’t want to be sold to,’ " she said.
Mitchell isn’t alone in that attitude. Numerous agent-related advice sites suggest that because social media is about relationships, the idea is to engage others, not to sell to them — that is, don’t post listings.
Twitter, they suggest, is a place to engage others, and eventually they might be pointed to an agent’s Web site. …CONTINUED
But Cottrell, who is a principal at Kelsey Cottrell Realty in St. Louis, said he focused directly on building a reputation for his business acumen.
"I decided I wanted to be the CNBC of the ‘real estate and finance channel’ of Twitter," he said. So he counts on his support staff to unearth news items related to real estate, mortgages, banking and the economy, and each day he posts (at Twitter.com/kevincottrell) a couple dozen one-sentence tweets with links to breaking, relevant news — usually on media sites.
The items featuring homes for sale — which Cottrell says amount to about 10 percent of his postings — were handled by staff, too, though now they’re automated through Tweetlister, a Twitter tool that today unveiled Tweetlister Pro.
This paid service turns each listing into a 140-character post and adds agent photo, bio and contact information, as well as more detail, as desired. It also tracks data on Twitter followers who have viewed the listings.
"Each of those listings gets 200 to 300 views," said Cottrell.
He said he’s aware that some cognoscenti advise against tweeting about listings because it’s too much of a hard sell. But he believes there’s a segment of the market that wants to see what’s happening in St. Louis real estate while keeping an arm’s-length distance until they’re ready to act.
He estimates that he spends an hour or two a day tweeting, though obviously in increments. He began tweeting in January, and though he said his followers haven’t translated directly into home transactions, they’ve generated solid leads.
Plus, he said, he’s hearing that his followers in various ends of the industry are telling others to check him out if they want to keep tabs on business news.
Mitchell said that not only has Twitter generated leads and relationships for her, it generated one sale: an $800,000 property that closed about two months ago.
So, how does one build up tens of thousands of followers?
The temptation, both said, is to "game the system" by becoming a follower of every Twitter participant they can lay their electronic hands on, with the hope that they’re reciprocate.
And, to an extent, both Cottrell and Mitchell did that, although they said they learned that "quantity" followers aren’t necessarily "quality" followers. …CONTINUED
"For many months, I was what you might call a Twitter-holic," Mitchell said. "I was adding people manually, one person here and one person there, and another and another.
"I wasn’t selective in the beginning, but I became selective later on, and now I look at people I respect — at their lists of followers and their common-interests list — and I follow them," she said.
Twitter is the Wild West, she said, with no firm rules of what works. "Every day I looked, it was a different philosophy, a different strategy. You don’t know what you’re doing so you try things.
"The common thread was, if I wasn’t putting out information that was interesting, I wasn’t getting followers," she said. So, she would retool, seeking out other tweeters whose personal interests meshed with her own.
"I would thank people who followed me back," she said. "When somebody re-tweets something I’ve written, I go out manually and thank them. It adds to your time, but it adds to your benefits."
For Cottrell, it was more tightly targeted. "I would find people on Twitter who are in, around, or deal with mortgage, financing and real estate topics," he said.
"Sometimes I go through and look for people who talk about real estate, but I don’t do it in the same concerted way I did it in the beginning.
"I wanted to prove it was the value of the content that would build traffic," he said. He has an international following that probably never will buy St. Louis real estate, but said that he senses a worldwide interest in the American economy and in its real estate.
It’s one of those "you never know" connections that he hopes will translate into transactions as Twitter matures, he said. He said he’s also hearing from Twitter followers in the industry that they’re advising friends and clients that his tweets are a good source of economic information.
"Think in terms of how you build a business," said Mitchell.
"When you’re a Realtor, in the beginning it’s two solid years of blood, sweat and tears to get your network rolling. With social media, it’s a similar play, finding people at different stages of buying and selling."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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