There’s an app for that.

It seems that every other week some new piece of must-have-or-you’ll-be-left-behind technology comes along. There’s all the stuff to manage social media and social networking initiatives. There’s all the reputation-management stuff. Then there’s the search-engine optimization (SEO) stuff.

There’s an app for that.

It seems that every other week some new piece of must-have-or-you’ll-be-left-behind technology comes along. There’s all the stuff to manage social media and social networking initiatives. There’s all the reputation-management stuff. Then there’s the search-engine optimization (SEO) stuff.

Oh, and let’s not forget the myriad real estate listing and promotion tools. And the multiple Web platforms, ranging from ad-driven sites to your own branded real estate portal. There’s a lot of stuff out there.

The temptation to sign up for and try out every possible service is great. No one wants to be blindsided by whatever the next great thing is.

On the other hand, learning, managing and integrating all this technology can be time-consuming. I hear it all the time: "I don’t have time to do all this stuff — I’m trying to sell houses."

If you’re beginning to use more and more real estate technology focused on online marketing, it can be daunting just to figure out where to begin. And if you’ve been using Web tech for your marketing initiatives for some time, perhaps a return to some of the basics is good, too.

With the onset of the typical North American November-December slump in online interest in real estate, now’s a good time to think about how you want to approach technology for next season.

Why are we using marketing technology at all?

Real estate exists in "meatspace," or the real world — not cyberspace. Deals are closed by real people in real rooms signing real pieces of paper. So why all this focus on computers and the Web and iPhones and all of this other stuff that is built around digital experiences?

Because leading up to those signed pieces of paper, there’s a lot of information to be gathered and sorted by both the customers and the people doing the marketing.

When evaluating a new technology or initiative, understanding how it might fit into your existing operations is good. Understanding how it might supplant your existing operations is better. Figuring out how, when and where that technology is going to result in a bunch of people in a room signing papers should be the focus. Try to draw straight lines between the new technology and people signing papers. …CONTINUED

This is especially important when looking at all the technology built to help you use technology. The end-goal isn’t a larger number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers. That may or may not lead to the end goal, but it isn’t the end goal itself.

Most technology of interest to real estate help with one of three areas: marketing properties, interacting with potential customers, and measuring performance.

Marketing properties

A lot of technology is focused on marketing properties. After all, getting information about for-sale properties in front of real people is the first step toward getting them sold. Technology for marketing properties probably includes your search-focused broker or agent Web site, as well as the tools you use to do bulk promotion of properties on sites like Craigslist, Facebook, etc., ad nauseam.

Other technology that falls into the marketing properties category is anything that helps position individual properties and/or your real estate practice against all the competition. This is, admittedly, a pretty wide net.

It could include the design and functionality of your real estate Web site (if it’s making it easier for customers to find property). It could also include tools and services that give out information and data that helps customers make decisions about a property, especially if it is in addition to the multiple listing service data that you (and every other site in your MLS) already publish.

Search-engine optimization technologies are also in this category. Any advantage you can gain to get your Web site or properties seen is good. And search can bring you people who have never heard of you before (whereas someone is unlikely to be your "Facebook fan" if they’ve never heard of you before).

Interacting with potential customers

This is the big noisy area where people are shouting about Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn or whatever. Anything that allows you to communicate with a specific human being falls into this category. There are a lot of ways to use this kind of technology:

  • Listening. My favorite section of this category. Communication goes best when we listen.
  • Two-way communication. Tools that help dialogues take place. Anything from old-school forums, to blogs with comments, to Facebook.
  • Lead-generation tools. The granddaddy of them all: well-placed forms inviting people to speak with you directly. …CONTINUED 

Measuring performance

How well are you listening? How many people are you reaching? What are they doing on your site? How are you doing in relation to your competitors, the regional market, the national market and so on? Many tools come with built-in analytics capabilities, while some tools have utility applications to help you measure traffic or interest in topics.

Skillful use of these tools results in improving your own performance — not just in using all your other technology, but in getting more houses bought and sold.

Putting it together

Some technology overlaps more than one of these categories. The categories aren’t meant to be hard and fast. Your blog, for example, could be a promotional vehicle one day and an interactional tool the next. It depends on how you use it.

Same with Twitter. Or Facebook. Or the cool iPhone app you just bought. Or your Web site. And so on.

The tools themselves won’t improve your business unless you decide how you want to use them. Just being on Facebook won’t sell much property. Just having a good position on a search engine probably won’t sell well, unless your Web site is well-configured to take advantage of that position.

As you try out and adopt new technologies, take a moment to decide how you’ll be using them. Is the technology a promotional tool? A tool to facilitate customer interaction? A measurement device?

And, of course, you should consider: What’s the straightest line from using that tool to helping someone buy or sell property?

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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