Most highly successful agents have a strong referral database. Good old-fashioned referral strategies still work today, but the strategies that utilize traditional marketing can bomb when applied on social media sites. The question is, what does work?

For years, trainers such as Brian Buffini and Joe Stumpf have emphasized the importance of asking for referrals from past customers and from your sphere of influence. Agents using this approach normally ask for referrals as a postscript at the end of each of their marketing pieces and their email:

"If you know someone who may be thinking about buying or selling a home, I’m never too busy for your referrals."

This approach is based upon the traditional advertising model, which is sometimes called "outbound" marketing. Outbound marketing strategies attempt to create awareness about the services you offer.

The challenge is that outbound marketing strategies fail miserably on social media. Case in point: Can you imagine ending every one of your Facebook posts with a request for referrals?

In contrast, "inbound" or "word of mouth" marketing is about having others make recommendations about your services. In fact, one of the easiest ways to build your business is to provide value to your friends and followers on social media. When they "Like" or "Retweet" what you post, you have a third party who is recommending you voluntarily. The voluntary nature of the recommendation is what makes this so valuable.

Enter BranchOut and Stik

BranchOut and Stik are both Facebook applications that work much the same way that LinkedIn works, except they use Facebook as their database. You can post your resume, connect with friends, and determine who among your friends are the most influential.

I recently interviewed Stik co-founder Jay Kierak as well as Rob Runyon and Philip Kiracofe about their vision for Stik. According to the Stik website:

"When you need to make a big purchase — whether it’s a new house, a mortgage refinance, an insurance policy, or a retirement investment — it’s critical to find a professional you can trust. Unfortunately, many people still work with unknown salespeople, who may not have their customers’ best interests at heart. This can cause big, painful problems — ask anyone who has ever taken out an interest-only mortgage or bought a used car that’s a lemon!

"By helping you find professionals that your friends already know and trust, takes the worry out of important purchases. As we say at, Stik to who you know."

The Stik application uses "Likes" and referrals to create better search results. The system also aggregates testimonials, recommendations and Likes.

Stik claims to make consumer search faster, more efficient and more reliable. To illustrate, when someone needs a referral to a mortgage broker, the Stik system goes through your friends and their friends to identify the most highly recommended individuals. The system brings the results back and displays them in rank order.

Currently Stik has approximately 3,000 sign-ups per day, with 25 percent business professionals and the remaining 75 percent consumers.

The challenge in the real estate industry

When I polled my Facebook friends about Stik, their responses illustrated the disconnect between what the developers hoped to achieve as opposed to how real estate professionals view the application:

  • "I have received numerous requests and I’ve ignored every single one of them. I have no plans to use it. It actually is quite annoying." –Alyssia Essig
  • "Recently I have been besieged by both Stik and BranchOut requests from lots of people that I hardly know. It gave me a very uneasy feeling about granting permission to all of my FB data to passing acquaintances. I have ignored/deleted all requests and do not plan on changing my mind absent a compelling reason." –Thomas J. Murphy
  • "I’m not using it (Stik). Seemed like an interesting idea initially. Recently, there seems to be a sharp increase in usage and requests. I no longer see the requests. I blocked them as spam (as I did with BranchOut). People are free to connect with me for business purposes on LinkedIn. I’m not about to recommend anyone just because, whether it’s on Stik, BranchOut, LinkedIn, or any type of reference." –Nikki Beauchamp
  • "I was very optimistic when I first wrote about this a few months ago, but have since changed my mind. As Nikki Beauchamp was saying, users blast our request for recommendations and it (Stik) just spams everyone’s walls … I equate it to the Facebook Events feature — a good tool gone wrong." –Jimmy Mackin

While Stik may be a powerful application, the agents above were repulsed by the automated requests for recommendations from people they didn’t know well.

In most cases, when agents ask for a testimonial or a referral, it’s done either face-to-face or by phone. In contrast, most of the people using these automated systems are blasting them out to everyone on their Friends list, even if they don’t know them well. Rather than building connections, they’re destroying them.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are going to use a system such as Stik or any other automated referral system, don’t ask someone else to recommend you unless you know them well enough that they can comment about you and your business. Furthermore, make sure they are happy to make the referral before you send the request.

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