Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

The median age of Realtors is 57, whereas the median age of first-time buyers is 34. If you want to effectively serve “next-gen” buyers and sellers, it’s imperative that you learn to speak “digital.”

I recently heard realtor.com Vice President Max Pigman outline how the real estate conversation of today has shifted dramatically from that of the past. While real estate is still discussed at all types of get-togethers, the digital conversation is taking place in an entirely different way.

While it’s obvious that “Gen Next” buyers and sellers are wedded to their mobile devices, most Realtors have yet to tap into communicating with them the way that they prefer to communicate. If you want to be more effective at speaking the digital language of today’s Gen Next consumer, here’s how to do it:

1. Texting is a different language
According to Pigman, 24 percent of today’s buyers and sellers would like to conduct their transaction entirely by text messaging. Texting is really a mix of short verbal messages coupled with links to pictures and/or videos. It requires an entirely different way of thinking about how you communicate, especially if you’re older.

As a rule of thumb, videos have the highest open rates, higher than open rates for links. If you have the choice between sending an embedded video that requires only the user to click to play vs. a link, always opt for the click-to-play video.

In terms of open rates on other types of media, pictures are next, followed by words. The least effective method is leaving a phone message. Pigman cited recent research showing that many millennials not only view phone messages unfavorably, they consider phone calls to be an invasion of their privacy.

2. More images, fewer words
Speaking digital requires you to be fluent in presenting your message in a visual format. This means your pictures and videos are almost always more important than any text you may write.

Today’s consumers are plagued by short attention spans. If you compare today’s movies and television shows to those from the past, one of the most glaring differences has to do with how short the scenes are. Consumers are being trained to flit from image to image. They scan headlines and many lack the patience to read more than a 140-character text or tweet.

This also means that you would be wise to post on the major sites that feature pictures such as Houzz, Instagram and Pinterest. In addition to posting multiple photos, remember to post your videos on as many platforms as possible.

3. Speaking digital demands immediacy
Repeated studies have shown that if you fail to respond to consumer inquiries within a few minutes, that lead is gone. To illustrate this point, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that Web marketers who respond to leads within five minutes have a 79 percent lead conversion ratio. In contrast, for those who responded in 30 minutes, that conversion time dropped to 34 percent.

4. For those who speak digital, a phone call is akin to a 911 call
According to Pigman, younger consumers will call on yard signs, although they prefer text messaging. Given their distaste for using the phone, however, when a millennial does call, they are probably very interested in the home about which they’re calling.

A realtor.com study of 20,000 agents showed that 30 percent of the calls went to a live person, 45 percent went to voice mail, 17 percent had a busy signal or no answer, and 8 percent had bad contact information.

In terms of how the callers responded, they wait to hear if a live person actually said “hello.” If the callers heard a recording, 25 percent disconnected. Furthermore, if you gave the caller a menu of choices, they also disconnected.

The bottom line is that when they want to speak with a Realtor, they want to do it now. As Pigman noted, “Merely saying ‘hello’ triples your conversion rate.”

Quick response options
So what are your options, especially when you can’t be available 24/7 to respond immediately? One solution is Google Voice, which uses a single number that rings you no matter where you are. You can tell the system to ring you on your cellphone, at home or just about anywhere else for that matter. The system also transcribes your messages and delivers them via text or email. The secret is to respond immediately.

A different alternative is to hire a virtual assistant to answer calls. You could also use a traditional answering service that takes messages for you. Unless these people are licensed, however, they cannot provide the caller with price and other important information.

Pigman suggested a different alternative: You can buy a prepaid phone and use that number as your real estate hotline for sign calls. If anyone calls on that line, you know they are calling from one of your listings. The beauty of this approach is that if you are going out of town or working with a partner, you can hand off the phone when you take time off.

What else can you do to be more fluent at speaking “digital”? See Part 2 to learn more.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named “new and notable” by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com.

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