*This article has been edited from a previous version.
If you want to be an expert in digital marketing, spend an hour talking with Anne Marie Gianutsos, head of digital for real estate powerhouse Houlihan Lawrence. In a little over a year, she’s put into place a digital infrastructure that’s increased leads through the website by 20 percent and managed to boost Houlihan Lawrence’s digital cred as the only brokerage to be recognized as a Webby Award honoree.
1. Start with a generous helping of good people
Brenna Humphreys: How is your marketing team structured?
Anne Marie Gianutsos: We’re lean and mean. It’s myself and EJ Kelley, who runs content marketing. He’s a published author and an NYU professor. He authors our corporate blog and our corporate social media accounts. He also manages our remote team — we have one point person at each office who handles hyperlocal content. We call them “social media ambassadors.” We also have someone who specializes in the luxury segment — creating content for our notable listings that need a little extra marketing attention.
2. Add story to the mix
BH: Why do you use video to market homes, and what is your approach?
AMG: We try to really tell a story around the house. My favorite is 56 Clapboard Ridge. It was an adorable family telling the story of their home. We believe the video helped sell the property because the buyers told us it allowed them to envision living there. That’s saying a lot that we sold it — it had a lot of competition with a lot of available inventory in Greenwich.
There’s an added benefit to doing video for property listings because Google ranks it so highly in search results. When you invest in creating high-quality video content, you get a reward in potentially edging out the competition in search.
3. A sprinkle of social
BH: How important is social media to your digital strategy?
AMG: In the first quarter of this year, Facebook beat Trulia as the single biggest referrer of traffic to houlihanlawrence.com that resulted in leads. That shows if you put a dedicated content strategy in place there is an ROI.
Facebook in particular is important to our business; 50 percent of the U.S. is on mobile Facebook; 71 percent of U.S. adults are on Facebook. We have close to 6,000 likes on our Facebook page. That’s not a huge amount, but we’re very careful about who we’re targeting — we’re really selective about who we appeal to because we want engagement. We optimize what we post for spread rate and engagement — two to three posts per day max on Facebook, and on other networks far less. The fastest-growing demographic is the 45-to-55 age segment — that aligns with who’s buying and selling homes.
BH: How do you decide what to post?
AMG: We have a three-tiered approach to our social media: the corporate level, the office level and the agent level. We have 1,200 agents who are posting relevant content about their area and their listings. Each agent has their own unique voice, and they are independent contractors so they have a lot of autonomy. The best of that content gets bubbled up to the office pages, and the best of that content bubbles up to the corporate accounts.
4. Get it while it’s hot
BH: What is the future of digital marketing for real estate?
AMG: I think that agents who are able to answer a homebuyer’s question, “How are you going to market my home?” are going to be more successful. Print is still viable and worthwhile, but many buyers are using mobile devices to do their searching so migrating your marketing to those platforms is a must.
Home search is now synonymous with Internet and mobile technology; 90 percent of home searches start online. Google’s latest update rewards sites that deliver an optimal experience for mobile. Syndicated sources are optimized to be at the top, but they’re also spending a lot to market themselves. Brokers like Houlihan Lawrence that have anticipated this shift to mobile are in a better position to enjoy increased search traffic.
Half the battle is equipping your agents with the technology. The second half is: How do we train? We have to educate our agents on the new technologies and make sure they’re representing the benefits to homebuyers.
We launched our first mobile app last summer. It’s beneficial to agents because buyers can select an agent right there within the app. It even has an augmented reality feature. You open the app and hit the scope sign. In residential areas, it will overlay all the homes for sale or for rent. We relied on our training center to help roll it out and explain the benefits for agents and clients.
5. The secret ingredient
AMG: For a digital marketer — the core competency is to be open to learning. I’m always looking at key industries and trends and then figuring out what I can translate to real estate. The companies that are gaining an edge are thinking broadly, looking across industries for key trends and what’s next.
As an example, one of the ad units we’re running on The New York Times’ home page is a banner ad. We’re the first to do that. (The first to do a search banner that drives search results to their website.) The learning from that comes from my time at Epicurious. It worked so well for us in food, so it made sense to translate it over.
It’s so important to keep on learning.
BH: Realtors often have affirmations — what’s yours as a digital marketer?
AMG: I always say, “Never underestimate your competitors.” We do have a dominant market share in this area, but you can’t ever take that for granted. You always have to think: What is the best way we can serve our customer? We don’t invest in anything or embark on any project or program that we can’t immediately explain the benefit to the client.
6. Icing on the cake
BH: You’re a mom. How do you handle balancing work and family life?
AMG: It comes down to company culture. I worked in the media industry for a decade, and it’s very different. Working in real estate, I put in the same level of effort, but this industry doesn’t require that you sit behind the desk as much. The real estate industry has afforded me a lot of freedom. Most Realtors are independent contractors, and many of the meetings are off-hours. As long as I get to those key meetings, then I have the support of the owners.