• Although not a lot of people are clicking on your virtual tours, the ones who are likely to buy a home are viewing them and using this information as part of their process, so it’s important to get it right.
  • New technology -- like 3-D tours and automation that creates narrated tours in conversational Spanish and English –- is working hard to make things better for virtual tours.
  • Everything is going mobile today in real estate, and that means virtual tours need to be at the forefront of any mobile strategy and fully integrated into your social media channels.

It’s become a given in real estate marketing that an agent must have a virtual tour to promote every listing. Yet when looking at virtual tours of property listings posted on YouTube, it’s tough to find many that have more than a handful of views. That begs the question, “Why do agents need virtual tours when no one is looking at them?”

Clearly the ROI or return on investment when it comes to property-based virtual tours must be negligible. Yet millions of dollars each year are continually invested by real estate brokerages for creating and deploying virtual tours to promote their listings.

Let’s dig into why this is happening and then look at the right reasons and strategies that justify the use of virtual tours to promote properties.

The wrong reasons

Take a poll of agents anywhere, and you are likely to find that the majority of them are creating property tours for at least one or more of the following three reasons:

1. To impress their seller

Let’s face it: full-page newspaper advertisements to promote a listing would be essentially extinct if agents were not trying to appease their sellers. The same case can be made for property virtual tours: “The seller made me do it.”

2. For competitive parity

“If everyone else is doing it, I better be doing it, too” is another bad reason to argue in favor of creating virtual tours if so few people are looking at any of them.

3. It only takes one

Like the penchant in real estate to invest hundreds of millions of dollars for online leads that garner a 1 percent ready-to-close conversion rate, the needle in a haystack approach argues that if the right person sees just one virtual tour of one property each year, it’s worth the investment.

The problem with this approach is in failing to run the numbers: The total time and dollar investment expended when you do the tally rarely can be justified by this argument.

Although any of these reasons might occasionally be valid, they just are not the right ones to explain why virtual tours should be used to promote property listings.

The problem with most tours

New technology — like 3-D tours and automation that creates narrated tours in conversational Spanish and English — is working hard to make things better for virtual tours.

However, by and large, the vast majority of today’s property tours are simply terrible. Supported by incredibly annoying elevator music, they rarely are even videos — just badly designed slideshows converted to a video format, blindly uploaded to YouTube and forgotten about just minutes after posting.

These low-quality property tours are used like fishing lines cast with a hook and no bait, thrown in with the hope that something accidentally bites.

Another problem most property tours face is that there is no cross-marketing strategy: YouTube property videos are largely treated as stand-alone marketing silos.

For example, they often are not embedded into a single property website for the same property nor integrated into the agent’s mobile marketing system.

That results in them missing huge opportunities to leverage the power we all know video (and mobile) can deliver, but not when one has to specifically “search” for a property tour.

The right reasons

After spending more than a decade innovating in mobile marketing and virtual tours, experience has taught us that there are three “right” reasons why agents should still use virtual tours.

The trick is these reasons are interdependent — you can’t have a fully successful property tour without all of them:

1. Opportunity 

Research from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) defines the opportunity that property tours, when done correctly, can provide in helping buyers make a decision to purchase.

According to NAR, baby boomers find virtual tours more useful than millennials (45 percent to 36 percent) with 40 percent of all buyers ranking them as “very useful,” more so than information on agents, contract status, recently sold properties and pending sales.

So though not a lot of people are clicking on your virtual tours, the ones who are likely to buy a home are viewing them and using this information as part of their process, so it’s important to get it right.

2. Automation with narration

Technology innovation now allows for listing data to be pulled to automatically create and post to YouTube a fully narrated virtual tour in conversational English (or Spanish) — using a real human voice — automatically from your listing data.

These tours allow consumers to choose their preferred language, and because they are posted on YouTube, closed captioning is available. To test your current YouTube videos, simply turn on the closed caption option on one of your video tours.

Then, try this video — one that has automated narration. Just turn the closed captions on from the side panel of the YouTube frame.

The benefit for the consumer is an improved experience. The benefit for the agent is the future of indexing your tours on Google (which owns YouTube), as it will likely be determined by the quality of the narration.

For example: “This three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath ranch is located in Alpharetta. It includes a mother-in-law suite and a swimming pool…” If Google/YouTube can understand your narration, it only stands to reason that your tours will index better, improving your search.

3. Tour integration with social media and curbside marketing efforts

The opportunity to reach homebuyers by creating well-designed and well-produced virtual tours requires not only automated narration but also dual integration with social media and your curbside marketing.

Everything is going mobile today in real estate, and that means virtual tours need to be at the forefront of any mobile strategy.

Remember this concept: potential buyers almost never download mobile apps at the curb. Downloading an app at the curb takes too long and uses too much precious data. Buyers want property info quickly — not your app.

Your property tour provider should have integration with Facebook, Twitter and Google-plus at a minimum.

So think about every time you get a new listing, change a price or hold open houses. These are events within your listing data, and that means they can automatically post to an agent’s social media accounts without the agent having to post the event manually.

Integrating property tours into the buyer process

Imagine using narrated virtual tours at the curb combined with automated call and text capture technology. Many successful agents, teams and brokerages have been using curbside technology for years as it generally delivers the highest quality leads, complete with name, phone number and their actual location — at the curb of one of your listings.

With one edit, agents can apply narration or images to their virtual tours, YouTube videos and curbside audio marketing all at once.

The bottom line is whenever and wherever buyers need to access property information, an agent’s tour needs to be front and center.

For property tours to work, they must be integrated: an agent should be able to track a buyer who is viewing a certain property video so when the buyer calls, the agent answers the phone knowing the buyer is calling from the curb in front of that property just viewed on his or her mobile phone.

Having these same tours connected to social media as well is the key to having a property tour seen by even more consumers. This approach can deliver a centralized marketing solution built around virtual tours that actually help agents sell more homes.

Randall Standard is CEO of VoicePad and a 20-plus year veteran of the mobile phone industry.

Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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