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What’s the point, after the novelty wears off, that makes a viable channel to create new business? Just what is the outcome to be achieved with for real estate professionals?

This article appears in this month’s e-newsletter from the Women’s Council of REALTORS website.  If you haven’t become a member of WCR, we strongly encourage you to consider joining today! – MF

The answer comes from a simple change of words. Rather than “social networking,” try viewing it as “social network prospecting.” Add one word to the activity, and so much of what needs to be done, and left un-done, becomes crystal clear.

Creating Valuable Dialogue

If we think of social networks as modern prospecting tools, we suddenly have purpose for adding Facebook and LinkedIn to our daily activities. Social media offers a chance to communicate with prospects and clients. Unlike traditional one-way media, social media creates dialogue with our sphere of influence. And dialogue is critical to creating prospecting outcomes, especially referrals and repeat business.

It is different than our social networks with family members. Certainly let your hair down when updating and sharing with your inner circle of relatives and friends. However, where social networking meets your business sphere, it’s critical to remember what you’re supposed to be doing online — prospecting by building and maintaining business-valuable relationships.

Social prospecting changes what you might post on your wall. Gone are the updates of today’s breakfast cereal or latest weather patterns, because your prospects’ time and attention is too valuable to inundate with mundania. Likewise, many advertising activities should be off-limits in new media – especially incessant and irrelevant postings of the latest listings, price changes and open house times.

If you are prospecting, why is such seemingly real-estate-specific content off limits? Because announcing new listings and price changes amounts to advertising, not prospecting. It’s announcing, not engaging. It talks “at” your sphere of influence, not “with” them – and it’s the fastest way to get them to disconnect from your presence. It doesn’t add value, because if they are interested they already can obtain such information from your Web site and/or e-mail alerts.

More simply, it makes no sense to spam your sphere’s wall with such content because you’d never do it in person. If you were meeting a past client for lunch, would you whip out your latest listing sheet before ordering drinks? Would you interrupt every topic with the latest price reductions scrolling across your smartphone? Of course not. You’d talk to them, ask them what’s important to them and engage with them, not your products. As in real life, so in virtual life.

Prospecting with social media requires the highest form of relationship management: community. It is about maintaining relationships between people, not products. Otherwise social media becomes just another Sears catalogue of your stuff. And people stop visiting. Prospecting by building relationships means social media activities become easier, clearer and more likely to help you reach your goal of building more business.

In fact, good social media prospecting can be done without “updating” anyone on anything. Really. You can create and reinforce relationships without being the primary talker. As long as you’re the best listener.

Let your sphere of influence do all the talking. Just be watching and learning, and when necessary, posting helpful comments on a conversation they started. Suddenly you don’t have to think about what you’re going to say, post, link, photograph or update at all. You simply have to look, listen, read and learn. And be there at the right time. Social networks will even notify you – if you’ve missed a comment, of an upcoming birthday, of someone you haven’t connected with in a while and so on. Prospecting couldn’t be easier.

A Constant Flow of Opportunity

In the top 10 reasons people buy or sell real estate, listing sheets, open house updates or even price updates are never mentioned. Nor tax credits, Web sites and so on. Certainly not postcards or newspapers.
People buy or sell real estate because of things that happen in their lives. They get married or unmarried. They get promoted or fired. They have another baby or the youngest finally goes off to college. They are entering the workforce or leaving it. This is why people buy or sell real estate and when they need a REALTOR®.

In the old days, learning about these things from our prospects was hard, almost impossible. They didn’t want to spend time with us on the phone. They shied away from personal conversations at open houses or when trapped in our cars. Asking to open up took a huge leap of faith, even when they were past clients.

In modern times, it’s exactly the opposite. Everyone wears their life on their sleeve and their “wall.” Everything and anything happening to them is posted, tweeted and texted to the entire universe and to you. “Joe is retiring. Sally got married. Betty is having another baby.” Things that create a need to buy or sell real estate are public information. It’s right there for the picking if we know what we’re supposed to be doing online: prospecting.

Social media prospecting is better than being a spy. It’s like telepathy for our sphere of influence. You can see exactly when to reach out and touch someone with a comment, an e-mail or even (gasp) a telephone call. More likely you’ll have to text , who doesn’t answer the phone, but they will be first to tell you what’s happening in their lives. Social media prospecting means a constant flow of opportunity for well-connected sales professionals.

Of all the ways we make selling real estate harder than it has to be, social media doesn’t have to be one of them. I suspect we didn’t like prospecting by phone, so we invented the Do Not Call List. Now it’s nearly illegal to phone a prospect. We can’t afford prospecting by postcard, which is fine because it’s colossally ineffective unless your target market is postal workers. Even open houses – perhaps the last place to meet new customers face-to-face – have suffered from who scrunch their noses at nosy neighbors who stop by. At some point we’re going to run out of ways to build our business without busting our budgets.

So try calling it social media prospecting and see what happens. Suddenly a Facebook page isn’t such a scary necessity for generating referrals and repeat business. Focus on prospecting, not advertising or announcing, for clarity on how to interact. Watch, listen, learn and then place a judicial comment or two. You don’t have to say much or often, to be in the right place at the right time. And it’s about time you started prospecting with social media.