Recently while teaching a social media strategies workshop, one of the brokers approached me during a break. In essence, while he admitted to being dragged into the social media world reluctantly, he was just about furious with my suggestion that agents play games online. It’s bad enough they are wasting time in these social networks, was his point. To suggest they should spend time farming, killing vampires and running a mob gang was simply stupid. How are REALTORS supposed to make sales while they are playing games online. Let just see, shall we?
As usual, let’s start with the research. Last year, more than 50% of home sales were to first time buyers. The average first time home buyer was 30 years old, and the vast majority are under the age of 44. The move-up seller is also squarely within the 30 and 47 age bracket. From a real estate standpoint, the target buyer and seller for the next few years is essentially Gen X and Gen Y. With less than 19% of sales happening with consumers over the age of 55, let’s just say the 401k-home-equity-drained-downsizer is not going anywhere for quite some time.
Now let’s assume an operational premise: Successful real estate sales requires brokers to sell real estate the way buyers want to buy, not the way they (or sellers) want to sell. Of course, we know this lesson goes largely unlearnt in the industry, as the proliferation of newspaper and postcard marketing are two of the three pillars of failure for most brokerages (constant recruiting being the third). But for the sake of argument – and hope for the future – let’s assume that someday soon this lesson will be understood and brokers will sit down and ask themselves:
How does my customer use the internet?
Not, how do I want to market homes to customers? If we leave it to brokers, we know exactly how they want to market homes – even online. We don’t even need to mention them here – but a fruitless search through REALTOR.COM should prove the point. And when it comes to social media, the case becomes worse, not better. Just based upon the number of friends updates I’ve had to “hide” in Facebook lately, it’s clear that many agents have not understood that social media is about relationships, not e-blasts of their overpriced listings or open house dates.
If we think about how the real estate target buyer uses the internet – especially social media – we’ll see that games are vital, not incidental, to our marketing strategy. Playing online video games isn’t just an introvert’s pass-time any more. Farmville has more than 72 million active users. That blows away every real estate website – combined – if you consider these visitors play multiple times a week, and often for 20 minutes or more per visit.
Now would you like to play a game?
There is nothing comparable in online real estate marketing as we know it to game-playing online. Of course, the activities are different: REALTORS are simulating their product catalog online, and game players are entertaining themselves. But the objectives are not dissimilar: REALTORS hope to connect with their sphere of influence via their websites, and game players are already connected to their sphere of influence – and interact with them nearly daily – through the gaming nexus. Social media gaming, in other words, is just another excuse to get together with friends.
Of course, some of those friends may also be clients – past, present or future. It’s no different than the days when we used to play games – like golf or bridge – with our networking buddies, past clients or Association friends. It’s simply moved online – because so has the consumer. Keep in mind that Gen X grew up playing Atari and Nintendo games; and Gen Y doesn’t know fresh air exists. The 20-something buyer literally evolved online, interacting with friends online via XBox and Playstation, while exploring dungeons and foreign planets. Their sphere of influence was largely virtual. And unlike the coffee shop or golf course, it met just as regularly.
This is why social media game playing is a powerful sales tool. It connects people to people, not people to machines. Gen Y doesn’t want to “search your website” and then wait for someone to return their email (assuming they ever do). They already eschew search engines, preferring to ask their friends what cars to buy, schools to attend – and agents to use – via social networks. They don’t talk on their phones, and they don’t check voice mail. They don’t go out to play – so they won’t be seeing their Baby Boomer laywer or accountant or hairdresser or real estate agent at the local pub or health club.
In fact they won’t see them at all – if those people won’t show up online.
Gaming is about relationships. Competitive “war” games let Gen X’ers pit their mobsters, vampires or poker hand against their peers’. Collaborative games like Fishville, Farmville and Cafe World let Gen Y’ers play nice with the collective. But note that none of these games is played alone. They all involve playing with others.
And that means building and maintaining relationships.
Relationships, which are the heart of successful sales practices. In the past, relationships were built by a traditional sales theory that revolved around an advertising-prospecting-proposal structure. Maybe that sales structure is evolving, along with the modern consumer. Decision making processes in consumption are not what they once were: Gen X’ers don’t believe one word of marketing from anyone, and Gen Y’ers are usually put-off by pushy-scary-closing methods that make up the classic Top Agent Betty Barricuda sales playbook. Even awareness marketing is changing, as fewer people use the newspaper-phonebook-mailbox channels to gather product information, but return to the “town square” model of friendly referrals and family advice.
For Gen X, it’s important to use trusted vendors their peers prefer. For Gen Y, advice from the family, extended but reachable online, is more powerful than any price inducement.
That’s why playing games online matters. It’s a chance for sales professionals to make friends and interact in non-traditional sales environments. They can play winner-loser games with Gen X prospects, and earn their respect through game-play competition. Such respect can later be translated into sales propositions and referrals in the future. Gen Y prospects can become part of your company’s family by participating in collaborative games, egg-hunts and “sims.” They will readily accept new connections from anyone working toward the same goal. Later, when the goal becomes buying or selling a home, they will be primed to trust someone who they have already worked with to reach a (entertainment) goal.
Clearly, playing social media games is time well spent building relationships that are the foundations of future business. There’s no doubt that the next generation of real estate consumers is socialized and prefer to interact through this medium. And it’s not just younger generations of consumers: According to a study done in the last 5 years for AOL Games, “women over the age of 40 play most often and spend the greatest number of hours per week doing so, beating out both adult males and teens of both sexes.” The study also shows that adults are more likely than teenagers to play online games. Maybe that’s why Nintendo’s marketing strategy for the Wii features people of all ages – young to old – playing together.
Now it’s time for the real estate industry to understand that social media can build relationships that turn into business.
And isn’t that the name of the game?