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With only than 51% of REALTORS saying they actively use social networking sites, these seven secrets might help close the gap between the average real estate professional and the average consumer.

It’s a question of prospecting. How do real estate agents of today plan to prospect to their customers of tomorrow? Will it be with the tools of the past – telemarketing, postcards, newspapers – or the platforms of the present, most notably social networking? With consumers consistently telling us the number one way  they found their agent was by personal referral, it’s time to drop our advertising foolishness and join the networking party.

And network with their prospects all day long.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. The way to win friends and influence others – this time, online – is far different than it was in the old days. Back then, you could buy the back page of the newspaper or the back of the bus, slap your high school photo on it, and display your peacock feathers as the “number one, super-duper, most winning-est agent in town.” Customers would line up to work with you because the influence model was very “Model T.” But in the Age of Consumer Reports – and consumer feedback, control and customization –  Skeptical Consumers (Gen X) and Collective Consciousness Consumers (Gen Y) are immune to the “we’re the best” transmissions coming from businesses.

They want more.

Furthermore, nobody likes a braggard who only talks about their self, their products or their awards. They move away from them at the party – why would they click to connect with them online?

That’s why we’ve collected these seven secrets to being successful with social media-based prospecting activities. We’ll admit, they’re the complete opposite of Model T (“traditional”) advertising methods for selling real estate and building a client base. But then again, when haven’t we been anything but good contrarians for our industry?

  1. It’s networking, not advertising. Influencing your sphere isn’t done by relentlessly touting your products or services until they break down and buy them. It’s done by contributing value. What can you do, say or suggest – using online tools like sharing, commenting and linking – that offers something of value beyond your inventory or latest certificate of achievement? Focus on the people, not your products.
  2. It’s the same as real life. Do you go to lunch with a personal friend or business prospect and just whip out your marketing flyers? If so, your lunch meeting must rival the fast food experience. If you go into the social media world with pre-defined sales objectives, you’ll likely have the same result as an advertising-luncheon. Nobody wants to show up if you’re just going to be an infomercial. Instead, be yourself, and start a conversation.
  3. Conversations involve listening more than talking. The biggest secret of social media success is that your sales prospects will willingly, gladly and readily tell you everything you need to know about them to make a sale. If you listen. This doesn’t mean they’re going to post “I need a REALTOR” or “We need more bathroom sinks!” on their Facebook page. But they will post their personal lives – got a job, lost a job, having a baby, and so on – that contain the key indicators of when they will need you soon. All you have to do is keep an eye on your prospects to be at the right place (online) at the right time (all the time).
  4. Consider your own experience. What annoys you about your social media experience? Are you frustrated by mundania postings by others? Announcements of their farming success? Useless invitations to open houses thousands of miles away? Price reduction news? If these things bore you in your news feed, why would you think they’d excite your sphere of influence in theirs?
  5. Share to grow. The best way to get new friends is to share something so cool, interesting, wonderful and thoughtful to your current friends that they want to tell their friends about it. It’s called a multiplier effect. Make a few  friends or prospects’ lives better by sharing an idea, link, video, data. They may be thankful enough to “pass it on” by sharing, reposting, tweeting your contribution to their personal friends. That’s how you grow your sphere of influence; not harvesting your friends’ friend-lists and trying to mass-email them.
  6. Ask. The greatest salesmen in the world know that  success comes from offering solutions to people’s problems, not just promoting whatever they happen to have on-hand. What if you don’t know what people need from you? Ask. Use polls, surveys, simple questions to invite people to share their needs, desires, confusions, hopes with you. Don’t make it obvious: Don’t ask how many bathrooms they need, but what features of a homes might make their life easier, better, more enjoyable. Then you’ll know exactly what to go out and list – desirable homes, not just anything from the next available seller.
  7. Play. People like to be around people who are real. Especially Gen Y, who can spot a slick-snakeoil-sales pitch from a hundred lightyears away. In an industry that says it’s “about the people” we do a  poor job of showing them that we’re people too! This doesn’t mean you have to post pictures of your tattoo on your wall. But you should be sharing the “professionally personal” side of yourself. Do you volunteer in town, coach the little league or dress up as Santa for a good cause? Post some pictures, tell the story, invite others to comment. People want to work with others who they can connect with on a personal level – not just the agent with the most notches in their belt. So stop worrying about letting your hair down, showing your softer side or making people laugh a little online. Selling or buying a home is an emotional experience: show people you’re more than just an advertised real estate robot.

Selling real estate should actually be easier than ever before. Aside from great finance rates, lots of inventory and a population transition that’s moving lots of Boomers down and lots of Gen X/Y’ers up, real estate agents should be selling more than ever – even with the recession bumps in the road. The challenge is that what makes modern consumers connect with others – not advertising, but personalized relationships – can’t be communicated with the classic Model T marketing tools we’re forcing into the socialsphere. Most agents claim they got into real estate because they “like people.” With social media, they can prove it by connecting with the people all day, every day. The secrets of social networking success are amazingly free – but they can help you earn more than ever before in real estate sales.