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While the real estate industry struggles (and hustles) to catch up with consumers on social networking, a common concern has appeared amongst real estate agents. Faced with the prospect of being connected to their sphere of influence on a daily basis, “What should I say?” is the most common question asked by agents and brokers. Offering valuable content to prospects daily will mean more than repeatedly posting about overpriced listings. Here are a few suggestions to help.

To be clear, social networking is not advertising. It’s prospecting. That’s why simply posting listings and open house invitations is useless. Consumers already have access to all the property information they need. They do not need – or want – listings blasted on their Facebook wall. If they happen to know three or four REALTORS, the prospect of dozens of listings cluttering their update feeds is downright scary.

The same goes for snooze-content like open house alerts, price reductions or just about every other market mundania that too many REALTORS think is valuable to the social network. Online networking isn’t a data-exchange. It’s a dialogue of interesting and useful content.

People want to hear from people, not data.

This doesn’t mean that REALTORS shouldn’t periodically update their sphere about the marketplace or their personal success. Everyone talks about what’s happening in their careers. But you’d never see a stock broker or insurance salesman posting his latest offerings on his Facebook page. Your friend who works at a gas station doesn’t tweet this morning’s price for a gallon of gas.

So what should REALTORS say to their sphere of influence online? How can they create meaningful interactions (beyond an update of which breakfast cereal they ate this morning) people they hope will someday become paying clients? Let’s list five ideas:

  1. Decision Enabling Content. Consumers buy homes for personal reasons. Families get bigger or smaller, jobs are gained or lost, the desire for a better neighborhood are still  major drivers of real estate sales. So offer ideas that speak to the personal reasons for moving. Post links to articles or news about life in town, the economy, unusual weather, entertainment or public services. Focus on what’s important to the prospect. First time buyers want to know about jobs, sports, music and nightlife. Retirement prospects are interested in financial planning and healthy living. Think about what’s in it for them, and you’ll think of lots of topics to post online.
  2. Analysis, not Data. Don’t tweet mortgage rates to your sphere. Tweet about mortgage trends that impact their decisions. Trends – in pricing, finance, costs of living, public services, weather, and so on – let agents apply knowledge and experience to help consumers understand data, not just receive an update on it. The current price of a home or mortgage is less useful than discussing the meaning of the 3-month trend. Post a chart or graph to make the point, then add a few thoughts on “why” the trends are happening.
  3. Congratulations. People work with people they trust. Sales is about relationships. With online social networking, building trust and reinforcing relationships is easier than ever. Your prospects are constantly posting about their lives on their profiles, which presents a huge opportunity to literally “see into the minds” of  prospects. The easiest thing to do with that information is to congratulate. Did they get a new car,  win a big game or have a birthday? Post a congratulations comment. Offering praise, encouragement, sympathy or just “liking” your customers’ lives is a powerful way to connect with people.
  4. Ask a Question. A question is worth a thousand statements. If you want to know what concerns your customers, ask them! You don’t need create a formal poll. Just pose  a “Question to my friends” and watch them tell you what’s on their minds. As Sam Walton used to say, find out what the people want and then give it to them. Social media presents a constant opportunity to at least find out what they want.
  5. Make them Laugh. Imagine you are going to a cocktail party to catch up with friends. Part of the conversation would inevitably include humor. A good joke, a funny story, a weird observation all put people at ease and start conversations. There is an endless supply of funny videos, curious images and silly stories online that will make your sphere of influence smile. And while they’re chuckling, they’ll be thinking of you.

What to say to consumers online is really no different than what to say in person. When meeting a friend at lunch or a party, you would most likely not whip out some listing sheets or agency agreements. But you would talk about each other’s career, the marketplace, the weather, and so on. You’d tell a joke. And you’d ask questions about their lives. That’s social networking and it’s a different from advertising. You’re not qualifying leads, but talking to people. It’s significantly easier to do, actually, then other forms of prospecting, and ultimately more rewarding.

We know that 64% of consumers found their real estate agent by personal referral or worked with the same agent again. Consumers like the personal connection – to people they know or trust. You can build that by talking with your sphere of influence online, not speaking “at” them.

And that suggests everything you need to say to consumers online!