Estate agents in the Irish market enjoy a wide and varied role with sales and marketing at its core. While the tools of the trade have certainly changed over the past two decades, marketing is still at the core of the business.
Online sales portals like Daft.ie and MyHome.ie have transformed how properties are marketed, in fact, there is an argument to be made that estate agents have become overly reliant upon existing portals. While promoting properties to a captive buying audience has undoubtedly been made easier, attracting sellers of second-hand homes has become exponentially more difficult for agents nationwide.
Certainly, potential sellers are on-line but they are a much broader target than buyers on a property portal (fish in a barrel, dare I say?) and, therefore, more difficult to pinpoint. It is crucial then that Irish agents extend their reach beyond these listing websites when it comes to promoting themselves. It is not enough merely to list properties , your firm must market your brand, that is, the professionalism, personality and whatever it is that makes your agency different to others locally.
It is worth bearing in mind that the market cannot trust what it does not know. It is your job to let local homeowners and potential sellers get to know your agency, your brand, your staff and your ethos. Trust cannot be designed, it must be earned over time.
For the majority of estate agencies, a mobile-optimised website is a vital starting point. This is the digital home of your business, social media platforms are merely tools that keep your brand in the mind awareness of your target audience until such time as they are ready to visit your digital home.
That is not to understate the significance of social media and its potential to impact your business. The emergence of social media platforms and how quickly they have been embraced into daily life has created an unprecedented opportunity for a business to reach people (consumers) in their personal worlds, without waiting for them to enter yours, so that you can introduce your brand and invite them into your digital property world. The success of your social media strategy might well be measured on how well you use that opportunity to engage with your audience.
But I understand the confusion and feeling of overwhelm for businesses just getting started. There are so many different platforms, making so many different claims and with so much conflicting user feedback that confusion is inevitable; inevitable, but not insurmountable.
Research into Irish social media user trends might prove helpful here. For example, we now know that, as of 2016, 52% of people in Ireland consume their news digitally. This might be bad news for sellers of print advertising but it’s supremely good news for Irish estate agents. Also, according to The Irish Times, Irish businesses are the second highest users of social media in the European Union. In fact, 74% of people in Ireland use Facebook daily, 35% use Twitter and 18% log on to LinkedIn daily. While 48% use Instagram daily, it is worth noting that this is a significantly younger audience so not likely to be buying or selling homes for another decade or so.
Interestingly, Pinterest is a key platform for US estate agents (and to a lesser extent, UK agents) but not so much for agents in Ireland.
Master of none
Of the many social media platforms available, not all are necessary or even helpful to every agency. In fact, what works for a hipster firm in Dublin 8 is unlikely to yield the same results in Ballina, irrespective of content quality and execution. It will take a bit of work and effort but it is definitely worth figuring out what platforms are helpful to your business.
This is not a matter of opinion but rather a matter of analytics. As a business, you simply need to identify your target audience and follow them to their preferred platform. Then the fun of engagement starts!
Social media for property is a hugely democratic tool, one that can be used as effectively by small firms as it can by the larger giants of the industry. Arguably, smaller firms are likely to be more hands-on and therefore quicker to respond to industry news via social media so they have a natural competitive advantage. In fact, social media can level the playing field for smaller agencies in a genuinely meaningful way but only if they use it smartly.
The important thing is to create a social media strategy and roll it out through a manageable system using any of the available scheduling tools so that it does not become a time suck. As with any sales and marketing initiative, there must be a reasonable return on resources spent and, as any business owner knows, time is a finite and costly resource.
The key is to concentrate on your brand first. In much the same way as your website is an extension of your office and display window, your social media presence is an extension of your website. Agents must maintain a strong and consistent brand (look, tone, content feel) throughout. Quality content is the next important step and this means written blog posts that are current and relevant, together with images, infographics, video and audio content. Social media without relevant content is an absolute waste of company resources.
Think of social media as a low-cost way to amplify your message to a larger – and delightfully targeted – audience, while funnelling potential buyers and sellers back to your website or digital property home.
Increasingly, I read that social media is an art, and when it comes to viral content, certainly, it can be difficult to judge what makes one cat video exponentially more funny than another. I have zero interest in figuring this one out. What I can do is assure you of the measurement capabilities of most social media platforms, for example, Facebook Page (not profile) posts give a huge level of useable data about audience, reach and engagement. This is more on the side of science than art. Similarly, Twitter will break down tweet views to let you know how many people actually clicked on a link or perhaps merely clicked to check out your profile.
Where to start
Do not try to become expert across all platforms simultaneously, the best approach is to secure your business name handle/username on all popular social media platforms, and then concentrate on two or three platforms to start with. In order of importance, I would suggest a Facebook Page (this is different to a profile), Twitter, LinkedIn company page, Google+ (for SEO rather than engagement), Instagram and possibly Pinterest.
Just a decade ago Facebook was considered to be a teen social tool and, at the time, that was true; however the teenagers are all grown up and Facebook has evolved alongside them. There can be no doubt that Facebook Pages as a business platform has truly come of age in recent years. There are now Facebook Pages for 65 million business – this is up from 2 million just four years ago. In time, Facebook Pages will be less of a funnel to your website and may well replace traditional websites for many small businesses.
Twitter is a fast source of property news so it is a great way to keep informed, and to get some industry reaction to latest news and developments. It is also the single best way to directly engage with members of the media and market commentators in order to give your market insights and reaction to industry policy changes.
Video is becoming increasingly important but unlike a few short years ago when this involved a lengthy and costly outsourced job, YouTube videos are fast becoming replaceable by Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. Consumers of video today are willing to sacrifice production quality for the immediacy of live streaming.
Each platform has its own style so before jumping straight in, take some time to read through the posts and interactions of other users (and perhaps even competitors) to get a sense of what is well received. There are a few golden rules that apply to every platform as follows:
- Be consistent; this applies not just to the regularity of posting, but also to the look and feel of your content, which should be an extension of your website and blog (which is an extension of your office and company ethos).
- Allow the personality of your agency and your brand to shine through, in a professional manner. This is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from local competitors.
- Respect the 80/20 rule of posting 80% lifestyle content of interest to your target audience and only 20% promotion and/or property listings.
- Showcase your local area; this shows that you genuinely care for your locality and gives you the opportunity to build trust, credibility and expertise.
- Add value to your audience; the aim should be to educate, inform and entertain, this is a sure-fire way to engage. Do not be afraid to give your opinion on topical issues, however, always keep it courteous.
Still need help?
In an ideal world, estate agents would find time to work social media into their existing business development and marketing initiatives; however, this is not always possible. As one agent I spoke with recently explained, “I spend all day in viewings or getting to/from viewings, I already use my time in the car for returning missed calls, I can’t even start replying to emails until 7/8 o’clock in the evening – where would I get the time for Facebook?” This is an all-too-common response from smaller agencies; however, social media is much less about promoting listed properties to potential buyers, and more about building your estate agency brand to convey a sense of trust, credibility and expertise as this is what attracts potential sellers. Estate agencies that use social media only to sell, are likely not doing a great job online and, more importantly, are missing a big opportunity to win further instructions.
Sometimes a bit of help is required. It is recommended that where social media activity is to be outsourced, estate agents ought to use a media company familiar with the industry, one that takes the time to get to know your brand, your firm’s target market and your position on industry policies. [Obviously I am biased in favour of the fantastically-hardworking, dynamic and always creative www.PropertyDistrict.ie team!]
In Ireland, you can expect to pay from €300 per month to have up to three social media platforms managed, and from €500 to have bespoke content (blog posts, images, infographics, podcasts, video) created and circulated in accordance with an agreed social media plan.
One final note, social media is merely one of a collection of digital marketing tools designed to help you run your business more effectively. It should not be seen as a burden or challenge but rather as an opportunity to tell more people – the right people – about your business and how you can help them. In order to avoid initial overwhelm, simply remember the steps to follow are (i)brand first, (ii)content second, (iii) social media to amplify and funnel new business, then, most importantly, (iv) measure what works and do more of that!