How User Generated Content Will Transform Residential Real Estate Sales

I’ve been working on a Blue Ocean Strategy presentation for The Executive Connection (Vistage) in Australia and caught up with the head of their local operation – Andrew Nelson to talk all things BOS, social and we got caught up discussing how innovation often emerges in unexpected ways and sometimes without preplanned action.

One of the innovation trends we were discussing was around the power of social media and user generated content and how this was starting to create some really interesting opportunities in the residential real estate market.  Whilst I’ve discussed this in the past- I think it’s worth looking at this more holistically, specifically:

  1. What can agencies do
  2. What can agents do
  3. What can sellers do

For Sale by Owner - Agents need not apply to help
When we look at the opportunity social media presents, we start to see how the nature of residential property sales could change.

1. The Real Estate Agency

As I’ve noted in an earlier blog post, agencies need to rethink how they market and engage with buyers and sellers. If agencies want to break the stranglehold of listing sites like RealEstate.com.au and Domain.com.au etc, then they need to start embracing change and looking for ways to create a more personal environment in which to cultivate sales.

2. The Agent

I’m sure this is  common but one thing I’ve noticed in Brisbane is the rise of individual agents as their own brand. I don’t think this is new, but  the implications of this is worth discussing.  An agent can now build a comprehensive online personal brand using blogs.  Twitter, YouTube etc and have a portable digital footprint that will allow them to build a significant degree of local authority – and this personal online brand can be portable – moving with the agent should they change agency.

Agencies need to understand this and work out a model that is mutually beneficial.

3. The Seller

Aside from the article I referenced in an earlier post – I was also talking to a colleague in New Zealand who’s implementing a specific social media strategy – as the seller – so they have better control over how the property is presented – sellers are turning to social media to market their properties due to frustration at agents inability to understand value or sell a property.

I can only see this phenom continuing (with wildly mixed success) ranging from sellers who set up a simple Facebook fan page through to others who take a more holistic approach – blogging about the property, local area, pros and cons, through to video and twitter as an awareness tool.

This isn’t hard – a seller can quickly set up a WordPress blog, YouTube channel, Twitter, and G+ profiles and then undertake their own awareness program. The seller now has their own digital platform to create awareness around their property.

A Coordinated Model

Lets take this a step further. Why wouldn’t a progressive agency understand what a seller model is and then offer this as a value add service? If they’ve got a seller who wants to be actively involved – have a service or offering that allows them to help meet this desire.

Outcomes?

I see lots of positives – the agency starts creating traffic away from the listing giants – they start taking back control, and sellers have the opportunity to potentially realize a higher sales price for their property.

The challenge of course is whether any agency is prepared to get their head out of the sand and do something different and innovative.  You can view an outline of how I would propose to deliver this type of course on The Transfer Station

Airline KLM Showcases Innovative Approach to Using Social Media

I caught a really interesting video from European airline KLM showing how you can be innovative and engage with your customers via social media.

There’s a couple of interesting points about the approach KLM has taken with this campaign:

  1. Social media doesn’t need to be about prospective customers - there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from rewarding existing customers. I really liked the fact that KLM is seeking out and rewarding customers who’ve already given their money to the company. Too many social media campaigns are aimed at prospective customers, seeking to build new customers often at the expense of customer loyalty.
  2. It’s not all about upset customers - I know big companies are experts at upsetting customers – it’s nice to see a focus on customers who are sharing their journey an not necessarily upset at a vendor.
  3. We need to understand how much info we are putting into the social sphere - Whilst I can see the positives here I was also somewhat unsettled at how quickly KLM was able to identify, profile, and target a customer. We do need to be diligent because not everyone viewing or storing this data has good intentions

Overall, it’s a great effort from KLM

Audit Your Social Media Footprint Now

Earlier this month Jeremiah Owyang and his team at Altimeter Group published a report called “A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation” – The SlideShare version is below.

Back in 2010 I blogged about the need for organisations to take a more proactive role in managing their social media assets – a few of our customers were asking what to do when they lost track of specific accounts – and at the time telling them to “Pray this doesn’t blow up in your face” didn’t go down very well.

Like a disease, social media proliferation will leave companies crippled — unless they develop a strategy to manage now – Jeremiah Owyang

Social media core channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc aren’t going away any time soon – and the problem compounds with each new service that launches (like Pinterest) or starts to go mainstream (like FourSquare).

Corporations are struggling to manage an average of 178 business-related social media accounts — a number likely to grow if unchecked. Beyond coordination challenges, unchecked accounts and disparate customer interactions expose brands to a host of legal, compliance, and fragmented brand-perception risks – Jeremiah Owyang

The time to act is now. We should be starting 2012 by developing a clear understanding of what is happening, what risks are evident, and what needs to be done to educate, empower, and manage.

This is the SlideShare presentation containing the report – I highly recommend you download or read it.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic

Augmented Reality, Social Media, and Events – An Interesting Coming of Age

I’ve been working on a couple of Augmented Reality mini-projects over the past few weeks as well as doing some research for a client in the exhibition space so AR has been in my thinking a bit recently.

I’m impressed at how this field of social media is starting to grow. It’s clearly still in it’s infancy, but as location based services continue to grow (and as the battle for this space heats up) I think those that move early in AR are going to find themselves in a pretty nice space.

A couple of ideas have stood out for me recently, particularly in relation to events and exhibitions.

I was watching this YouTube video from Hidden Creative and it struck me immediately that what they are showing here is the future of how an event organiser will plan and layout events.

We could take this a step further

Why give someone attending an exhibition a static map of the event?

Why not do what Layar is demonstrating here and either embed the exhibition into a Layar vision?

Allow the visitor to use their smart phone to scan the event and plan their own way around? Or better yet, allow them to pick out who they want to engage with and pre-book time to talk to someone on a stand! Why do we need to wait around to talk to the exhibitor when we could dynamically map our way around an event?

Given the built in social connectors, this type of social interaction actually helps the organisers, the exhibitors, and the visitor to achieve better value from an event.

Realising Value from LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn Groups are one of my favourite features within LinkedIn. Groups are a fantastic resource for users with thousands of topics, and tens of thousands of rich, open discussions. But for all my enthusiasm about LinkedIn Groups I’m also increasingly frustrated at how they are being treated and the behaviour of some users.

What Are We Doing Wrong?

I’ve summarised my frustrations into 5 key categories:

  1. Spam – this is a universal problem, not limited to LinkedIn. I often wonder whether the users who jump in and spam a group understand the damage they are doing to their personal brand – or whether they care.
  2. Using topics and download offers to harvest email addresses – a lot of legitimate lead generation taking place on LinkedIn, but there’s also those who use a hot topic or a download offer to harvest email addresses. In most cases the content on offer is either very poor or barely related to what was originally offered. If you want to use a topic as a lead generation tool then do it properly – don’t say “if you’d like a copy of the Guide let me know and I’ll email one out to you”
  3. Useless Posts – this is very common. A user will post a link or make a statement – and that’s it…no suggestion of what the user is trying to achieve, no call for discussion, nothing. Time and kilobytes we won’t get back
  4. Poor Group Management – many groups fall into disarray because the group owner either loses interest in a topic or fails to establish/maintain group discipline. If I look back at the groups I’ve left this year poor group management would account for 90% of the reasons why.
  5. The Group is a Personal Promotional Tool – this is an issue around emerging business trends, and regional groups – a group is created around an emerging topic (i.e. cloud computing) and becomes a personal promotional tool for the group owner and close associates.

What Can We Do Better

I spent some time looking through the Groups that I’m a member of and I identified a number of key points that will guide both group managers and those who wish to start discussions towards better, more compelling use of Groups. There are 3 key areas where we can do better:

  1. Discussion or topic name
  2. Discussion Details and links
  3. Expectation management

I Want to Start a Discussion – What should I focus on?

1. Discussion Name

Like the title of a blog post, the discussion name should be compelling. LinkedIn gives you 200 characters to use – use them well

Don’t mislead with the topic name. I find it infuriating when I click into a discussion only to find the topic is a cover for self-promotion or is unrelated to the actual content or intent

2. Discussion Details + using links

This part of the discussion area is where you the creator can outline why you’ve started the discussion, your thoughts etc. LinkedIn gives you 3,950 characters to use – so tell us what you are thinking (please..!)

If you want to link off to external content use the link box. Note that you need to use a native URL, not a shortened link. Note also, once you include a link you then have the option to edit the summary text of the link. By default, LinkedIn will pick up part or all of the first paragraph of the link – if this summary doesn’t communicate the link content well then use edit to change the summary.

3. Expectation Management

As I noted above, tell other members of the Group why you’ve started the discussion.

If you’re going to do a bit of self-promotion – flag it early. I don’t mind others doing this – but I want to know up front

If you want to start a discussion then ask users for feedback or to add to the discussion

If it’s an FYI post then say so – at least then I won’t be offended if I leave a comment on your post only for you to never engage.

4. Finally – Group Owners

Please be diligent in managing a group and communicating its purpose. If you’re struggling to maintain a high standard then ask some of the regular contributors to help out and assign then manager rights.

Summary

I hope these points help all of us realise value from this invaluable resource – lets not kill the golden goose. Groups need creators, contributors, and consumers of the content to be effective.

As always I’m interested in your feedback or any points you feel I may have missed.

The Social Ads Storm for LinkedIn

There has been a flurry of activity this week after it was revealed that LinkedIn was allowing certain profile information to be incorporated into social ads that are displayed with the LinkedIn user interface.

The blog post that seemed to end up in my inbox the most was this one from Steve at Connection Agent. It seemed the storm clouds were brewing for LinkedIn

Storm Clouds for LinkedIn

As a keen user of LinkedIn I was aware these changes were coming and once the new features went live I did uncheck this box and was advising friends etc to do the same.

Why?

At the heart of these changes was the use of the company follow feature to indicate some form of endorsement of an advertiser or their product.

I follow 73 companies – but does this mean I endorse them? Absolutely not!

Has LinkedIn Done Wrong?

First of all, I do not believe LinkedIn set out to do anything malicious, nor was trying to slip through a privacy change unannounced – as I noted above I was aware these changes were coming – though my alertness may be due to the fact I’m a keen observer of LinkedIn due to the public workshops I run on the product – I’m seen plenty of comments that indicate these changes caught many by surprise.

Secondly, given how quickly the issue rose up I personally thought LinkedIn would take action, a point I made to fellow TEC member (and leading digital marketing expert) Tim Martin on Friday via email:

I suspect LI will probably change this overnight given how quickly it’s spreading…

And that’s exactly what has happened. LinkedIn reacted and quickly made a number of small but significant changes to social ads.

I suggest you read this update post from LinkedIn’s Ryan Roslansky

Has this changed my perspective?

Actually Yes.

Based on what I read in Ryan Roslansky’s post I’m comfortable with how this feature is now structured and as such I’ve gone back into settings and checked this box.

What Should You Do?

If you have a conservative position in terms of privacy I’d recommend you review how this option is currently set with a view to ensuring the specific box is unchecked.

I’ve outlined the steps to do this here. This post will explain where to go to review whether social ads participation is checked or unchecked.

Remember:

Privacy is your domain. LinkedIn gives you great flexibility in how you manage your privacy settings.

If you’ve got any follow up questions, feel free to use comments to post them or alternatively – reach out via LinkedIn here

Social Media – Do the Simple Things Well

When I look around, I find many examples of Australian companies doing really great things in social media. Here’s an example.

Firstly though, one of the key points that both my colleague’s (like Tim Martin and Dan Toombs) and I always stress is the importance of doing the basics well in terms of search, digital marketing, brand representation, and social media.

With that in mind, I came across a really good example recently that I thought was worth sharing.

I was returning to Brisbane from Newcastle (Australia) having completed a workshop with a group of CEO’s who are smart enough to be part of Australia’s largest CEO and Leadership community – The Executive Connection.

As I was waiting at the airport, I was catching up on my To Do List, specifically an article I was writing for CoachLink magazine about the importance of LinkedIn for business and executive coaches. One of the key points I was stressing in the article was (funnily enough) the importance of doing the simple things well. As I was writing this, I was actually enjoying watching a group of RAAF trainee fighter pilots who were going through a long series of take-off/landing drills outside the terminal. Here was a group of (future) leaders going through what must have seemed a monotonous regime of the basics of flying – a.k.a. doing the basics well.

As I enjoyed the show I checked into FourSquare and commented that I was enjoying the show

social media channels foursquare and twitter
After making this post, I was surprised to see later that I’d received back a response from Air Force HQ via their Twitter account. This intrigued me for obvious reasons…So I delved into the Twitter account and beyond.

Do The Social Media Basics Well

This is by no means a bible for what you might constitute to be the basics, but here’s what I liked about what they are doing:

1. Own your digital assets – your footprint

A couple of points here.

Firstly, from the homepage of the RAAF site they provide obvious links to where to connect with them – I see so many companies failing to do this it frustrates me.

RAAF Homepage showing social media links

Secondly, they have established a significant footprint across the social space – Google Buzz (?), Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. My only suggestion to the RAAF to expand on this would be to look to include blog content as well as using LinkedIn to help establish links into the business community.

2. Engage

The fundamental tenement of social – engage with your communities. The RAAF provide ample evidence across their core channels. Not long after I left my Twitter post (via Foursquare) I received back a Tweet from AirForceHQ.

RAAF Twitter account - AirforceHQ

Nice.

Anyone intrigued about the two links they included? http://ra.af/p9xi0i and http://ra.af/oPKj0S?

My first thought was – The RAAF have their own link shortening tool – how cool is that…

3. Be Aware of New Channels

As I delved into the two links HQ shared with me a final point stood out. The team at RAAF have taken the time to be “in” new channels – specifically the geo-location social network service Foursquare. As you can see here – Newcastle airport is actually a RAAF base, with RAAF Williamstown allowing part of their base to be shared as a commercial airport.

Here’s the impressive bit. RAAF has claimed their base, but Newcastle Airport hasn’t claimed their part of the territory.

Foursquare - social media site for Newcastle airport

Again, it’s a simple thing to go and take ownership of your physical assets in the digital world – and don’t forget Google Places. The lesson here is that the RAAF are paying attention to emerging channels and moving quickly to ensure they own their digital footprint.

As an exercise if you’re interested – go to Foursquare and search for Australia’s Federal seat of Government? And now compare that to the US equivalent – US Capitol Hill.

My Conclusion

It’s the simple things that will always add up to success.

One of our core defense agencies is providing a powerful example for Australian businesses about effective use of social media.

In the coming days, weeks and months, as I deliver social media workshops to TEC members I’ll be including the RAAF as an example of Australian best practice.

And for the RAAF’s next trick, I’d like to see them produce a YouTube video like this one…

Social Media Explained for the CEO or CxO

This is an update to a post I published way back in January 2009 – Explaining Social Media

Social media is something that we’ve been talking about for a few years now. For most companies and business leaders its still a mystery – a dangerous “thing” that is best left alone.

Explaining social media in a way that is simple and easy to digest has been a challenge for many reasons. There has been a number of diagram’s doing the rounds – basically purporting to explain social media in a way that makes sense for the layperson.

The most common diagram is this one:

Brian Solis - The conversation Prism

Whilst I get the intent of this diagram, every time I’ve shown it to Chief Executives or business leaders I can count to 3 and then watch their eye’s roll back into their heads.

As much as I like the diagram, my issue is that it’s almost impossible to use this to help explain social media to an executive, and to then take them the next step – understanding what bits of social media are relevant.

Smart Social Media set out to do the following:

  1. Provide a simple framework so that a business leader could look at the thousands of tools, products, services etc and categorise them into easy to understand buckets
  2. Take these categories/buckets and then determine which are most relevant to their business and their business goals.

Determining what is relevant or not is a core part of a comprehensive social media strategy. So a company in say consumer health services would use a different combination of buckets to a B2B engineering products company.

Simplifying Social Media

I have defined the nine categories as follows:

  1. Social Networks
  2. Listening Tools
  3. Blogs
  4. Wiki’s
  5. Forums
  6. Multi-media
  7. Social Bookmarks
  8. Live chat and micro-blogging
  9. Rating and user reviews

In really simple terms, the categories can be represented as follows

Social Media Explained in 9 Key Categories

If you’re starting out with social media, you’ll firstly be investing time in a strategy. So as you do that, use this diagram by adding in aspects such as:

  1. Distribution/syndication of content – how do we position content once it’s created
  2. Social Search – aligning our social media efforts with our search strategy
  3. Measurement/ROI – aligning our social media efforts with definable, measurable ROI expectations.

The Categories in More Detail

Here’s what these buckets mean

  1. Social Networks – in simple terms they represent the systemisation of your network of contacts (be they business or personal).
    • Examples – Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and now Google+ are the most prominent social networks. Group buying sites like Groupon also fit into this category
    • Watch out for – time wasters, information leaks, and a general lack of knowledge as to how information (like bad news) spreads via social networks
  2. Listening - refers to Social Media Monitoring – Listening is still the most important activity for any company wanting to harness the social sphere. Social media monitoring has evolved from the useful Google Alerts service into professional tools that monitor an incredible array of information sources
    • Example – Google Alerts is the place to start – but only really captures the tip of the iceberg. Professional tools like SocialMention, Jive’s JME, Radian6, and Spiral16 are the next step
    • Should You? Absolutely. Social media monitoring can be used to not only listen to your customers but also your market place, competitors, and industry issues
  3. Blogs – A blog is a website that contains content that visitors can then comment on, or contribute to. Blogs are used to enhance the communication channels of an organisation and to humanise a corporate brand.
    • Examples – popular blogging platforms include WordPress, Blogger, and Drupal
    • Keep this in mind – once you start blogging you need to keep at it. A dormant or inactive blog is worse than no blog at all
  4. Wiki’s – are tools that allow users to collaborate around content that might be business processes, project documents, procedures, or sales/marketing content. Wiki’s have matured tremendously in the past year and are now very end-user friendly.
    • Examples – the 2010 version of SharePoint, Huddle (web based wiki) or Confluence from Atlassian
    • Focus on – tools that are very easy for end-users to learn and use. Without end user take-up the wiki will fail. Also look for mobile capability
  5. Forums – Forums like Wiki’s are maturing rapidly and are a key tool for service, R&D, and sales. No longer text based, next generation forums allow multi-media content and the integration of other social data.
    • Examples – Acquia Drupal Commons and Tal.ki are examples of next generation forums
    • Key Point – Will require dedicated resources to moderate and build momentum. Forums are excellent for building your search engine footprint.
  6. Multi-Media – this is a bit of a catchall and refers to services like YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr, iStockPhoto, Scribd, etc. Your core goal – use these services professionally to put content out there for the public to find and consume.
    • Examples – YouTube, SlideShare, and Flickr are popular examples
    • Watch for – the growth of video as a powerful, affordable highly interactive tool used across the enterprise.
  7. Social Bookmarks – provide a use with the ability to track, share, and organise web based content. Very useful for situations where you want to recall or use external content.
    • Examples – Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon are two high profile examples.
    • Business Value – high, as most of the services are free and it’s always useful to collect knowledge
  8. Live Chat and Micro-Blogging – Live chat has been around for a while and is still highly valued. Micro-blogging is the new black with Twitter dominating much of the public discussion on social media
    • Examples – Twitter, Yammer, Yahoo Chat, Windows Live, and Skype
    • My thoughts – Whilst Twitter dominates debate, monumental work needs to be done to fix core issues with the platform. You should also be investigating how Yammer can help internal communications
  9. Ratings and User Reviews – a lot of community sites now allow users to rate content or add reviews. A powerful way to tap into the feedback loop. Facebook and LinkedIn recently embraced this through the “Share” and “Like” functions
    • Examples – Google Places, ProductReview.com.au, and TripAdvisor are a number of common Australian examples. Watch out for the growth of location based services like Foursquare.
    • Be wary of – the masses going feral. Sometimes ratings and reviews can be taken out of context

How Would I Use This Information

The goal in creating these buckets is to provide a leadership team with a simple reference guide so they can understand some of the hype and prioritise how and where the business should be focused.

In talking to Executive’s, my point is to use these categories to help them understand what is going to be relevant for their industry and business. This is particularly useful when attempting to manage internal demands to do this or do that.

What do I mean? If I was the CEO of an industrial products company marketing and selling to middle age technical experts, then Twitter has little relevance. So I would advise them to not spend any time or effort with this tool but focus their efforts on a blog, a wiki, and multi-media content across their business.

Social Media and Residential Real Estate in Australia

There was an interesting story in the Australian Financial Review this week about the issues many in the residential real estate market are having with the dominant online listing services – primarily Domain and realestate.com.au – specifically around how they are using data and intelligence generated by the agents (As the AFR puts their online content behind a pay wall I can’t link to it…)

What I found interesting about this is that the agents are failing to adapt their behaviours and realize the opportunities that web 2.0 and social media is offering them.

I had the opportunity to present to a group of TEC members recently, one of whom is a Sydney real estate agent. In my research I found very few examples of agents doing social media well – I found dozens of agents and agent groups doing the usual things – Facebook and Twitter – but very little evidence of someone doing it well. In most cases, real estate agents were doing three key things wrong:

  1. Using new channels to do old, redundant communication – blasting sales information out through a Twitter account or a Facebook wall
  2. Failing to share useful information
  3. Not integrating social content into their core sales information – agents aren’t going to beat the big classified sites on traditional search terms, so they need to do what the classifieds can’t do – incorporate social content into their sales content.

Fixing These Wrongs

I think there’s some simple things agents can do to really create a different position in their market and to combat the raw search power of the classified sites.

1. Stop Selling Through Social Channels

This might seem counter intuitive but blasting listing, auctions, and how good you are out through social media is going to encourage the community to switch off and ignore you.

2. Use the Right Channels

Interestingly, I wasn’t seeing much use of the really important social media channels – like blogs, or YouTube.

Blogs present an incredible opportunity for agents to establish a clear and strong voice in their communities. Blogs deliver rich, constant search value for agents with the content published and owned by the agents.

YouTube also is badly underutilised. A branded YouTube channel has tremendous search value along with the ease of using video content again and again.

3. Share Your Knowledge

An agents knowledge of local areas – the anecdotes, how an areas developing etc is all knowledge that consumers will find interesting and will allow the agent to establish a different position

4. Integrate social content into marketing

One fundamental way to beat the classifieds is to integrate social content into the agents’ listings on their sites. This can be as simple as referring to blog posts about a local area to creating and sharing video content about a new listing or local area development.

5. Create Opportunities for Engagement

Use networks like Facebook to engage with your local community – build a decent fan page and use the ads platform to create engagement with your community. Standard features like polls and feedback will allow an agent to build a richer, more relevant knowledge base – one that the classifieds won’t be able to replicate.

 

In summary, these are simple tips that will allow a local agent to frame their thinking about how to use social media in better ways. It’s not all about the bird and the book – and an agents old habits and ways of communicating must change if they are to remain more than just a transaction service in the real estate market.

 

Australian Banks Disconnected from Small Business Customers

A recent Australian study has highlighted an interesting disconnect between Australia’s four largest banks and the engine room of the Australian economy – small business.

What’s interesting about the study is the gap between what the banks feel they are doing and delivering (highly valuable engagement, expert advice, timely and efficient service) and what small business customers feel they are getting (products shoved down their throat, poor service etc).

A quote from the author really sums up the challenge:

“One of the great problems that customers have is product flogging; it really irritates people,” Freeman says.

“Until one of the banks breaks the mould, they’ll probably continue to operate as they do now: focused on shareholder returns, income and bonuses.”

Ian Freeman, Non Executive Management

So does this disconnect represent a market opportunity for Australian Mutuals? I think so. Mutuals are focused on member needs and this attitudinal difference is key. This YouTube video from QueenslandersCU explains this in simple terms:

Given most Mutuals have tight budgets and limited resources, one key way Mutuals can engage with small business owners is via the use of social media. For Mutuals, social media is an extension of what they do naturally anyway – it’s part of their culture.

I’m seeing more and more examples of Mutuals thinking outside the square with how they use social media and in doing so, avoiding the campaign/brand/it’s all about me attitude of the banks (NAB’s break up “campaign” is a classic example). One example that I like is from Verity Credit Union in Seattle. Their Verity Mom program is an excellent example of a Mutual talking with a specific demographic.

verity mom blog from verity credit union

What can Australian Mutuals learn from this?