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Two and a half days after stepping foot inside the M@dison Building, Motor City’s tech startup hub, I am fully confident in my decision to pursue an internship with a small business as opposed to a large corporation.

I won’t be asked to deliver coffee here. I will be expected to knock out blog posts, craft engaging social media updates, recognize trends in customer support and research leads. My handwriting will eventually be on the walls made of glass and white board, alongside of thoughts scribbled by my coworkers and other M@dison building tenants. Read Full Article →

Every realtor wants to know how he or she can make money from social media.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, shared her own plan for getting the most from social media in a two-part series on Inman News over the past week. Bernice astutely observes that, “The real issue when it comes to social media and real estate sales is that most people have confused the technology platforms with the actual business of providing real estate services.”

Social media isn’t a new way of conducting real estate business; it’s a more efficient means of doing the same business that realtors have been carrying out for years. Building a reputation and relying on referrals has been the status quo for years in real estate.

That’s still the case as evidenced by the 64 percent of sellers who said they chose their agent based on a referral or had used the same agent in the past, according to the most recent National Association of Realtor’s profile of home buyers and sellers. “Buyers also most commonly choose an agent based on a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative, with trustworthiness and reputation being the most important factors,” the report said.

However, what has changed dramatically is how buyers and sellers are finding out who their friends and family have recommended. Fully 89 percent of buyers said they used the Internet to search for a home and 85 percent of those searchers purchased their home through a real estate agent. In the prime home-buying age bracket of 25 to 44 year olds, an astounding 94 percent of homebuyers start their search on the Internet.

These numbers should tell savvy realtors that the real opportunity with social media is to build an online presence and maximize potential referrals by expanding your social networks. In other words,  it’s about replicating the same offline experience that home buyers and sellers have relied on to find someone they can trust help them through this complex process.

Bernice is exactly right when she says, “The way you use social media to expand your sphere of influence (i.e., your friends and followers) is the same way you would make friends with a new neighbor next door.” It’s just become so much easier to reach people than knocking on doors or posting yard signs. But with everyone jumping on the social media bandwagon, it will be the realtors who execute tactful outreach, as Bernice prescribes, that reap the greatest benefits.

In part two of her series, Bernice advises realtors to start Facebook business or fan pages, and participate in video testimonials and two-way exchanges with contacts. These are all great tips that can have real benefits.

However, we built Stik.com as a low-maintenance alternative tool for realtors, and other time-pressed professionals, to tap into the power of social networks without becoming a full-fledged guru on their own. After creating a Stik.com profile in a matter of 60 seconds, professionals can request recommendations from any or all of their Facebook friends and then get back to other work while recommendations – and the SEO juice that comes with them – roll in.

Practicing the etiquette and protocol that Bernice and others suggest is certainly a good idea, but zeroing in on the time investments that will deliver the most business should be the priority.

 

Last week I wrote about the value of service professionals guiding consumers through a complicated purchasing process – like getting a mortgage. It’s just as vital that consumers find the right service professionals because bad or unclear advice can be worse than seeking no advice at all.

In reacting to the same survey we highlighted about consumer confusion in the mortgage process, Alex Stenback of Behind the Mortgage wrote, if getting a mortgage turns into a headache “…you might have just picked the wrong lender (think person, not organization here).”

Stenback mostly harps on getting quality customer service, especially in terms of clear and frequent communication from salesperson to borrower.  That’s definitely important, but a slick salesperson can provide great customer service superficially while still overcharging the borrower.  This is why trust is so important – there is simply no way (except comparison shopping) that the average consumer can evaluate the deal they are receiving from a mortgage lender.

The wrong lender can end up costing consumers a lot of money and – in too many cases recently – their home as well, whether it was after a teaser rate spiked or the borrower just realized they had taken out a loan they never could have afforded. Incentives for lenders are not often designed to encourage them to get their customers in the appropriate-sized loan at the lowest rate possible. The more someone pays in fees or a higher interest rate, the more the salesperson makes, and in some cases a LOT more.  (Note: Congress has taken up legislation to curb these types of incentives but the efficacy of such efforts remains to be seen.)

The problem is it may be easy to determine you picked the wrong lender after the damage is done, but how do you find the right lender before any decisions are made?  If you are like most people, you ask your friends for a personal recommendation. Studies have backed this logical process, showing that people get better deals from people they know or someone with whom they share a connection. So if you don’t know a mortgage lender then you might ask your close friends if they know someone. If they do then great, you’re in business. But the reality is reaching out beyond a few dozen email contacts is a time consuming process, and often yields little results. So a lot of people don’t find that connection and end up walking blind into a bank off the street.

At Stik.com we’ve given consumers the opportunity to reach more trusted sources of recommendations with a lot less effort. We’ve discussed the benefits of this to sales professionals before, but consumers are also a big winner here.

Finding the mortgage banker that is recommended by one or more of their friends, as opposed to opening a dialogue with a stranger, is a great way for consumers to ensure they’re getting started with the right professional.

Reputation has always been important for sales professionals. Consumers need to believe in the salesman to believe in the product.

The difference today is it’s much easier for that reputation to spread far and wide thanks to the review websites and social media. This scares some sales people because a bad review can stick with you. More information is generally thought to favor the consumer, but there’s also a huge upside for sales people not to be ignored.

There’s an article in the Memphis Daily News today about social media’s impact on real estate in which Joe Spake, a real estate broker with Revid Realty in Memphis, talks about how social media is helping him makes sales. He says:

All of my new business that hasn’t been referred in the last two years has come straight from social media – from being out there, from blogging, from being on Facebook or Twitter – people that I don’t even know in real life call me up to help them find a house. There’s a big credibility factor there.

Spake is exactly right about the credibility factor, but I would take issue with calling this business that “hasn’t been referred.” He’s talking about business that doesn’t come from offline referrals, but those finding him on Facebook or Twitter are just replicating that offline experience.

It’s just that now consumers are reaching out to social media contacts for advice on which realtor or mortgage banker to use. Instead of reaching out to four or five friends on the phone, smart consumers are consulting their social networks where friends number in the hundreds if not thousands.

That’s why we’ve built Stik.com to make that experience easier for consumers and sales professionals. We agree with people like Dave Fleet, vice-president of digital at Edleman, who writes in his “20 Social Media Trends for Business in 2011” that social impact will drive reputation. Sites like Service Alley are giving consumers the option to browse reviews from their Facebook friends for home service providers from carpenters to electricians to painters.

The sales professionals in any industry that recognize this and seize the opportunity have a lot more to gain than fear from the social media impact.