Saturday, July 5, 2008

To Sell to Gen-Y, You Have to Meet Them Online

(Ilyce R. Glink with Samuel J. Tamkin at the Washington Post) Despite the housing recession, there are still more than 1.5 million real estate agents in the United States.

Real estate agents are used to competing heartily against one another for listings. They're used to competing against other agents who have comparable houses for sale in the same neighborhood. Local Realtor organizations host award ceremonies each year to recognize real agents with the most sales. Heck, real agents are even used to fighting for ad space in the local media.

But on the World Wide Web, the nature of real estate competition is changing -- particularly for those interested in snagging Gen Y-ers, those young and future home buyers who are now in their 20s.

For real estate agents, finding these buyers and interacting with them requires some of the same skills your teenager might have already mastered, combined with a mastery of local real estate and demographic information.

The second iteration of the Internet is known as Web 2.0, and at its core is social networking. Over the past four months, we've been dipping our toes into the social networking world, to better understand how today's teens and those in their 20s interact with one another and the outside world -- and what this means for real estate.

We started by launching Ilyce Glink sites at Facebook, MySpace, Current.com, Friendster, Bebo and elsewhere. These sites feature some of the real estate and personal finance content I've created through the years. The other part of our social networking strategy includes "twittering" regularly at Twitter.com/glink, uploading dozens of videos about real estate and personal finance to YouTube.com/expertrealestatetips, and signing up for LinkedIn.com, a site that allows business colleagues and partners to network, and tends to pitch toward a somewhat older crowd.

There are plenty of real estate agents, brokers, investors, educators and mortgage lenders who are already active on these sites.

Are you a real estate professional who wants to stand out in a crowd? There are fewer than 14,000 members of the "Real Estate Investing" group on MySpace, and fewer than 15,000 members of the top five real estate groups on Facebook. While that seems like a lot of people, there are probably few who live in your own neighborhood. You can also demonstrate your expertise by engaging in a group discussion.

Or, go for the "big fish in a small pond" mentality. There are loads of real estate-related groups to join that have fewer than 100 members. Social networking sites allow you to "friend" members of these groups, and start a group of your own.

You can join or start real estate-related groups with location-specific ties. Brokers with expertise in a specific neighborhood start groups that might provide information about a three-block-square area. Buyers and sellers interested in the happenings of that micro-market will be able to find out information that may be unavailable elsewhere. That can make your group popular.

If you're a broker in a college town with students who may be looking for a home, you might be able to link them into your site so they could get updates about neighborhoods they might want to live in after graduation. Agents are also connecting to one another, setting up relationships that can be profitable by increasing their referral networks.

The person heading up our initiative is our intern Claire Young, a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her observation? Although she says she learned about social networking in college, the next generation of kids will have social networking in their blood.

More than that, she confirms recent news reports that suggest people in her age group are using social networking to make many big-picture decisions, including renting an apartment, buying a car, getting married, buying a digital camera or buying a house.

Today's teenagers will grow up using the Internet to connect their social and business interactions. This clock can't be turned back.

Whether you work in real estate or some other business, here are some things to think about if you're going to dabble in Web 2.0:

· Social networking takes time. Connecting online can help build your business, but it takes awhile -- and time generally is in short supply for real estate agents.

· Be flexible. You can start with a plan but be prepared to make changes along the way. Be willing to try out new groups, change your profile and add features and content.

· Stay attuned to new technology and Web sites. New social networking sites pop up all the time. Most of them won't make it. But if you're among the first to sign up, you'll be able to get a jump on making connections.

· The more connections, the better. LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, your other social networking sites and your blog can all be linked together to help you build a strong online community. Create links from one to another. Connect Twitter and your blog so that they automatically upload to the other sites. Try to get your friends, colleagues and online connections to try out your other sites.

You don't have to be a technical genius to make this work. Most of the social networking sites we have joined make it easy to get started, upload written content, photos and video, and get going.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting these are uncharted territories by any stretch of the imagination. There are thousands of real estate agents and mortgage lenders who have signed up for these sites and are spending time trying to forge connections that will bring in business.

What's becoming clear is that you've got to be there, or you may be left behind.

Ilyce R. Glink is an author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her latest book is "100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask." Samuel J. Tamkin is a real estate lawyer in Chicago. If you have questions for them, write Real Estate Matters Syndicate, P.O. Box 366, Glencoe, Ill. 60022, or contact them through Glink's Web sites, http://www.thinkglink.comandhttp://www.expertrealestatetips.net.

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