Every day, millions of people are communicating online through blogs, social networks and news outlets. All it takes is one negative blog post, forum message or online comment and your hard-earned reputation could be damaged. As a real estate professional using the Internet to grow your business and market yourself to a network of future buyers and sellers, you need to think strategically about what you do and don’t say online.
Here are five tips I’ve gleaned from my social marketing experience at Zillow.com that will help you manage your reputation and communicate your expertise online.
1. Don’t abuse the anonymity of the Internet. If you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online, even anonymously. This is the golden rule of online relationship maintenance. Before diving head-first into an argument, set some boundaries for yourself and pick your battles wisely. You have a professional reputation to protect - consumers don’t.
2. Acknowledge your (perceived) bias. When entering into a new conversation, introduce yourself and proactively declare your bias. I usually start with “Hi, it’s Spencer from Zillow.com.” This will establish an air of transparency and build credibility around your comments. If you're an agent, consumers will immediately assume you're overly optimistic about real estate values and are always going to promote a transaction (since your compensation is commission-driven). Rather than try to dissuade someone from having that opinion of your motives, it's better to acknowledge it up front. Also, when relevant, also link to your professional profile on Zillow, LinkedIn, etc.
3. Correct your mistakes publicly and quickly. If you’ve made a mistake, seek out opportunities to say, “I was wrong,” and explain how you’ve corrected your error. Always respect your fellow bloggers-even when they have opposing viewpoints-and be mindful of the fact that every individual has a right to their own opinion.
4. Long live the soft sell. Online community boards and advice forums like Zillow Advice are not designed as a place to spam your virtual business card and run. Instead, take the time to authentically engage your audience with the “soft sell” approach to answering their questions. Leave comments that display your experience, suggest useful resources and reinforce your position as an industry expert.
5. Read (much) more than you write. Reply to more posts than you originate. Listen to what others are saying about you and your product. For every post you write, you should read 10 others. Your posts and comments will be much more effective if you first listen and then respond to what others are saying before you try to start conversations. Keeping your digital footprint clean takes some effort, but it’s a highly effective, low-cost way to build your personal brand and expand your online presence to connect with future clients.
Remember, being active online is a great way to grow your business, but it's also a lot of fun. Consumers can tell whether you're enjoying yourself or if you're just trying to work a transaction. So be yourself, have fun, and I'll see you around the RE.net.
[Note: I wrote a similar article to this one for RIS Media on June 17, 2009, "5 Ways to Better Manage Your Reputation in Online Forums".]