Okay, honestly, we all wish we could see into the future. This thought probably pops into my head at least once a day: what will real estate be like in 10 years? Think about it. How many agents do you know who got into the business a decade ago, before cell phones, the internet, Facebook, blackberries.. can you imagine not getting rental leads from Craigslist? (Kudos to all of you by the way!) Or the investors who bought in 20 years ago, and are rocking millionaires by now? The point is, we have no idea what the future will bring in the real estate world.
However, what we do know is, aside from a colossal 2012 internet breakdown, the online home search is not going anywhere.
I’ve read articles citing exact numbers (Realtor.com claims 90%), but my best guestimate is at least 75% of home buyers start their search online. I’ll even dare to say 99% of prospective renters start online. This means that not only should your name be out there and ALL over the internet, but it also needs to be linked to good listings and GLOWING reviews. Because these online hunters are pretty much lost in the dark, overwhelmed by a gazillion Craigslist ads, miss-categorized/expired/inaccurate listings, non-syndicating websites and less than stellar realtors (yes, they exist and give us all a bad name). It doesn’t take anyone long to get fed up with these exhaustive and unproductive online searches, and most prospective renters, buyers and sellers are just dying to latch onto a good agent who will lead the way. They just don’t know how to find you- so make it easy. Get reviews and put them EVERYWHERE.
Seriously though, can you remember the last time you made a major purchase without researching reviews first? This past holiday season, don't even tell me you weren't comparing Ipads and Kindles online. I've rarely tried a new restaurant without checking up on their online reviews. I'm even in the process of finding a new primary doctor and thus all over Google doing my research. All major business thrives off online reviews, and consumers love it. We trust general opinion. Sure, it's not always our deciding factor, but it's a big part of it. And yes, word of mouth is and always will be king. But, with Facebook and the birth of the internet marketing jungle, "word of mouth" is quickly turning into something far less tangible.
So why do so many real estate agents undervalue the importance of online reviews?
Well, if you don’t ask, thou shalt not receive. In fact, the only reviews you’ll get will be the bad ones, and they are inevitable in any business. And one key to success in the business world is the admission you cannot please nor help everyone. But those that you can help, ask them to help you too! Ask your clients immediately after a closing. And then, ask them again after they move-in. I send thank you cards about a month after move-in, and drop an extra card in requesting a review if they haven’t already. I also shoot a quick thank you email to anyone who has left one, so they know I noticed and am thankful. Small gestures go a long way.
However, it’s becoming clear that the review sites are spinning a little out of control. You cannot possibly ask or expect a client to leave a review for you on Yelp, Zillow, Trulia and LinkedIn. Yelp for one filters any review in which a client simply set up an account to leave one, so that makes 9 out 10 reviews fruitless. And LinkedIn I've found is better for past colleague reviews, versus clients. Zillow seems harmless enough, but only time will tell. And now Google Places seems to be a big one, because the reviews will always come up in a search. If only they would all just syndicate to each other! But, since this isn't the case, I'm starting to believe that the best option is simply to ask clients to write a quick paragraph review and email it directly to you. It’s quick and easy and they don’t have to log in or make a new account anywhere. And then, you can copy and paste that review and throw it up on your website, blogs, FB page and in all your marketing materials. You can also incorporate them into resumes and buyer presentations. So what, it’s not verified on a review website. I’m still willing to bet most prospective clients will give you the benefit of the doubt and be impressed.
And just remember, this doesn't apply to realtors alone. Google claims 97% of consumers search for businesses online. Any one in sales or business, whether a big corporation or a small company, should have a client testimonial page. Link it to your websites, and link it to your email signature. And when job hunting, submit your resume and your client testimonials- they're just as valuable as the skills you have. They are the proof you have them!
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