Understanding the Social Media Property Revolution

David Gibbons, General Manager of Business Development at Korbitec/Property24.com, explains why Africa’s internet revolution means local property professionals should be watching international trends carefully.

January 31, 2011

South African Estate Agents can learn a lot about how to grow their businesses from a Miami estate agent who posts cocktail-review videos on her website.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia runs a popular property website that covers the Miami property market, but also includes regular Mojito cocktail-review videos that feature Miami restaurants. So, how exactly do cocktail-review videos build an estate agent’s business? The answer lies in Social Media, the phenomenon that has already exploded in the USA and Europe, and that is starting to take root in South Africa as well.

Brush away all the hype and buzzwords and Social Media is really just a new and exciting way for people to connect with each other. The reason it has proved such a hit in the global property sector is because it offers additional ways for estate agents to do what they’ve always done – get involved in their communities and build strong, lasting relationships in their area of operation.

Before South African estate agencies get to Social Media campaigns and tactics, they need to make sure that their basic digital presence caters to a society where Internet use is a fundamental way of life. This is not yet the South African reality, but things are changing, and fast. Uncapped Internet access and better line speeds are shifting the way South Africans use the internet as we speak. With two more large under-sea cables coming online in 2011 and 2012, this trend will accelerate. Africa is on the cusp of an Internet-access revolution and consequently our property professionals are facing the challenge of not only enhancing their listing exposure via portals like Property24.com, but also ensuring that their own websites allow for quick and easy access to property listings and information.

Once a basic digital presence has been effectively established, the next step is generating traffic. Attracting Google or search engine traffic to your website means blogging – creating, in other words, regular, fresh content that is appealing to a niche audience. Get this right and search engines will send regular visitors your way. Many American Estate Agents, for example, blog about their general neighbourhood or area of operation, addressing diverse entertainment, property and lifestyle subjects.

Web traffic raises your profile as an industry professional and can generate meaningful leads, but it’s only one half of the digital equation. The other half is using the Internet to cement the relationships and regional presence that are so crucial to the business. This is where Social Media channels (and Mojito cocktails) come in.

Historically, Real Estate professionals have carried out their marketing within their regional social network. From PTA meetings to church gatherings and golf clubs, good agents are active within their communities because it’s good for business. While many people focus on the Internet’s intrinsic ability to link people across vast distances, the net (and Social Media specifically) is equally powerful in its ability to bind local communities. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, social portals like www.meetup.com (international) and www.cultureclub.co.za (Joburg) are burgeoning because they allow people who live in the same region to share practical, relevant and comprehensive information and experiences. Social Media is, in effect, the community notice board on digital steroids.

Which is why Ines Hegedus – Garcia’s Mojito reviews are an astute digital business tactic, in addition to being funky and fun. Social Media allows estate agents to stay in direct contact with their community and maintain a top-of-mind profile in their area. From saying happy birthday (after a Facebook prompt) or chatting about a friend’s new job to discussing the best restaurant in town, the medium allows the agent to stay up to date and in touch. In addition, Social Media is powerful for property professionals because most people only buy and sell property once every 7 to 10 years. A strong Social Media presence allows estate agents to maintain their community profile over an extended time frame and remain top-of-mind when buy or sell decision-making time rolls around again.

My bet is that very soon we’re going to see savvy South African estate agents following the Social Media trends set in Europe and the USA. They will do this partially because it makes business sense, and partially because getting involved in Social Media is a question of getting involved in the natural evolution of our lifestyles. Professionals who ignore this evolution do so at their own risk.