Through our series of online marketing seminars as well as our general benchmarking and consulting work, we spend a lot of time examining how sophisticated different estate agents are with their online marketing. Scroll down and have a quick scan through the charts below. They paint a stark picture of the variation in performance between agents. This article explores how social your agency is relative to your competitors, whether you are active enough, and why this really matters.
What do we learn?
As we enter 2014, it’s encouraging to see 60% of agents are now engaged in corporate social media marketing at one level or another. However, that leaves 40% who are not yet taking advantage of the opportunity at all. Furthermore, looking within the 60%, there’s a big range from those just taking their first tentative steps, through those with lapsed social media efforts set up in a fit of enthusiasm but now left withering on the vine, right the way up to firms either completely bitten by the social bug, or in some cases really working their social media strategies for maximum competitive advantage, brand outreach and SEO benefit.
Bigger agents have greater adoption – over 85% of the top 100 agencies groups in the UK are active. The most sophisticated firms we consult for will often be working on splitting down their social media activity into regional or branch level campaigns, and are now integrating their social media meaningfully (not just buttons and icons) within their websites. They are also working on proper staff wide involvement, having long since passed any fears of control and reputation risk (typically the most common initial objection).
That said, smaller independents who have the bug, frequently display the best absolute engagement levels on a per branch basis, as they often have the most meaningful and human use of the channels. This is normally the case where a strong, independent, owner manager is leading the charge personally, as you might expect.
This first chart lays out how many Facebook “Likes” your business has attracted. You can think of “Likes” as votes of popularity which will also enable your posts to appear in your audience’s newsfeeds as they read Facebook. This is the best root measure of the reach, engagement and strength of your corporate Facebook presence. We index this number (dividing it by your number of branches), as clearly a 30 branch monster has an easier time building up a larger audience than a single branch independent. But that would miss the point; your engagement is local, branch by branch, town by town. So, by indexing the data this way we get a truer picture of your engagement, relative to your competitors in your immediate local market – the only place it counts.
Each column is an individual estate agency group. In this case every agent within 10 miles of Exeter is on the chart somewhere, but you can see examples for Coventry and Warrington here. The letters across the bottom are different agency groups: we mask the actual names to preserve anonymity as we are often presenting these charts in public seminars, and we like agents to be able to focus on the implications of the data, rather than cluck at their prowess or feel ashamed in front of their peers.
We learn that Facebook has the most adoption of all the social media channels used by agents, with 75% of agents in the UK now engaged at some level.
You’ll see a big “shelf” of agents with between 1 and 200 Likes/Branch (as at Jan 2014 – this benchmark is growing all the time, so if you are reading this in 6 months’ time, be aware the bar will have changed). Agents in this bracket are “in the game” – they have bought insurance against their SEO suffering next year, but they aren’t yet getting a big advantage. There’s a whole lot of things you can do to drive performance if you are in this position, which we should chat about.
Next up we have Twitter…
The next most used Social Media channel for UK estate agents is Twitter: 65% of agents are active here. The chart follows the same principle as we did for the Facebook analysis. We’re counting Twitter Followers as this is the best root measure of how many people are listening and engaged with your brand, rather than tweets – which is simply a measure of how loud you are shouting.
Again there is a big shelf of middle performers with between 100 and 300 followers per branch. These agents are “in the game” but not yet performing at high scale or high engagement with their local communities. The curve is somewhat more progressive and smoother than Facebook, reflecting the fact that Twitter is easier to get drawn into. Working Facebook requires commitment in comparison.
And finally let’s compare LinkedIn…
There’s a big gap before you get to the professional social network Linkedin (only 30% of agents have a company page, despite some 50% using it personally). Given the nature of Linkedin we suspect that Google puts a disproportionate trust in social signals it gets, though there’s no good research to back this up. In any regard, it’s a quick and simple opportunity for most agents in the UK to get an edge on their competitors. The concern we often hear from agents is that their competitors will use it to poach their staff. That’s clearly a risk, though it’s worth noting that your staff are most likely already on Linkedin (and hence searchable already). And besides, any agent trying to poach your staff in your town hardly has a difficult time establishing their names if they are serious about it. We believe the risks are far, far outweighed by the advantage of corporate instructions, bigger opportunities being able to find you, the credibility a developed presence gives you to tip instructions that sit in the balance, and the SEO benefit that accrues to you though getting it active.
Clear regional variations
Finally we also learn that there are relatively big regional variations too. The closer you get to a big city the more likely agents are to have widely adopted Social Media. The charts in this article are all for a group of agents within 10 miles of Exeter. And we lead with those charts as Exeter provides a pretty good middle ground for agents in the UK, given it’s an urban city with decent scale, but it’s also in sleepy Devon (we can say that as we’re from sleepy Devon ourselves!). We’ve also published the analysis for Facebook in Coventry and Warrington, for Linkedin in Coventry and Warrington, and for Twitter in Coventry and Warrington and will add more over time. Whenever we’ve done seminars in Bristol, or especially seminars in say Ascot, Kingston, Richmond, Putney and so forth, the level of engagement and the proportion who are active gets stronger and stronger, across all channels, and especially so on Linkedin.
Why should I care?
Social media is good for your agency for a few reasons:
- Firstly it is good in terms of reaching out and connecting with new potential vendors and applicants before they are actively choosing who to instruct. People will follow you, which means each time you post, there’s a chance for reinforcing your brand perception. They will also re-tweet you or share your posts with their friends, helping you reach out and build brand recognition amongst new customers.
- But perhaps more importantly, Google is increasingly using various measures of your firm’s social marketing as a strong signal of your “heartbeat”. Given two otherwise equal ranking estate agent websites, Google will favour the one with the stronger “social heartbeat” in their search results. And this has a very direct impact on your new instructions. If I’m selling my house, and on the fence about which agency to use, I’ll probably turn to Google and type in “Estate Agency in XYZ-town”; indeed, even if I have a pre-conception of which agency to use, I’ll likely be doing that to find your phone numbers and maybe just to check out a couple of competitive quotes just to check I’m getting a fair deal on fees. If that’s the case, and if you can come up first in the listings, you’ll get the call. If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to retain, or hook a new instruction out of the jaws of your competitor down the road. So, it’s important. Ignore social media at your peril. With each iteration of the Google search algorithm, the so called “social signals” seem to be playing an ever stronger role. In a couple of years’ time, underinvesting in getting going with a meaningful social media campaign today, could hit your new business pipeline relatively hard.
- Thirdly, and increasingly, these engagement stats also broadly reflect the penetration of the social media channels in the general population. You may think your vendors aren’t Twitter users yet, but you’d be surprised. As Bill Gates once said, people always overestimate the impact of technology in the short run, but underestimate it in the long run. Facebook is now used by parents and silver surfers to keep in touch with their family, and you’d be surprised how quickly these channels are crossing the chasm into the mainstream psyche of sellers in the UK. Even if it isn’t in your town or village yet, by next year a big proportion of your vendors and landlords will be in the mix. (Think how they are now all on email and have mobile phones, and just 5 short years ago that wasn’t the case). The train is leaving the station, and it matters. And one thing is for sure, if a potential vendor is a keen Twitter user and they see your Twitter account, or your Facebook badge, then as sure as eggs are eggs they’ll check up on your “social heartbeat” before they instruct you. It may only be a quick look, but if their attention gets sparked by something your competitors are posting, or they are impressed by the feeling of life they project online, then they’ll be off down the road. Or conversely, if they’re thinking of instructing you, and they dip into your social media, and see activity, they will be reassured and it may help tip the balance.
Read more on the importance of Social Media here.
So, how do I measure how well I am doing?
If you want to benchmark how you are doing compared to your competitors, other agencies of your size across the country, there are a few ways you can go about this.
You can do it yourself using the charts below…
- To do that you need to visit your company’s Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin pages, (NB the stats you need are from your corporate accounts and pages, NOT your personal accounts). Look up your Like count and your Followers (in the case of Twitter and Linkedin). You then need to divide your scores by your number of branch locations. A 70 branch network like Savills or Leaders is always going to be advantaged, but it’s the local connection and size of audience relative to your branch that counts. So in order to put everyone on a more even footing we index the scores on a per branch basis so that you can compare yourself on an approximately even footing.
- Or you can ask us to do it for you / with you – give us a call or get in touch. We can talk you through it on the phone in about 10 minutes, and the big advantage being that we can walk you through the detail of how well configured the your social media prescence looks to be, examining the more qualitative aspects of performance, as well as helping assess whether they are correctly configured to pass through the Search Engine Optimisation benefit of the social media activity.
- Or you can attend one of our seminars where we explore the topics in detail, and the ways to wire up the accounts for maximum advantage (sometimes we find agents tweeting or posting but getting only half the benefit as things are not properly connected).
NB: These charts are correct as at November-Jan 2014 – beware as every quarter passes the penetration of social media is growing about 10%, and the level of engagement is growing commensurately.
Ok, and what should I do about it?
First very simple step: If you don’t already follow Homeflow, then pop on over and Like us on Facebook, Follow us here, Add us on Google+, and Follow us on Linked in for good measure. (We’ll follow you back).
If you are NOT engaged with social media activity at all yet, you may want to give us a call. We can chat more about the vital importance of getting this wired up, even at the most basic of levels. We can at times help with a bit of free advice on starting points. You may want to read our beginners guide to Twitter, or our Facebook basic tips. And there are also various social media specialists we can introduce you to who can help get you started or power your campaign (this is not a service Homeflow offers though we know a few good companies who can help you).
If you are in the middle of the charts, then you may be interested in boosting your activity a bit by giving it a performance tune. You may want to start thinking about engaging more of your staff in the activity: often owner managers are cautious to start with, though once they get to this level, they begin opening up the activity as they have understood how to mitigate the risks (there are some, but they are easily controlled and are outweighed by the benefits). And you may well be ready to integrate this activity properly with your website.
If you are not on Linkedin (which most agents are not) then this is the quickest and easiest solution to rig up a bit of a performance boost. Done correctly this can provide a little boost to your SEO in a very quick way. And that leads to more instructions. It’s also true that vendors, and indeed corporate contractors (builders, conveyancers, new homes developers, local authorities etc.) are far more likely to be checking you out in the professional social networks – so connections to big contracts can be found in here.
If you are the top of the charts, you may well want to discuss integrating your social media work more deeply within the fabric of your website to harness maximum benefit from it. We mean a lot more than just buttons and badges here. You can run branch level or even staff level integration of feeds and linkages. You will also want to consider splintering your social activity into local and topic strands, and wiring these up to different subsections of your site and business.
The other bit of advice which this analysis misses completely is Google+. But that’s a whole other, equally important, story. Finally, if you’ve found any of this interesting, you may enjoy our Resources library.
Thanks for reading.