The Big Brand Theory: Realtor.com Engages Communities and Influencers

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Some job titles have outworn their welcome. Take for instance, the sobriquet, “used car salesman,” or more recently, as Frank Eliason pointed out, “Risk Mitigation Officer.” Around 1915, the National Association of Real Estate Boards came to that conclusion about “real estate agent,” and coined the term “Realtor.” They went so far as to copyright the word, and warned, “They must be responsible, reliable, and capable. Failure to abide by the code of ethics of the National Association automatically forfeits the right to use of the name.”

ImageReal estate has been at the top of the list of industries disrupted by the Internet age. While the practice of brokers sharing listings has been around since the late 19th century, the Internet has enabled real-time sharing of actual Multiple Listing Services (MLS) databases. In the mid 90’s, the National Association of Realtors made an arrangement with RealSelect, which later became Move, Inc., with their website, realtor.com.

Today, Realtor.com is not without it’s competitors: Zillow and Trullia both entered the space in the 2000’s.   The competitive space of listing aggregation has resulted in these companies vying to create more features and value to consumers.

ImageDuring the recent SMX West, a search marketing conference held in San Jose in March, I was able to catch up with David Roth, VP Marketing at realtor.com, and learn about some of that brand’s use of social media to make a difference.

The brand’s first challenge is that it has two audiences: the end consumers that visit and use the website, and the brokers that use the site’s features to create their own portals.  Roth puts it succinctly, saying “B2B is where we make our money, but we can’t do it with the “C.”

In the B2B arena, there is a community manager that is deeply involved with communities of real estate professionals. Roth says, “She participates in the conversation around the industry about our products and services and those of our competitors. Mostly it’s in a lot of Facebook groups that are invisible to outside listening tools.” Many of those groups are places where real estate professionals talk about the technologies that they should or shouldn’t be buying.

Roth explains that while the community manager is transparent about her employer, she doesn’t join those groups as the brand, but as herself. “She’s built her own credibility in the industry because she understands the players, and she acts as our voice; but has her own identity.”

How do you know when that community manager is successful?  Roth explains, “We’ve been doing a lot of work to try and figure out the right metrics to track.

Roth and his team use Sysomos and other tools to track a wide range of metrics. Even then, there are some real challenges. Roth tells me, “A lot of what happens in Facebook , especially in the private groups, is completely invisible. But,” he continues, “there’s evidence to suggest that we’re helping sales.”

Communities and Influencers

While realtor.com makes good use of the communities on social media, it also focuses on influencers. Roth says, “There’s about 300 people in the industry we really care about because those are the ones that can actually shape the message for us; and so we can track what those people are doing and how are messages are resonating with them.”

Realtor.com’s focus on communities and influencers is a great example of how an organization that straddles both the B2B and B2C worlds can make an impact for the business. It is also great evidence for how a community manager can, without simply being promotional, can join in and add value to relevant conversations. In the process, they are showing us that the job title of “community manager” deserves to prevail.

The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.

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