Thursday, 29 May 2008

11 First Steps for your Facebook Page

I wrote a post a while back bemoaning an agent’s take on social media and last week I came face to face with a similar position. I was sitting in an agent’s very quiet office last week. Everyone at their desks, no sound of a telephone. One particular young member of staff looked very agitated indeed as he sat staring into his computer. I asked the principal what he had this young lad doing and he explained he was in a difficult position as he could not yet send him out on crucial instruction appointments, especially in the current climate and therefore he wasn’t doing much.

When the owner popped off for a rare telephone call, I meandered over to where the lad was sitting. Speaking with him briefly I noticed he was on Facebook and I asked whether he was a keen Facebook user. He was and I put to him the suggestion of creating a page for his current employer. He was keen to say the least so I mentioned this to the employer and he gave me a resounding, we shall see type statement, which I knew meant I am not paying him to play on Facebook. No indeed, you are paying him to do nothing and you don't want to advance your business I thought.

Anyway, this bright lad calls me later and says he is going to build it regardless of what his boss says and try and impress him, but where should he start. I pondered for a while and the following is for you young man. My additional advice is to also consider going it alone, set up as an online agent on your own. Indeed, I will give you a management system and website as I believe the industry needs people like you.

The following is a summary from the excellent WOMMA web site which reports on a post from upperkut.

11 first steps for Facebook.

1 – Get involved now and experiment. Someone in your office will be familiar with Facebook and others, speak to them ask them what they are doing. Get them to do it, but do something !

2 - Build a fanpage, not a group page. You cannot add applications or get statistics for a group page.

3 – Facebook is all about showing off. Communicate your moods and ideas. Call to actions are also about showing off, both you and your friends. Invite friends to come and show off, invent something that allows people to show off to their friends. The I hate Foxtons Facebook page is really popular, you can use these ideas.

4 – Your fanpage is like a t-shirt, it has to be cool. You don’t have to uber trendy just cool enough to allow people to be seen in it. Help people show off. You are not in this space to sell a product, you are here to give people something. Research, sit and watch what others are doing, what can you give the space that others will say, hey that is cool, I belong to this.

5 –If you are going to use Social Ads, use them as a ‘conversation fuel’. Don’t think you can put a page up and then ruthlessly advertise your product.

6 - Think long-term.

7 – Love your page and keep it growing. Thinking long term as in point 5 doesn’t mean you forget about it.

8 - Be a ‘friend’. Have you noticed? What people add the most in their Facebook profile, is other people. They can be friends, they can be strangers. If you want the exclusive privilege of gathering “fans” of your brand , you must approach them in an authentic way and you have to be generous with them. Give them incentive for “talking” with you. Stay away from heavy gimmicks and commerce in Facebook: stay on the human level. Be a friend.

9 - “Odd” is culture. Show how cultivated you are. Any weirdly funny, strangely clever or otherwise odd idea that you can relate to your brand’s universe, particularly if it’s a long shot (think Mentos and Coke), may get your brand an additional chance of being adopted by the Facebook crowd when word gets around. No one will talk about The Great (Your Brand) Contest, but everyone will talk about the Great (Your Brand) Frozen Turkeys on Skateboards Race. Watch our page for crazy owl stunts!

10 - Leverage your Facebook presence in traditional media. Why not? Not many are doing this yet, but it make sense.

11 - Target interests, not socio-demographics. build on whatever brings people together, rather than what differenciates them.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Blog Backup

One of our servers fried today. Fortunately, we had a back up of sorts and all we lost was a days time in terms of work and no data lost.

As always, this prompted mild panic, meetings arranged and calls of we are all doomed from Dads Army.

Anyway, one task that I had attempted a while ago, got bored, could not make it work, so forgot about it, was backing up our blog. I then rediscovered blogbackuponline which could not be easier. Two steps, login and then back up. It also backs up seamlessly on a daily basis, wonderful!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Lawyers and Estate Agents in Partnership

Lawyers and estate agents working together. Isn’t the present climate bad enough?!

It is an old cliché joke, but there is a growing wave of change in the legal profession and with recent changes in the property industry (i.e. HIPS) there is plenty of scope for alliances to be made with lawyers.

Indeed, we are already working with Arscotts to provide our agents with a sophisticated conveyancing service and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Our mortgage advisors (another service we offer our agents) have been in discussions with the lawyers (you can see where this is all heading) who are resurrecting the practice of stamp duty mitigation or stamp duty reduction or in simpler terms exploiting a loophole.

Now, I must confess to not fully understanding the entire procedure and I have a thousand questions. I hope to bring you more answers as soon as I get them, but the following gives a rough outline of the procedure.

If I am buying a property I form a relationship with a law firm, pay the deposit on my intended purchase and then sell the contract to a trusted partner (presumably for a nominal value).

This is where it gets a little confusing, the law firm apparently provides a bridging loan immediately prior to completion and the mortgage is then used to pay back the loan to the lawyers and by some legal jiggery pokery my stamp duty is reduced by 75% odd.

I have yet to be provided with the killer sentence or statement that explains ‘why’ and I haven’t the time or patience to read the stamp duty legislation and find out how this works and I am not sure this scheme is approved by the law society.

Of course there are legal fees and within the brief research I have conducted I have seen mention of legal fees of 25% of the stamp duty, which seems steep, but I guess they are taking the risk.

This also only appears to apply to property at the £1million mark, which again is one of the many questions that need clarification.

I have also read elsewhere that the revenue have 9 months to investigate such a transaction so it would probably be wise to actually keep the balance of the stamp duty just in case the dear old tax man changes his/her mind.

As I said, this raises a whole host of questions, but it proves the point that agents, lawyers and other advisors are slowly coming together to form packages for the end user.

There are a number of proactive law firms looking for partnerships with equally minded estate agents. These are opportunities for the future and ones agents should take. I have said before the entire industry is set for massive change and this is just one element of it. Niches are developing, partnerships are forming and the world is online. Agents cannot ignore these facts and if law firms can’t find equally minded innovative partners they will just go it alone. Indeed, the Solicitors Property Shop is already in this space.

I foresee the following: online agents with a sole advisor probably a law firm that will look after a client’s mortgage, conveyancing, HIPs etc etc. Very much a one stop shop with the agent as a specialist consultant and all conducted online.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Enter the NAEA

The Negotiator magazine reports this month that the National Association of Estate Agents is throwing its hat into the portal ring.

In response to the increasing prices of the old marketing portals (rightmove were singled out as an example) the NAEA explains that its members were pressing for an upgrade of the NAEA portal.

There is no mention of who they are developing with, what shape the portal/search will take or how much they are spending on it or where it will live on their site, but one major challenge the NAE will face is building the brand and promoting this product both to agents and users alike not to mention increasing property data.

This challenge makes the decision to go it alone and build the portal/search off their own backs questionable. CEO Peter Bolton King states that '..we could have gone down the white label route... but we wanted to be control...'. I can understand wanting to be in control of your own technology, but why reinvent the wheel when there is some excellent technology available. I would have thought they would benefit from forming a relationship with one of the search engines and perhaps then the money could have been better invested with this in mind. Maybe they have deep pockets, but i would have chosen a good partner, spent on advancing the technology already available and marketing.

Whilst there are a number of considerations to consider with search and portals in general, the fundamental one being whether an agent can easily feed properties up to the portal/search, this is yet another free channel for an agent to market property and has to be welcomed. Yes, you have to be a member, but for a couple of hundred pounds per annum it must be worth it. If the NAEA can form a few partnerships along the way this can be another powerful selling tool at the agent's disposal.

I welcome this move and see it very much as agents finally looking at their online strategy and asking the question, why do I need to spend so much on the old marketing portals?!

Changing times and the conclusion of the article speaks volumes: 'rightmove declined to comment'. Expect to see many more 'no comments' from rightmove in the future.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The government votes on the property owl survey

I like the Dad's army theme and to continue in such spirit, Captain Mainwaring spoke yesterday to try and put his finger in the proverbial dyke.

As reported in the Economist, Gordon Brown outlined his legislative programme for next year. His solution, more steps to be taken to help first-time buyers.

Unfortunately, Pike's mother (Caroline Flint, the housing minister) had on the previous day revealed the government's private fears about a faltering housing market namely a warning of “sizeable falls in prices later this year—at best down 5-10% year-on-year.”

Anyway, I suspect Pike's mum was looking at our survey and saw the wise money was on a decline of 5-10%.

House price decline

Our survey is going well offline as well and the Rat and Mouse found this interesting interview from the chief economist at the Institute of Directors.

Will this sway our survey? We will have to wait and see, but basically he seems to be saying the decline is a readjustment in prices not a crash. Rightly, he indicates that for a crash to start other forces need to come into play, i.e. the economy needs to spiral down which would feed the flames.

We are all dooomed!

Estate Agents Closures and Social Networking

The London Lite headline on 6 May 2008 stated that 150 estate agencies were closing each week.

The article explained that Movewithus predicted that about 4000 estate agents will shut by December. The NAEA were saying that banks need to free up mortgage applications and Spicerhaart have closed nine branches according to the report.

Can it really be 150 per week? I don’t think so, but it does emphasise the mood and also highlights the issues that the travel industry faced many years ago, namely, your customers are online (and mobile) and are moving away from the high street.

So, what can agents do? I have banged on about investing in a good basic website and embracing the Internet and I will continue to do so. When the industry has settled the agents who survive will the ones with a strong web presence and a forward thinking attitude to online marketing, it is as simple as that!

I am therefore dismayed to read in the May issue of the Negotiator a debate between Sean and Robert King who are behind none other than the above predictors of doom, the estate agency network, movewithus. Sean King may be playing devil's advocate but in a debate about whether estate agents should include social networking sites as part of their marketing strategies there are some alarming comments.

Here are a few choice comments (not taken out of context I hasten to add):

(a) 'Social networking sites users are typically teens and twenty somethings clearly not estate agent target audience'

(b) 'Making friends is hardly the same as winning new clients'

(c) 'Agents should forget about social networking sites and instead ensure they offer a personalised, high-quality ....'

Well, just taking these three statements in turn: (a) not only is this space made up of all age demographics, but twenty somethings are your future clients, students who use your site for lettings will go on to use you to buy, (b) Seth Godin makes the point that you are supposed to make friends and then turn friends into customers. The days of bullying customers into submission are gone, (c) 'a personalised service'! how much more personalised can you get that social networking?! I don't believe he has seen a social networking site.

Overall, these comments are akin to saying ignore traffic lights whilst driving.

As I say, he may just be playing up for the purpose of the debate, but I would say to all agents, ignore his comments.

Social networking may not be absolutely right for your business, but you should investigate. The chances are you can find something 'useful' to offer potential clients within this media. Offer users something they may need now or in the future and the chances are you will win future business, it really is just common sense (oh, and it is free!!!).

Anyway, I am off to work on our facebook page, which remains 'in development'.

Friday, 9 May 2008


Just a brief post to invite some comment on dothomes. Why do we not discuss them when talking about the other property search engines? Especially as they claim to have 2 million listings.

I am as guilty as the next person for not mentioning dothomes when I discuss property search. Is this because they have gone after the US market and place more marketing efforts within that market?

Thoughts and comments anyone?

The merge

Following the recent Property Owl post regarding findaproperty and primelocation, our peers at rightmovez have also now heard the rumour that findaproperty and primelocation are going to merge.

They ask who will rise as the phoenix? A good question, but I imagine they will both run side by side initially and offer agents the two for one sales pitch. The interesting point is how long a company can run two brands displaying identical content. The same applies to propertyfinder and hotproperty.

Whilst each have their own loyal users and have different characteristics new users to the market will quickly spot the identical content and may just be put off by both sites. I would just use one and scrap the other. A tough call with two strong brands, but times are changing and one has to evolve and be bold to survive.

Globrix misspelling

A while back I wrote a post discussing keyword misspelling and the like.

To prove a point, I have just been researching our blog traffic (and thanks for reading by the way, it is going up). Anyway, a surprisingly popular keyword is a typo. I mistyped Globrix a while back, spelling it Glorbix. Punch this into Google and only two results appear. This blog is one!

I am happy for the traffic, but I would have thought that Globrix may want to include a misspelling in the Globrix blog or elsewhere.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Rightmove choice

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would revisit the rightmove £30 million offer to agents, published in the April edition of the EAT. So here goes:

Rightmove state that participating members of the Flexible Membership Offer will receive a minimum of £2,400 per annum in ‘added value’. The Agent has to purchase this however at £200 per month (per branch!!!).

It is a little tricky to understand what is on offer with statements such as: signing up to the scheme will ‘… potentially increase agents’ ability to cost-effectively attract the right instruction at the right price.’ What ??!! and what does ‘potentially’ indicate?!

So what is ‘added value’? It would appear this offer is all about online advertising (on the rightmove site), namely rightmove will give you your property feed for your subscription and then it will match your subscription rate with … more adverts on their site? I maybe missing the point, but it strikes me that this is not really a substantive offer (especially a grand £30million give away!). It is basically giving away sponsored listing on their site. Their CPM must be high for £30million!

As I say, I may be missing the point so if anyone can explain this deal in a little more detail and whether it has any value it would be helpful.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Survey results

Well, the results are in and by a short … I can’t bring myself to say it … it is Heather Mills who you would most want to live next door to you.

With 33% of the vote she just pips Amy Winehouse and Robert Mugabe for joint second, but poor old Pete Doherty and Bianca Jackson didn’t get a single vote between them!

A slightly more serious poll this month asks you to predict the house price decline for the next 12 months.

All change

As predicted here first, times are changing in our space. If you liken the online property industry to a game of chess then the first responsive move came recently from PropertyFinder with their purchase of Hotproperty, and a bold move it was, probably knight to C3.

Tescos have just reentered the game with Spiceerhart, but their move is more of a put your finger on a piece and not actually move it. The press release as reported in the Times doesn’t really say what is going to happen, but no doubt we will hear more in due course. They mention a virtual estate agent, will this be like SecondLife etc with avatars or do they mean a screen situated in a Tesco store? Avatars would be great and really push the market forward, but I fear it will be closer to the latter.

Stable partnersPrimelocation and FindaProperty are set to merge and adopt a sensible two space pawn move forward in the centre of board.

Rightmove have moved a pawn, but only one space forward and at edge of the board. Their £30 million offer reported in the April edition of the EAT begs a few questions. More to follow!

All good for the agent and I will continue to bang on about how agents need a good site, with good basic SEO structure to be able to harness the massive online opportunities that will develop over the coming year.

I was going to use poker analogies, but I can’t play for toffee at the moment!

See you all in the casino.