I daresay that realtors were the world’s first social media marketers — well before the Internet ever existed. Social networks predated the Internet and real estate agents have always been exemplary manifestations of shameless self-promoters while still being able to build reputation, trust, and confidence over time. I really think that we social media marketers should be more like realtors — in fact, most of the top online influencers very much do follow in the footsteps of the humble neighborhood real estate agent.

I never understood the mad narcissism that real estate agents shamelessly flaunted everywhere in the form of portraiture on emblazoned cards, placards, for sale signs, circulars, mailers, and online. But I get it now — and I want to let out my inner real estate agent — and I really believe you should, too. And here’s why:


Real estate agents’ intentions are clear

Fran-and-Rowena-for-sale-sign-293x300Real estate agents sell property. Some sell commercial real estate, other sell houses, still others specialize in condominiums. They tend to gladly pass referrals to one another. There’s a lot of money in real estate so there’s very little pussy-footing around. And that’s good. Yes, lots of risk but also quite a lot of reward. Real estate agents really need to make sure their promotional materials work for them 24-hours-day, every day.

I doubt a real estate agent has ever won a design award — except maybe from other real estate agents.

Real estate agents aren’t generally too technical and they really need to spend all their time a) finding sellers b) finding houses c) finding buyers and d) prospecting future buyers and sellers — to say nothing of staging and showing homes.

Oh, and I forgot, also suffering through the dozens of houses that some home buyers need to see before finding their perfect home.

However, real estate agents need to commit. They can respond to queries about what they do with, “What do you want me to do?” But they must become fixtures–experts in the local community–and the longer they stay put and “put down stakes,” the more successful and stable they’ll be, both during the booms and the busts.

Real estate agents meet a lot of people all the time

Joel-2-1My buddy Joel Nelson is a gentleman real estate agent. He hosts parties at his home on Capital Hill, he lives right in the middle of his own real estate territory, his kids all go to school in his neighborhood, he socializes at local restaurants, attends cultural events, and knows everyone — and everyone know him. He’s my token real estate agent. He’s my go-to guy for anything real estate — even if I choose Virginia instead of Washington, DC.

He’s been shaking hands, selling houses, giving good parties, and being an essential part of the neighborhood for 11-years — a decade of meeting, greeting, sharing, and being as generous as possible, focusing both on the short sale but also on the long game, the slow seduction. Real estate agents invest in people, neighborhoods and communities much more than in price-per-square foot or in researching homes.

Without the personal connections, real estate agents are bottom feeders, in direct competition with everyone else; with deep connections and a strong reputation, real estate agents get all the scoops, the heads-ups, and have access to properties that have yet to go on the market — through relationships, they’re able to turn a commodity business into a premium service no matter how easy it is to sell your house on Craig’s List.

Of course, Joel has scaled and has his own company; however, he’s still the name, the face, and the reputation of the entire endeavor. And, at the end of the day, no matter how big a staff Joel has, people are going to want to talk to him.

Real estate agents work hard at building trust

I guess it must be hard for introverted real estate agents. After you cut your teeth in the business and start to really develop a reputation in the business, make a few sales, and get photos of yourself on some cards and for sale signs, you’re going to end up being the go-to person for buying and selling homes.

Real estate agents put function over form

WEB-michellesimonis-bcRealtors have the ugliest cards and the ugliest signs. Every year, there are awards for the worst cards and the worst design and the real estate industry always wins the majority. I felt the same way until I realized that having “text me” and QR code codes, full-color portraits, full-body photos, URLs, links, and floor-plans, walk-throughs, and the like is the point.

Function-above-form. Cluttered, maybe, but easy, accessible, simple, and clear. At the end of the day, real estate agents don’t fall for design fads or trendy innovations — at the end of the day, everything you need to know about a real estate agent — including what he or she looks like — can generally be found right up front — no need to go digging or follow some sort of curated and elegant narrative.

Real estate agents stand by their reputation

I have a feeling that we really do trust people who are willing to put their very own face out there along with their name, cell phone, email, and office address. While it might really come across as “kinda douchey,” how else are you ever going to recognize someone during the course of your

Branding yourself so completely on your name — and face! — is stupid, especially if you’re fly-by-night. Instinctively, we tend to trust people who really put themselves out there — go embed themselves in their community, who are willing to stay around a while, who have friends, who pick up their own phone and answer their own email.

Real estate agents aren’t afraid of being a little — a lot — cheesy

77310881JS001_CALIFORNIA_COPersonality is so important. Breaking through all the noise in a very competitive environment — especially when selling real estate is becoming less of an art and more of a science — going more and more the way of the Dodo in much the same way that the travel industry has gone from travel agents and paper tickets to Priceline and Kayak.com.

Real estate agents can no longer just buy and sell houses, they need to be the expert with the inside line, they need to have arcane knowledge and ultimately be able to take the nervous and neophyte home buyer and seller through the obstacle course known as real estate — something that is equal parts financial, emotional, existential, and location, location, location. Hand-holding, sweet-nothings, coaching, encouragement, stiff-drinks, and even friendship.

Standing out is essential. And, after decades of indoctrination, real estate agents have realized that they need not reinvent the wheel. In fact, too much design innovation too quickly can easily work against what already works historically. In other words, you had better be willing to commit completely to reinventing the wheel when the wheel works just fine the way it is, even if the wheel is pretty cheesy.

Real estate agents know faces are easier to remember than names or companies

ar132642450124034People remember faces better than names, people remember jingles better than slogans, and people remember logos much better than text. No matter how cheesy or douchey, no matter how low-rent (ya see what I did there?) the business cards might be, full-color faces, portraits, names, and affiliations are what people expect.

In much the same way that the low-tech, low-design interface of Google, eBay, Craig’s List, and Wikipedia breed trust amongst people, sometimes too much design, sophistication, and high-rent signals could make people believe that there’s way too much money being spent on designers and technology and razzle-dazzle (why are they selling me so hard?) and not enough on value, affordability, access, “down-to-earthiness,” and accessibility — in a world of people, branding only needs to serve the purpose of bringing buyer to seller, prospect to agent — and no more.

Real estate agents know that sales can happen anywhere

real estate agent business cardsWhen you seed the world with your real name and your real face, magic can happen. It’s a risk, yes, but there’s a lot of possible reward, especially if you’re in for the long haul. If you want to get bought, rolled-up, merged, or are banking on an exit strategy, then putting all your energy into building your own personal brand, your own relationships, and doing business as yourself may well be bad business; however, if you’re going to learn from Joel Nelson (a youngin’ at only 11-years in the business) and put down your carpet bag and settle in, you can make a career; and, if you’re going to make a career of it, building your own personal brand, leading with your face and who you are — as opposed to just what you do — is a very important bet.

You want to be the go-to guy — and not simply because you’re the very best at what you do (you really don’t need to be) but because you’re the first person people think of when they think of real estate, in Joel’s case, or digital PR, SEO, ORM, and social media marketing, in my case.

Real estate agents know that future sales depend on past successes

House-For-Sale-SignsBeing known by everyone, being a pillar of the community, having the neighborhood’s favorite family, and being the parent of super-gorgeous kids only gets you so far. The best salespeople in any real estate agent’s stable are all the people who have bought and sold one or more homes through that realtor.

Future sales do, in many ways, depend on past successes. Success does not depend only on selling; success also depends on the quality of the sale, the charm of the agent, the simplicity of the process, and the feeling of everyone winning in the end: the buyer, the seller, the bank, and the agent.

There’s a lot we can learn from the humble real estate agent — the noble realtor.

They may seem low-tech, cheesy, and a little narcissistic; however, they’re savvy. I am sure you watch all those home-buying reality shows and you know what savvy operators these folks are. Staging properties with high-end furniture and making sure that each and every single property puts it best foot forward. These people are neither silly nor unsophisticated.

They’re crazy like a fox. They wouldn’t do what they do if it didn’t work. In fact, the real estate world was an early adopter of quite a lot of technology, including SMS marketing, virtual tours and walk-throughs, and QR codes. Not all of these will end up being kept over the long-haul, but I really doubt it if the super-cheesy real estate business card glamour photo will ever be retired by any of the members of the National Association of Realtors.

So, what about you? Are you brave enough to put yourself out there in social media? To brand your own name and face? To be known for something? Until you are, you probably won’t achieve the success you are hoping for. And don’t go into real estate.

Read more: What Home Buyers Want Today