It’s an exciting time to be involved in the digital and social space, says Matt Gentile, global director of social media for Century 21 Real Estate. Last week, Gentile took a break from the Triple Play Realtor Convention in Atlantic City to discuss the digital future with TRUE. In 2016, Gentile predicts a significant increase in the use of micro-videos on platforms such as Instagram and Vine. He says real estate professionals – and brands – must develop ways to better leverage YouTube and meta-tagging to help them be found by online consumers. Gentile also shared how global brands such as Century 21 can scale down successfully to the local level, and ideas for how to get the best ROI on digital and social media.
TRUE: How does a company with global brands successfully scale its power for local markets?
MATT GENTILE: With Century 21, we’ve got 100,000 affiliated sales professionals from Taipei to Tampa Bay. So for us the challenge is very real. We look at it and we really try and leverage the technology of our preferred vendor partners. In one instance, we leverage a global corporate content library, which enables us to really put all of our creative digital assets out there, so that they may be shared across the globe. And so our local partners can really market themselves in a smart, digitally savvy way.
TRUE: What tools and systems do you provide your affiliated brokers and agents?
MATT GENTILE: Some of the tools that I specialize in really focus on the digital and social aspect of business. So for instance we have an agreement in place with a third-party company called RealSatisfied, which has really enabled our sales professionals to go out there and publish their testimonials from their customers on Twitter and Facebook, on Realtor.com and Century21.com. And the power of that being indexed on Google really brings to the local level the customer satisfaction element of our business, which is really so important.
TRUE: What training does Century 21 provide to its agents?
MATT GENTILE: We have a whole host of training. It’s a multi-tiered approach. We have everything from live training, which we do at our various conferences on a regional level and we have an annual global conference, as well as online training that we provide through Adobe Connect. What that has enabled us to do is provide on demand training, which for the busy real estate professional has worked out really well, and it’s helped us to really reach them at a time and place of their convenience, so that they can get that training when they need it and how they need it.
TRUE: What ways do you empower your franchisees to develop their own distinct brand value proposition at the local level?
MATT GENTILE: We do a lot of things in terms of providing them with digital assets. We also make sure that they understand the power of the Internet. Every local market professional has expertise. And that expertise is what really brings their individual brand value proposition to life.
TRUE: What ways do you empower your franchisees to develop their own distinct value proposition at the local level?
MATT GENTILE: As a global brand we empower our local affiliated professionals to really make the brand their own. We have a very recognizable brand, but what we’d like to say is, the true value and reputation of our brand is built at the local level. One of the ways that we empower them, is to really understand the power of Google and search engine in general. Their expertise comes at the local level. When you’re going to buy or sell your home, it’s very important that you work with somebody, a trusted advisor that really understands the market. We tell our local professionals to take advantage of their expertise, but put that expertise online. Make sure that they’re using Twitter, which is now indexed on Google. Find ways to demonstrate the value of their local market knowledge so that the consumer understands who they are, and understands the depth of their value and knowledge at the local level. That’s really where you’re going to make it or break it as a real estate professional, and we see that every day.
TRUE: What are the advantages of belonging to a national brand versus locally operated, independent real estate brokerages?
MATT GENTILE: Everybody looks at Century 21 as this huge global organization, but the true value of the power of the brand comes when you get to these local conferences and the regional conferences, and you see generations of real estate professionals. You may have a grandfather who started the brokerage in the ’70s and passed it to his daughter, and she’s now ready to pass it to her son. Those types of interactions and the culture that has been created, that type of experience coming together with such a large organization, brings a lot of the value out of being a part of it.
TRUE: What are some of the challenges of social media and marketing in general?
MATT GENTILE: Well part of it is, how do you promote yourself? And how do you make sure that promotion is getting out there in the right places? As a brand, we advocate really taking advantage of YouTube. We have a partnership with Videolicious, which provides our sales professionals with the opportunity to create really professional looking video right from their mobile phones. And that has really made a big difference, because we want them looking at YouTube as the number two search engine in the world to be found, and really take advantage of that local expertise when they’re developing these videos. Because, if you’re looking for a home or a condo in Hoboken, New Jersey, you’re going to be researching on the town Hoboken, New Jersey. Why not create a short community video that puts your professional appearance out there in that place? Visual marketing in general has been just a tremendous avenue for our sales professionals to create that personal brand connection. I’ve heard a statistic that says visual content is 35% more likely to be engaged with by the consumer. We strongly advocate to our system members to leverage into Instagram, to really look at those short-form videos and make sure that you’re tagging it appropriately. So that when you’re building that local brand up, people are finding you based on the search terms that they’re entering into Google, or into YouTube for that matter.
TRUE: Tell me a bit about how digital media’s changed the dynamic between consumers and brokers?
MATT GENTILE: One of the greatest challenges that I have as director of social media for Century 21 is enabling our system members with great content. We do some pretty big mass media advertising, but what do you do in those in-between times, when maybe you’re not on the air as much? What we do is a system called “Digital Drumbeat.” We developed it to provide really smart, digital assets that are really professionally engineered to create online conversations between the real estate professionals that are a part of Century 21 and their consumers. It helps them feel like they’re a part of the brand on a consistent basis, and it really helps them create opportunities for conversation online with their customers, with their prospects, so that they can drive that business and bring it offline.
TRUE: How do you get your content out there?
MATT GENTILE: Our partnership with Hootsuite Enterprise has really helped us in the space of sharing our content with our system members and providing them with a baseline of learning so that they can really understand how to do social selling in this space. I’m often asked, ‘How do you make sure that your system members are using best practices for sharing your content?’ The one partnership that we’ve had that’s been remarkable for us is really an alignment between our learning team, Century 21 University, and Hootsuite Enterprise. They came together in a true collaboration and developed the Century 21 Social Media Learning Hub. And this really provided a baseline of knowledge for all of our system members, because as you can imagine with 100,000 system members out there, the level of learning and capabilities to market yourself through social media is drastically different.
What this enables everyone to have is one common platform and one methodology for them to understand.
We like to call this the “My BFF Social Strategy.” And what that stands for is, “Business Friends Forever,” and we advocate to our system members that they need to build their following up. They need to really expand that social sphere. And then they need to foster those relationships online with really great content. And hopefully we’re providing a lot of that content to them, and they’re also finding it on their own. Local content that’s going to have texture and relevance for their local market, so that they can demonstrate that local expertise. It’s important to look great online, but it’s also important that you have some depth of knowledge to really share with your local consumer online. And then lastly – follow up, right? We have to look at social media marketing as an opportunity to drive business. You don’t want to get lost in looking at grumpy cat videos for hours on end. You really want to have a process. You want to put a timer maybe on your social media activities. Maybe set the kitchen clock to 21 minutes a day.
And when that bell goes off, it’s time to move on to something else. We really advocate the My BFF Social strategy, and that has helped put some context and texture behind looking at social as a marketing process.