Elite AgentTECH + SOCIAL

Managing Your Reputation

Everyone is a Critic

Peter Brewer, a 30 year Real Estate agent and social media expert, discusses why agents need to take a more proactive approach to managing their reputation on line.

As I travel the country presenting on emerging trends in consumer behavior, I constantly watch the looks of despair across the faces of my audiences when we get to the topic of Online Reputation Management.

You may know it better as the ability for the consumer of today to share their thoughts about your business and the service delivery of your team to the World Wide Web.

Now, in fairness the looks in the audiences aren’t always of despair. Whilst some businesses see these pesky online reviewers and their comments as a gross invasion and malicious slanderous attacks on their businesses and their people, (and I accept that sometimes they are), many others see the content and intent of these online reviews as an opportunity to learn how we can improve our service delivery. To quote the CEO of one real estate marketing group. ‘Feedback is a Gift’. It’s what we do with that ‘gift’ that matters.

To those who are challenged by the ability for consumers to review us or give us feedback, I pose the question “Why would we think that the real estate industry could or should be immune?” Online reviews have been happening in other businesses for near on a decade. Think eBay, TripAdvisor.com, and Amazon.

And yes, I accept that the stakes and potential flow on effects of a negative online review are significantly higher than those of a reviewer of a dodgy second hand toaster bought on eBay or a crook book from Amazon. But seriously? Doesn’t that highlight the importance for you as the business owner to understand that people are quite likely already talking about your business or brand online today?

The flow on cost of a bad review could be disastrous to a business in our industry. The studies on the new consumers behavior are telling us that up to 69% of Australia’s consumers are in some way using the web to assist them in some way with their buying or business selection decisions.

86% of consumers will trust word of mouth or the reviews of another consumer over your glossy print ads and brochures.

With those sorts of numbers and the continuing chatter inside social sites with their influence and their continuing growth, I think the time’s well passed where turning up with anything less than our “A-Game” is unacceptable. People are rating everyone of your team’s performance, and they’re sharing it online.

And if you think your company is immune from the power and scrutiny of the new consumer, take a look at productreview.com.au, type in your brands name and there’s a better than even money chance that your brands name will be up in lights for the world to see. The question is will you and your potential future consumers actually like what they see when they find you here or on any number of the plethora of review sites that are emerging, some of which are industry specific. What are consumers saying about you? What does your digital footprint say about your business?

To deny or ignore this trend could in my view be one of the worst business decisions you could ever make. Yep, even worse than the decision to buy that new computer server or funky windows display system last year.

Let me share a real life example. Last year I found two online reviews of a prominent real estate agent. Both reviews were fairly damning of the agents services. The first related to sales and the second to property management. They weren’t personal or abusive reviews. The reviewers were identifiable. They simply critiqued the service experience of dealing with that business from the perspective of two consumers. On finding these reviews, I alerted the business owner that they existed and suggested a course of action as follows: 1. Acknowledge, 2. Empathise, 3. Respond, 4. Resolve. Its what we would do if a consumer was giving us feedback in our office, why wouldn’t we do the same online? Would you ignore someone giving you feedback in your office?

Even with the benefit of some free advice, I’m stunned that this business owner has dismissed and ignored both ‘gifts of feedback’ as unfair gripes from a ‘couple of whiners’. In my view, a very dangerous dismissal.

Fact: At the time of this article going to print there have been over 1,700 views of those particular reviews by real life people. And still 12 months later not one official acknowledgement or reply by the business. 1,700 people have quite likely deducted that the agent named either doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. And that’s OK if you choose to run your business that way. Good luck with that strategy. It’s worth noting that the average commission per transaction in that agent’s area exceeds $20,000 dollars. I wonder how many buying or selling decisions on whether or not to deal with that agent have been influenced by the reviews and the lack of online response from the agent? Even if its just one, I’d say it’s been a dumb decision to deny.

We deny this trend at our own peril.

As a Dad to a couple of late teens, I ‘get’ the quote “If you want teenagers to behave at a party you don’t turn out the lights!” Applied to our industry I think the same exists. Our teams need to know that they are being reviewed online.

Some teams and even businesses may have survived the old days of ‘do the right thing’ by one person and they’ll tell one, do the wrong thing and they’ll tell 10”.

Our teams need to know that the lights are on and that they’re shining very brightly and people are talking about them much louder than ever before.

As has been written about in other forums recently, one major franchise group is receiving some fairly concerted and colorful online scrutiny at the moment, and in turn with that, so is every single one of its businesses and people across the world. Are the reviews right or wrong? I have no idea. But do I believe that in the new era of ‘World of Mouth’ that there will be a significant cost to that/those businesses in dollar or reputation? Absolutely.

Now before it seems like I’m running around with my hands in the air predicting the end of the world. I’m not.

My experience is that the bulk of real estate businesses are great businesses with good teams with great intent. The time however has come for us to do some serious listening to what our customers are saying about us online. The effects of ignoring are just too expensive. A review, negative or positive, once posted may come back to haunt or help you for years to come. Its time for business to start listening and responding, possibly even becoming more proactive by encouraging, sourcing and posting positive reviews online. In the old days, we called them ‘Testimonials’. Lets start sharing the good news online!

OK, so maybe you see my point and you’ve decided it’s important to listen. Your questions are possibly. How do I go about listening? Where? – How – Who To? – What do I say if I here something?

Thanks for asking! There are various ‘listening’ tools that allow you ‘hear’ what people are saying about you online. The simplest is using a free solution called ‘Google Alerts’.

Following some relatively simple steps the more tech savvy businesses should be able to auto-magically set up daily or weekly alerts to let you know when your name is being used online. Will you hear everything being said about you? No. Some walls on the web are almost impenetrable.

There are manual sites such as socialmention.com or Kurrently.com that will also trawl the web and pass on some of the good or bad news to you for free. There are paid offerings starting from $37.50 per month from companies like mine that will do the even deeper listening for you and provide monthly reports, online advice, and PR support in dealing with online reviews if the manure hits the oscillator. For me these days, this is just a cost of business.

Whichever system or service you use matters not. Just make sure you choose. Make sure you’re listening. Make sure you embrace the new world. It’s happening now. If your ears are burning Its because they’re talking about you. It’s now time to be a fly on the wall while they’re chatting.

Did I say that the emerging trends are fair or reasonable? Not at all.

It’s just the new today. Welcome to World of Mouth.

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