Using Instagram to land sellers and buyers

While many agents stick to their phones, websites and the occasional Facebook post, Dusty Baker is taking on a whole new market with Instagram. After speaking on stage about this at Inman Connect San Francisco, Samantha McLean spoke to Dusty to find out how his Instagram account, which has over 10,500 followers, is bringing him leads and referrals, and even a million dollar listing. If you happen to be listing or selling somewhere in Australia where people like to own their holiday homes, take note.

Dusty Baker is a Realtor with eight years experience in what must be one of the world’s most lucrative and beautiful real estate markets, Santa Barbara in California. He says selling in Santa Barbara certainly has its high points, particularly the pricing for the housing market, which is generally US$1.1 to US$1.2 million (median), and the fact it’s much less fast-paced than places like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We’re very lucky in Santa Barbara. It’s a little beach town of about 200,000 people and, with such a high price point, it makes a really nice platform for real estate,” he says. “The property range is anywhere from a smaller, single family home around 1,200 square feet on the outskirts of Santa Barbara at around US$800,000, all the way up to Montecito, where properties sell for $100 million. It’s such a beautiful area, and it’s such a pleasant place to do business.”

And assisting Dusty to flourish in this niche market in Santa Barbara is his ability to use social media, particularly Instagram. Where a lot of agents are still on Facebook, Dusty has found choosing Instagram which has helped his career in many ways. Starting around 12 months ago, in a short amount of time he gained a lot of followers.  “There are statistics that show for 2014, the active users on Facebook went down 9%. The active users on Instagram went up 47%. On Instagram, I started making incredible contacts, getting local business and getting referrals. Now I have agents all over the world who know who I am from an Instagram account.”

He says it’s been a matter of trial and error, particularly figuring out what gets followers to engage. But the most important thing is that it works and he’s making fantastic contacts across the country for both referrals and listings.

“From Instagram I received a referral from an agent in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I sent business to an agent I met in San Francisco. There’s local business coming my way. It’s pretty incredible. At Inman, this year, I was stopped left and right like I was a celebrity (laughs), because people knew who I was from Instagram. It’s all connected with just how small the world is, and it’s really fun.”

Being relatively inexperienced with Instagram myself, I had to ask what it is that works and what doesn’t. What are some of the things that agents should do or avoid to help create engagement?

“The number one thing agents do wrong, I think, is post 20 pictures in a row of random stock photos of homes – and then wonder why it’s not working!” Dusty says. “I tell people social media is like hanging out with friends, but on a much broader scale. Imagine if we were hanging out and all I did was talk about real estate. I’d be a pain to hang out with. But what if I only talked about my family and you never heard about real estate? That would be weird too.”

It’s all about finding a balance, he says, and recommends posting at least once a day to his Instagram account, and and finds keeping this consistency is enough to keep his 10,500 followers happy – acknowledging that with social media it’s all about quality, not quantity.

“If I take a professional picture of one of my listings and post it, there is a little bit of engagement. But if I take a picture of myself at the property or talk about the views looking out from properties it works much better. People want to feel like they’re right there with me. Sometimes I post pictures of where I sit in the morning to read a newspaper and drink my coffee. The more intimate, the more vulnerable the pictures, the better they seem to resonate.”

Another problem for many agents when it comes to social media postings is that they neglect to reply to comments on their posts. He suggests that when someone comments on a post, you have to take it and run with it, really engage back with them and see the kinds of connections you can make from that. But Dusty says it’s important to remember social media isn’t the closer. “You don’t close deals with social media, but it opens an incredible door to at least start conversations. It’s where I make a great relationship and then referrals start to come, or I make a good relationship and they end up buying or selling.”

Instagram is full of hashtags, and Dusty says you need to get the hang of them to increase your following. Essentially, he says they operate in a similar way to a search engine;  if people are searching for #realestate, particular posts using that hashtag might show up online. But #realestate will always deliver millions of results. If you do something that broad, your picture gets lost amidst all the other ones. To find something that is at least a little smaller can help. “Sometimes,” he says, “It’s the whimsical ones; for example there is a hashtag that people use #itsthelittlethings. That really works”.  And he believes the best – least annoying – way to use them is as comments, rather than in your main post; you’ll still gain the benefit of people searching that hashtag and finding your post, but you won’t annoy your friends.

So exactly what results have you achieved? “The best lead, is actually an agent that I became connected with. This agent does big, big, big business. There’s a decent amount of referral business to my area, so that’s where I see the most benefit is with really big referrals. Anything I get locally is going to be great. I think that’s fantastic, and I have done business locally. I’ve sold homes to people that tagged their friends in my post, but where you can get a lot of business, specifically Santa Barbara I should say is with people that like to purchase holiday homes in the area.

“If you’re in Boise Idaho, there’s probably not a lot of people that vacation in that area – as they do in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is such a destination location, that so much of the business is referral-based from agents at other areas. So that’s where I focus a lot on my Instagram is connecting with other agents. That’s ongoing business too, because [those agents] are out in trenches all day every day with clients. If I can become the referral agent to Santa Barbara for a couple of agents in every state, then I’d be in a really good spot. The biggest actual sale I’ve done.. I don’t know, about a million dollars.” he says.

Aside from Instagram, Dusty has also created a popular blog and finds blogging is an extremely important tool for marketing yourself.

“A good friend of mine is a marketing expert; he was commenting on my Instagram presence and asked, ‘What if it turns into MySpace and becomes obsolete? What do you have then?’ He suggested starting a blog, so I started thinking what I wanted to write a blog about. I realised I’m younger, I love what I do and I’ve been around really good people my whole life. So I created MyAgentAdvice and write articles for newer or struggling agents.”

Follow Dusty on Instagram @dustyjbaker.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.