During the pandemic, we saw many behavioural changes. One of them was the surge in online communities that offered critical – if not life saving – services and support.
“Apps and online communities have sprung up as if from nowhere offering vital services to those in need. From local communities connecting and delivering groceries and medicines to vulnerable people, to far-reaching scientific research apps collecting data on the spread of the virus, there’s been a truly collective effort to use the tools we take for granted to support our communities,” says Benjamin Vaughan in the Forbes article How Online Communities Are Saving The World.
As the pandemic continues, but restrictions lift, the usefulness of online communities have not waned, especially in the real estate realm. Agents successfully used online communities and, yes, Zoom, to swap tips on how to clean homes after a showing and how to manage the various challenges the industry faced.
As the pandemic raged on, people still wanted and needed to buy and sell their homes. Realtors were an “emergency service” that couldn’t shut down and so these online communities were even more crucial.
Among the many revelations agents and brokers have had over a couple of months, one thing is clear: agents want to spend more time online to communicate with their colleagues, even if those colleagues are part of a different brokerage.
“People like belonging to communities. They want to help others and be prosocial. The specific platform doesn’t even matter too much, what’s more important is the quality of the interactions and the sense of belonging to a community,” says Vaughan.
Agents also found online communities to help motivate them and get questions answered when their brokers weren’t available or if their broker simply didn’t have the expertise in the specific question area, such as a legal or accounting question.
Apart from the desire to belong and the need to crowdsource solutions quickly, enterprising Realtors are investing in online communities to grow their client base. It’s not surprising, given that “businesses of all types have been investing in their communities with a recent statistic suggesting that 33 per cent of organizations have 10,000 people or more within their online communities,” says Mitchell D Poussan II in a report, The Future of Social Media & The Rise of Online Communities.
Realtors could learn a thing or two from tech elites who have developed their own private communities to cultivate a group of committed users who will engage with their products and content. As this trend continues to grow, smaller and more focused communities will emerge with the shared goal of building something together. This could be a useful trend for Realtors as private communities become “the new gateway into working with the people you want to work with on the things you want to work on,” says Poussan. But more directly, online private communities will be a source of knowledge, solutions and leads, he says.
Even if creating an online community to develop your own client base doesn’t seem appealing, you may want to consider it if you’re feeling stuck. A study conducted by Sean Young, a family medicine professor and director of innovation at the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine, strongly suggests that online communities can help motivate you to stick to a schedule, make those cold calls and follow up. Young’s study created an online community to help people kick their addictions or negative behaviours. What he found is that, not only were the online communities highly efficacious, but that people also continued to communicate on the online communities far after the study was completed. The reason that members of the community forged on is because online communities appeal to our basic human needs: the need to trust, the need to fit in, the need for self worth, the need to be rewarded for good behaviour and the need to feel empowered.
As internet users move away from me-centric social sharing to more “we-centric” conversations online, there’s no doubt that online communities can help Realtors improve their craft while also creating meaningful relationships with customers or members, all of which translates into greater client loyalty and opportunities.
Mike Chang, the director of the OJO Select Network and founder of the popular Real Estate Mastermind group on Facebook, is an expert in creating such communities and offers helpful tips to creating an online community or identifying one that will provide the belonging and support we all need. I recently asked Mike about the topic (disclosure: I am president of OJO Home Canada):
You’ve built powerful and popular online communities in the real estate industry. What’s your secret?
Chang – Great communities are based on value and values. Value is defined as utility. What brings you to that community and what is the reason you gather? Values are the reasons you keep gathering and the reason the community becomes a part of your identity. If you can answer these questions, you can grow a thriving, vibrant community.
How do these online communities help Realtors?
Chang – Online communities enable people to share different experiences, knowledge, viewpoints and skills to accomplish similar goals. For some, online real estate communities are a place to find new business (agent to agent referrals), for others it is a place to learn, laugh or even just vent.
If you could give any advice to a Realtor looking to build an online presence/community, what would it be?
Chang – To build a community, I focus on value and values. To build an online presence, understand the social media platforms you are choosing to use and how their algorithms affect your content strategy. The algorithms change and are even surprising as to how they work. For example, adding in links that redirect the reader to another website affects your ranking and post visibility on some social media sites.