On Content Creation Strategies

James Joyce, who cared not a whit about the "audience"

This morning, I got into a bit of an interesting discussion on Twitter with Maura Neill, Daniel Rothamel, Matthew Shadbolt, Josh Ferris and others. It was about content creation strategies.

At almost every agent-oriented real estate conference you might have attended in the past few years, and are likely to attend in the next couple, various people offer various advice to real estate agents on how to create “great content” for their blogs, websites, Facebook Pages, and so on.

The most frequently cited advice is something along these lines: “Know your audience and what they want; you can’t lose if you do”.

I emphatically disagree with this, and consider it to be very, very bad advice. It turns out that when it comes to content, knowing your audience and what they want is almost entirely counterproductive for all but the few (I’ll explain below). My advice: “Create content that you find compelling and forget everything else.”

Let’s get into why.

The Audience Doesn’t Know Jack

The “know your audience” concept seems so logical, so straightforward, so obvious. It gets repeated by everybody from bloggers to major studio executives. I mean, jeez, if you know that people want to see XYZ, and you give them XYZ, how could that fail?

The problem is that most people have no idea what they want, especially when it comes to works of creativity.

I went to a high-end restaurant the other day and asked the waiter what he’d recommend. He points to some dish that involved pureed beets; I don’t like beets. I would never, ever have ordered this dish. But, that time, on his recommendation, I try it. Amazing. Delicious. I had absolutely no idea that I would have wanted pureed beets. Turns out, I did.

Similarly, I think back to moments when I remember hearing a song. I don’t mean the normal sequence of “Hey, I’ve heard that somewhere before” turning into repetitive radio play until it seeps into my subconscious (see, e.g., anything by Bruno Mars). I mean those moments when you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard this amazing thing.

First is when I heard Public Enemy for the first time, in 1989, at a small record store off Route 24 in Long Island, NY. The song was, yes, “Fight the Power”. At the time, I was heavily into New Wave music and thought rap wasn’t even music. It was a couple of guys just shouting over simplistic beats. That got totally blown away when I heard this:

Do you think that Public Enemy or its record company ever thought this sort of angry, militant Black Panther inspired music would find such a wide audience? That suburban white kids would be driving around in their family station wagon pumping Fight the Power and yellin’, “Elvis was a hero to most, but he didn’t mean shit to me”?

The second is a couple of years later. I’m driving late at night, after having dropped a friend off at her house. The late-night DJ comes on and says something like, “Hey, here’s something brand new that’s been garnering a ton of underground interest”. And plays this:

I had to pull over. Remember that this is 1991 or 1992. What was popular on the radio charts then? Madonna’s Vogue was absolutely sweeping the country. Even on the rock charts, here are the top ten songs for the year:

  1. Hard To Handle, The Black Crowes
  2. What It Takes, Aerosmith
  3. Jealous Again, The Black Crowes
  4. The Other Side, Aerosmith
  5. Suicide Blonde, INXS
  6. Bad Love, Eric Clapton
  7. If You Needed Somebody, Bad Company
  8. Coming Of Age, Damn Yankees
  9. Moneytalks, AC/DC
  10. Cradle Of Love, Billy Idol

If you were concerned about what the audience wants, you would never sign a band like Nirvana. Never. I mean, Damn Yankees had a #1 hit! Cradle of Love was top ten in the rock charts! And in fact, Nirvana had a tough time finding a major record label deal: “Following repeated recommendations by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Nirvana signed to DGC Records in 1990.” Why repeated? So often? Why ignored until then?

And it is absolutely clear that the explosive success of Smells Like Teen Spirit was unexpected. DCG, the record company, expected to sell 250,000 copies, figuring they’d get the same audience that Sonic Youth got. Audience-oriented thinking, right?

Instead, that song and that band more or less ushered in a new age of rock in the early 90’s.

This pattern repeats itself over and over and over again in every single creative arena. Books that follow no formula, appear to have no recognizable target audience, suddenly become classics. Imagine being Cormac McCarthy and pitching your idea to publishers: “Yeah, I don’t plan on using punctuation much, and all of them grammar rules can go out the window.”

Movies? Blair Witch Project. ‘Nuff said.

TV shows? Anyone who says that they knew that South Park would have been as successful as it has been is lying to you.

Art? Can it really be debated that artists like Picasso and Monet were widely derided for decades, until suddenly, the public taste shifted? That if they had made art for an audience, aware of the audience’s preferences, we’d never have heard of either of them?

People have no idea what they want, what they like, until they see it, hear it, and read it.

The Importance of Passion (And Self-Fulfillment)

Because the audience has no idea about its own likes and dislikes — until it is actually confronted with some work of creativity — the creator becomes neurotic. Every single writer, singer, musician, artist, actor, movie director, etc. etc. has a deep seated fear: “What if they hate it?”

The only way to get through that fear is to do things for yourself. Write what you find interesting. Make music that you like. And hope for the best.

That’s where passion comes through. Even the most untrained, most uncouth, most unoriginal audience member can sense when a work is infused with the creator’s passion. They may not like it, but they sense it and respect it. At the very least, you’d get, “Huh, that’s interesting” out of them.

But the reverse is also true. Audiences can sense a lack of passion, a lack of commitment, a calculated product created and packaged to pull on certain levers. Most romantic comedies follow certain formulas; the audience senses it when the seemingly-incompatible-boy-meets-girl scenes start popping up. They might chuckle, find it enjoyable for a brief, fleeting moment, but they know they’re being manipulated by the creator who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the story, the characters, the dialogue, the situation. They know they’re being fed pre-packaged goods.

This is why the only content strategy that makes sense is to seek self-fulfillment. If you write for anyone except yourself, you will subconsciously adopt that person’s viewpoint and second-guess yourself. If you make videos for anyone except yourself, you’ll find yourself thinking about what they would like, rather than what makes you happy.

In fact, quite a few long-running TV series eventually decay and die because the original passion, the original creators who were telling a story that they themselves would have wanted to hear, are replaced over time by faithful journeymen who are told who the audience is, what their preferences are, what jokes worked in the past, what jokes are likely to work in the future, and just go on churning out stuff they think the audience wants to see.

Keep in mind that this is not to say that you should completely ignore other people. That isn’t art. That isn’t creation. That’s mere self-gratification. But the real process of creation, in my opinion, is one where the creator makes something, looks at it, says, “It is good”, then offers it to the world to see if they see what he sees in it.

Audience Driven Content

This is not to say purely audience-driven content can never succeed. It can, as long as you define success a certain way.

For example, Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and any number of forgettable, over-produced, overhyped stuff at which we look back in regret years later. There is no denying those bands made it big. Or obvious, audience-driven, formulaic works that still wow and amaze. (See, e.g., Avatar.)

But those things require immense amount of resources and unique talent. In some cases, the passion of the creator does come through, even in audience-driven content. Avatar is a good example. It’s a crap movie with a crap story with cardboard cutouts for characters. But oh my… the computer graphics are insane. Even if the writer, the director, the actors all zombiewalked through their parts… the graphic artists and the computer geeks were absolutely passionate and driven.

In other cases, the production is just so well executed that the audience just goes with it, even knowing that they’re digging on the formulaic tried-and-true. You’ve Got Mail comes to mind for me; it’s literally tried and true, since it’s a remake of a 1940’s hit. But it’s just so well done, and the actors are so perfect for their respective roles. I know it’s fluff, but I can’t help but like it. I feel the same way about Law & Order — you know from the initial DUN-DAH to the very end what you’re going to get. But it’s just so well crafted, so well done, that you just ignore it and zone out.

So here’s what I realized: if you’re going to create audience-driven content, seeking to find out what your target audience wants, then delivering that to them… you had better execute it perfectly with the highest standard of technique.

The Advice, Then

With all of the above, then, here’s my advice to any would-be content creator.

  • First, to thine own self be true.
  • Second, within the limits of thy skills and thy craft, tell the stories that interests thee passionately enough that thou wouldst take the time to bother.
  • Third, if thou wouldst focus on thine audience instead, make certain that thy funds are plentiful for thou shalt need to spend mucho time and lucre to achieve perfect execution, for such run-of-the-mill standard things are a dime to the dozen at thy local market faire.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, critiques, and comments.

-rsh

  • http://twitter.com/PamelaSeley Pamela Seley

    Very insightful post. Agents will have to ask themselves which direction they want to go. I always like free, so I’ll probably be spending my time writing content true to my ownself. :)

  • teardowns.com

    When selling (marketing) a product / service / business, passion
    should be in the product /service / business – whether you’re its creator or spokesperson
    (sales force).   The marketing content on
    the other hand, isn’t as straight forward. 
    A company may have a wide audience and delivering a message to that
    diverse audience often requires a more staid and less personal tact.

    This comment is a perfect example.  In our business, customers range from the ultra-wealthy,
    well-educated to the less fortunate.  We
    are concerned about our brand image and opt for a more formal writing style by
    design.

    I think there is room for some gray – a little N’Sync mixed
    with some Blair Witch – nothing too consistent and always make room for
    surprises.

  • http://www.twitter.com/joshferris Josh Ferris

    Rob – First, per your usual, beautifully written and stated. After reviewing my comment it seems I managed to rival your blog posts in length but since we’re not on Twitter… :) 

    You addressed most of my counterpoints towards the middle and end of your article so let me touch on three points from your post:

    • The Audience Doesn’t Know Jack• Industry Pioneers
    • Passion and Authenticity 

    The Audience Doesn’t Know Jack

    Looking at blogging and social media from a real estate lead generation and business perspective, I disagree that the audience doesn’t know what they want. I think we know what works today. 

    The audience of prospective buyers and sellers are looking for an agent who is trustworthy, knows the market they work in, follows up as promised and will work their ass off to make the buying or selling process as easy as possible for them (negotiation etc.) That’s the value agents provide and that’s what buyers and sellers are paying for.

    So with that in mind, and assuming the agent is trustworthy, follows up as promised and works their ass off (something you don’t really know until you meet/work with them or read reviews from third party services like Trulia/Zillow) then an agent’s online focus should be to convey their local area expertise to prospective buyers and sellers reading their blog/Facebook/Twitter feeds.

    Since this whole conversation grew from “what does great content really mean?” I’ll share what I believe it to be. Feel free to add/correct:

    To build a great blog, you should talk about what buyers (and sellers) like. Buyers like:

    • Interpreted Market Statistics – This is probably the hardest type of content to provide for agents who aren’t analytical but buyers want to know how the market is, backed by accurate data, and what it means for their potential purchase. I prefaced market statistics with “interpreted” because it’s easier to just copy and paste what you receive. An agent’s value isn’t in providing the statistics, it’s in interpreting it for their clients.

    • *Real* Neighborhood Information – A lot of neighborhood information. If I’m exploring an area for the first time I’ll go to a couple comfort zones (chain restaurants, stores like Target.) Along the way, I might see a neighborhood that I’m curious about and write down the neighborhood name (I did this as an agent with a community named “Meadow Glen at Monroe”) to Google when I get home. 

    If an agent spent the time to build a page on their website (or better yet, a full blown website dedicated to that neighborhood) and I go home and Google the neighborhood name, I’m going to find that agent’s website and by association, they’ll become an authority on that neighborhood in my mind.

    As a prospective buyer, there’s a good chance that agent will have the opportunity to earn my business just by providing the information I’m interested in. So for agents, writing about specific subdivisions is a huge win because it’s one of the fastest ways to attract prospective buyers and their competition is most likely too lazy/busy to write about it so the niche is there for the taking.

    Taking it a step further, you’d be making a safe bet that sellers are also Googling their neighborhood and contacting the agents who seem to know it best based on their online presence.

    • Recommendations From a “Local” – For someone who is just looking for the best hair salon or restaurant on the go, nothing an agent/agency could do will supersede a great resource like Yelp. However, if you’re writing about your favorite restaurants, stores, commuter routes and things to do in the area, this will help reinforce your local expertise AND give you the opportunity to talk about something you like.

    The above three points are by no means the only things you can write about but I’d argue that the audience an agent is trying to attract (prospective buyers and sellers) is most interested in those three things.

    For Facebook, I’d say follow the in the steps of the venerable Sue Adler which is to use it as a connection tool. Friend all of your past and current clients and use it to connect new neighbors with existing residents who also happen to be past clients. Share what you’re working on including photos of upcoming listings. Share things about the area that you like most. Sue’s “Sue Adler Dot Combo” sandwich at the Millburn Deli was brilliant. 

    I see Twitter a little differently. I’d recommend using hashtags to engage with people talking about what’s happening locally but I think the best return on your time with Twitter is getting to know other agents. I didn’t (and still don’t have) an agenda while using Twitter but I was fortunate enough to get a referral for a $499,900 listing in my market from Jolenta Averill in Madison, WI (@jolenta:twitter ).  

    Regarding what the audience of prospective buyers and sellers do NOT care about:

    • Cheerleading your accomplishments
    • Potentially skewed testimonials (written testimonials hand selected by the agent)

    Industry Pioneers

    In any industry you have the trailblazers like Sue Adler (@sueadler:twitter ), Kristy Owen (creator of “365 Things to Do in Austin, TX”) and Marc Davison (@1000wattmarc:twitter )  who are pioneers. It’s their innovation and creative thinking that changes industries. That said, the vast majority of agents (and people in general) are not early adopters or trailblazers. They want to know what works and then apply it to their business.

    Expecting extreme innovation from every person trying to build their real estate business online is unrealistic. Some are more creative than others. It’s just the way things are. Still, I love innovation and am always impressed by the immense creativity that resides in our industry.

    Passion and Authenticity

    The underlying theme of your post seems to be that agents need to be passionate about what they’re writing otherwise they won’t do it. I agree completely.

    During our Twitter conversation I mentioned a fine line between your passions and tying it back into real estate. In the example, we talked about an agent who loves arts and crafts but is in real estate. If your intent is to build a real estate blog, by all means blog about arts and crafts but tie it into real estate/local lifestyle. 

    For example, you could write about upcoming arts and crafts fairs, interview local creators and talk about your passion for the pieces you discover. The fine line gets crossed if you dedicate your entire blog to arts and crafts without making it relevant to your blog’s subject. 

    A blog about Monroe, NY real estate shouldn’t be full of posts talking about just your arts and crafts or offering them for sale to your readers because then you’re not serving the interest of your desired audience which is to learn more about the Monroe, NY area.

    I’m a firm believer that anyone, small business owners like agents and brokers included, should always be passionate and authentic about what they’re doing and writing about. Just be sure that you connect the dots with your intent for the blog (to receive inquiries from RWA buyers and sellers) otherwise it’s a futile exercise.

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com Notorious R.O.B.

      Josh – many, many thanks for engaging. Even if we debate, I love the passion (there’s that word!) you’re bringing to this. So thanks.

      A few responses.

      1. “with that in mind, and assuming the agent is trustworthy, follows up as promised and works their ass off (something you don’t really know until you meet/work with them or read reviews from third party services like Trulia/Zillow) then an agent’s online focus should be to convey their local area expertise to prospective buyers and sellers reading their blog/Facebook/Twitter feeds”

      First, I think there’s a real disconnect here between actual consumer behavior as it comes to realtors/service professionals and what realtors/service professionals think consumer behavior is. Consider: with all the blogging, with all the “content creating”, with all the advice given out over the past 3-4 years…what is the #1 reason why a consumer chooses to work with a particular agent?

      The agent is the first to call them back. Research from REALTOR.com shows this to be true. Over 70% of homebuyers work with the FIRST realtor to respond.

      Realtors, meanwhile, think that some consumer is doing background checks on them, reading their blogs diligently, hanging on their every word, combing through their Facebook Page to ensure that the realtor is a local expert.

      I honestly believe that the percentage of consumers who do ANY research on the realtor is in single-digit percentages, and are likely to be pain-in-the-ass engineer types. Almost everyone else, I think, just works with the first person they either (a) get recommended from a friend, or (b) talk to on the phone.

      Second, I’ve read dozens of REALTOR blogs that do precisely what you recommend, before I finally stopped to save my sanity. Interpret market stats, talk about the neighborhood, and have posts about local restaurants, parks, things to do, etc. Let’s be frank here: almost all of them bore me to tears. They read like a school assignment that some poor agent forced on herself because she heard from some expert at the last conference she went to that she had to do these things. It’s realtor homework essays, on a “blog”. And they could not possibly be more boring.

      It’s rare when I find one that isn’t boring, because the agent when he wrote it wasn’t bored himself. Best example to me is Jim Duncan’s blog, when he gets into local development issues. Maybe it’s just me, but I find them readable, and from talking to Jim, I know that he’s pretty passionate about local politics. That passion shines through. I don’t think he regards the exercise as some sort of homework. (If you do, Jim, you’re damn good at faking it.)

      You mentioned my former listing agent, Sue Adler. Very interesting. First, read this blogpost. Big yawn. After you wake up, read this one. Well, where the hell did all this sparkle and personality come from? Is this the same writer?

      I think Sue would be honest enough to admit that the first one was one of those “realtor homework” posts she felt obligated to do. Yawn. The second one is her passion: marketing, reaching consumers in a new and interesting way. And it shows.

      Third, as to “innovators”… problem here is, Josh, that when people are recommending “content creation strategies”, they’re not talking about how to process a loan application. We’re talking about doing things that are inherently creative. With products, with services, maybe innovation is rare and hard, but when it comes to creating content — written, audio, video, or otherwise — we’re talking about something that is inherently creative.  Otherwise, why bother? Just copy & paste, or pay a ghost writer to do it for you. Why think about it at all? And how the hell do you “strategize” creativity anyhow?

      Plus, as I point out, I admit that audience-centric content can be successful. But that requires near-perfect execution or unique talent, since the audience knows they’re being pandered to. If a realtor had that kind of talent… why sell real estate? Go be in the movies, or start a band, dammit! Your talents are being wasted in real estate if you can manage to make boring formulaic crap interesting.

      Finally, I think you missed my point from the Twitter conversation. You’re suggesting that people tie their passions into real estate somehow. Talk about arts & crafts, but in your town! Write about cycling past the wonderful new development with modestly priced homes for sale! 

      No. My point is that you shouldn’t write about a town at all unless you’re passionate about the damn town. You want to do a hyperlocal blog about Monroe, NY?  Go right ahead, if you’re passionate about and interested in Monroe, NY. That will shine through. See, e.g., Jim Duncan, Heather Elias or Lori Bee, all three are people who love their towns. But if you’re just doing it as realtor homework, and Monroe, NY is just your market area… please for the love of all that is holy, stop. The world simply does not need another boring realtor hyperlocal blog produced by a realtor dutifully slogging through the ‘homework’.

      Damn, this got long. It’s almost a post in itself. :) But thank you for the opportunity to engage, debate, challenge, and clarify.

      • http://www.twitter.com/joshferris Josh Ferris

        First, where did you get bold text option from? My Disqus menu doesn’t afford these luxuries! :)

        In all seriousness though, you make valid counterpoints that we should go deeper into.

        ========

        1. “with that in mind, and assuming the agent is trustworthy, follows up as promised and works their ass off (something you don’t really know until you meet/work with them or read reviews from third party services like Trulia/Zillow) then an agent’s online focus should be to convey their local area expertise to prospective buyers and sellers reading their blog/Facebook/Twitter feeds”First, I think there’s a real disconnect here between actual consumer behavior as it comes to realtors/service professionals and what realtors/service professionals think consumer behavior is. Consider: with all the blogging, with all the “content creating”, with all the advice given out over the past 3-4 years…what is the #1 reason why a consumer chooses to work with a particular agent?The agent is the first to call them back. Research from REALTOR.com shows this to be true. Over 70% of homebuyers work with the FIRST realtor to respond.Realtors, meanwhile, think that some consumer is doing background checks on them, reading their blogs diligently, hanging on their every word, combing through their Facebook Page to ensure that the realtor is a local expert.I honestly believe that the percentage of consumers who do ANY research on the realtor is in single-digit percentages, and are likely to be pain-in-the-ass engineer types. Almost everyone else, I think, just works with the first person they either (a) get recommended from a friend, or (b) talk to on the phone.

        ####1

        Allow me to clarify what I meant by “online focus” in my initial comment. I was referring to what an agent needs to do to build out their online presence which is required if you’re looking to receive inquiries from a blog, Facebook or Twitter. Following up is an entirely different animal and promptness is key. 

        As an agent, I used to challenge myself to follow up with an online inquiry as quickly as possible. I almost always reached the person who inquired and was able to qualify them if I called within 5 minutes. This worked especially well because they were often still on my site browsing.

        I wrote a blog post on the BHGRE blog about a 2009 lead follow up study that backs up the need to follow up as quickly as possible. Link to post: http://bhgrealestateblog.com/2011/03/01/want-better-internet-leads-try-these-3-tricks-from-mit/

        ####1

        Second, I’ve read dozens of REALTOR blogs that do precisely what you recommend, before I finally stopped to save my sanity. Interpret market stats, talk about the neighborhood, and have posts about local restaurants, parks, things to do, etc. Let’s be frank here: almost all of them bore me to tears. They read like a school assignment that some poor agent forced on herself because she heard from some expert at the last conference she went to that she had to do these things. It’s realtor homework essays, on a “blog”. And they could not possibly be more boring.It’s rare when I find one that isn’t boring, because the agent when he wrote it wasn’t bored himself. Best example to me is Jim Duncan’s blog, when he gets into local development issues. Maybe it’s just me, but I find them readable, and from talking to Jim, I know that he’s pretty passionate about local politics. That passion shines through. I don’t think he regards the exercise as some sort of homework. (If you do, Jim, you’re damn good at faking it.)You mentioned my former listing agent, Sue Adler. Very interesting. First, read this blogpost. Big yawn. After you wake up, read this one. Well, where the hell did all this sparkle and personality come from? Is this the same writer?I think Sue would be honest enough to admit that the first one was one of those “realtor homework” posts she felt obligated to do. Yawn. The second one is her passion: marketing, reaching consumers in a new and interesting way. And it shows.

        ####2

        There are two types of content at play using Sue’s examples: foundation and engaging. I agree that the train station post is staid but it serves value as foundational content for any real estate blog. It’s not sexy or fun to write about but if you’re going to build a local resource for people moving into your area, this is information they’ll be looking for.

        You could use that train station post as part of a larger “commuter” series of posts for people relocating from NYC to the suburbs of NJ. Taking it a step further, you could email it to clients after you’ve toured the area with them. By going that extra step, your client doesn’t need to do the research and this is valuable information to the client on your blog.

        I would even go further and create an eBook compilation of blog posts like this and offer it for download on my site as “How to Get to NYC in 30 Minutes or Less Using New Jersey’s Train System.”

        All that said, I think Sue could improve that train post to make it more appealing. If I’m a commuter and one of Sue’s clients, my questions about that train station are:

        “How far away is the nearest deli/Dunkin Donuts/Starbucks so I can grab coffee and a bagel before getting on the train in the morning?”

        “Where do the tracks run? Are they near any of the communities I’m looking to buy a home in?”

        “What other services are nearby? Is there a four star Yelp-rated dry cleaner 2 minutes away from the train station that I can drop off my suits and pick them up without having to go out of my way before and after work?”

        This brings us back to making it relevant to your audience’s interest. 

        On to the second post, I noticed there hasn’t been much response to it. It’s great that Sue took to her blog to gauge feedback but I think she’d get significantly more feedback if she posed the same question on Facebook or Twitter where people are more conditioned to responding to updates. 

        Human behavior is human behavior whether you gauge it on a blog or social network. The big difference between the two platforms is response rate.

        ####2

        Third, as to “innovators”… problem here is, Josh, that when people are recommending “content creation strategies”, they’re not talking about how to process a loan application. We’re talking about doing things that are inherently creative. With products, with services, maybe innovation is rare and hard, but when it comes to creating content — written, audio, video, or otherwise — we’re talking about something that is inherently creative.  Otherwise, why bother? Just copy & paste, or pay a ghost writer to do it for you. Why think about it at all? And how the hell do you “strategize” creativity anyhow?Plus, as I point out, I admit that audience-centric content can be successful. But that requires near-perfect execution or unique talent, since the audience knows they’re being pandered to. If a realtor had that kind of talent… why sell real estate? Go be in the movies, or start a band, dammit! Your talents are being wasted in real estate if you can manage to make boring formulaic crap interesting. 

        ####3

        Let’s break this one down a bit. If everyone has some form of inherent creativity I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that we have all explored that creativity to the extent that we’re able to express our ideas through writing or are comfortable recording podcasts or video. There’s a huge number of insecurities we all have with the way we write, spell, speak or make expressions with our bodies. 

        I’m not of the school of thought that every agent should blog, be on Facebook or on Twitter. Unfortunately for those agents who do not want to prospect online, the old ways of prospecting are quickly withering away. With the exception of agents who are well connected or have built up a strong referral base over the years, there don’t seem to be many client prospecting opportunities that aren’t internet based in some way.

        So, all that taken into consideration, I’d like to reiterate the concept of foundational content from above. The reason you bother to create foundational (or “safe”) content (commuter guides, town and subdivision profiles etc.) is to have it on your website showing you are knowledgeable of the local area and share it with clients in your business.

        This type of content is lambasted because it’s not easily made interesting. However, it’s still valuable when a prospective buyer is seeking it out. 

        The future of real estate does favor the creatives because they’ll be able to take uninspired ideas and enhance them with things like neighborhood photos, homeowner video interviews about why they love living in the neighborhood and similar media enhancements to make it more valuable to the person seeking it out.

        ####3

        Finally, I think you missed my point from the Twitter conversation. You’re suggesting that people tie their passions into real estate somehow. Talk about arts & crafts, but in your town! Write about cycling past the wonderful new development with modestly priced homes for sale! No. My point is that you shouldn’t write about a town at all unless you’re passionate about the damn town. You want to do a hyperlocal blog about Monroe, NY?  Go right ahead, if you’re passionate about and interested in Monroe, NY. That will shine through. See, e.g., Jim Duncan,Heather Elias or Lori Bee, all three are people who love their towns. But if you’re just doing it as realtor homework, and Monroe, NY is just your market area… please for the love of all that is holy, stop. The world simply does not need another boring realtor hyperlocal blog produced by a realtor dutifully slogging through the ‘homework’.

        ####4

        Generally speaking, I would think most agents who are blogging about their market live there because they like it. I’ll go on record as saying I hated living in upstate NY which is what eventually forced my hand to make the decision to leave the real estate sales part of our industry and to transition into real estate technology that I’m passionate about.

        Even so, what do you say to the agent who is without the financial resources to move to a place they like but need to support themselves by trying to attract prospects online? 

        Does the world need another boring hyper-local real estate blog? Of course not. But if building said blog is going to help an agent build their business in a market, who are we to tell them not to? Those of us who have been in the industry for a while offer our guidance (write interesting content etc.) but it’s up to the agent to listen and apply it to their online presence. 

        ####4

      • http://www.notorious-rob.com Notorious R.O.B.

        This conversation is probably worth more than the original post, Josh.  (BTW, I get bold, italics, quotes, etc. by using raw HTML code in the response box).

        Rather than go point-by-point, let me zero in on one issue.

        One issue is to put everything into a single bucket: “online focus” or “online content”. That leads to offering bad advice to agents, because one doesn’t distinguish between types of online content.

        If the “foundational” pieces are necessary to display local expertise… fine… go hire a good copywriter and churn out some reasonably interesting, well-written copy. Or go hire a videographer and shoot some brochureware. All of those are good things to do from a marketing standpoint.

        Is that what you (and other experts) mean by “create great content”? If so, we have no dispute. But let’s not forget what this “great content” is: brochureware. It will read like brochureware, intended for the audience who is looking for the brochure.

        The nice thing is, making brochures doesn’t take that much time & energy. No need for a realtor to get involved with doing realtor homework, like maintaining a blog, or an active Facebook page, or whatever. In fact, outsource the thing to marketers and writers who know what they’re doing. It’s just brochure copy, after all. Let’s not kid ourselves that you’re going to let your personality shine through, or your passion for anything shine through, in brochure copy.

        So let’s assume we agree on the virtue of having good brochureware, and good, as-interesting-as-possible brochure copy and video.

        Then can we agree that for anything beyond brochureware, people should follow my advice?

      • http://www.twitter.com/joshferris Josh Ferris

        Rob – Don’t call me an expert. :P Experienced, sure, but expert seems ostentatious when the simple truth is we’re all learning from each other.

        Per my comment to Bill below, if you define “great content” as “brochureware” because it’s about the local area then I agree that it should exist on any website or blog an agent is looking to build. It’s still core content and valuable.

        I don’t think most agents (speaking about the majority) have the financial resources to hire a copywriter or videographer. The average agent makes $36,712 per year after all (http://www1.salary.com/Real-Estate-Agent-salary.html

        I’ve offered my real estate site to numerous brokers and agents in the market it serves at half what it should be worth and there are no takers because the cost is deemed too high despite the fact that it generates 50+ leads per month. The cost issue will prevent most agents (and brokers) from taking the leap of getting core content professionally produced which is why they’re tasked with creating it themselves.

        I haven’t disagreed with your point. I agree that agents and brokers would be wise to follow your advice but my point all along has been you need to have great core content (hyper-local or whatever it may be deemed) and creative pieces. One shouldn’t exist without the other. Fair enough?

      • http://www.horizonapp.co/ Drew Meyers

        “you shouldn’t write about a town at all unless you’re passionate about the damn town.”

        agree. And if, as an agent, you’re not passionate about your town, go move somewhere you are passionate about. Or get out of the business of selling a lifestyle you hate.

  • http://www.Kens411.com Ken Brand

    Good stuff and thanks for the reminder.  I will add that I think it is important to have a feeling or sense not for “what” people want, but what their problems, questions, fears, desires and aspirations are. If you can create content that you’re passionate about and it touches on, all, or a few of those, you’re gonna move and attract people.

  • http://www.horizonapp.co/ Drew Meyers

    Agree with both sides here actually. Josh makes a few good points – there are proven things we all know buyers are looking for, neighborhood news and information being one of them. 

    In the end, I think this is a case where both methods can work if executed correctly.But without execution? Nothing. And execution is where most people fail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottschang Scott Schang

    I don’t think I’m going to add anything too new here except to support the first part of the statement “Create content that you find compelling and forget everything else.”
    As Drew points out, execution is where most fail.  If you cannot be passionate or compelled by your own content…What’s going to motivate you to create it? If your content lacks passion I think you run the risk of sounding like a brochure.

    As always, great conversation.

  • http://www.smminstitute.com Bill Lublin

    Josh – Rob – you guys are talking about two different consumers at different points in the buying process But its late and I’m too tired to explain why you’re both right but missing the point- (though IMHO Rob is wayyy closer to reality regarding what would constitute positive impact by a consumer. 
    OK, I’ll try a short version;
    if the consumer is working with an agent who is the first to call them back , then no agent successfully accomplished the goal of becoming a trusted resource. If the agent did accomplish that (probably not with property or neighborhood data) then the consumer is calling them directly to ask about property when they have a real estate need – Think about the differences there 
    Gonna go to sleep now – cya later 

    • http://www.twitter.com/joshferris Josh Ferris

      Bill – I don’t think we’ve met in person but one thing I can tell you Rob and I share is our desire to debate topics to the most granular point. :) I get what you’re saying though. We’re essentially debating the definition of “great” content. What makes it great?

      I agree with Rob that great content is unique, inspiring and passionate. From a practical, use it in the field everyday perspective though, I think “great” content is also information your clients and prospects who are researching will find useful including all the boring stuff. I’m all for passionate writing and thinking but I’d hate to see agents start building their web presence without creating content they can use in their business from day to day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dee-Pratt/1635108274 Dee Pratt

    Sooooo …. love your free-thought — your content is a bit wordy, you seem to be a bit full of yourself, so why, when my office manager forwards your stuff over to me, do I always read every word???  And why did I bite the bullet, so to speak, and sign up?  Because you are the personification of everything you just mentioned in this particular blog.  Carry on, wayward son ….

  • http://twitter.com/TexasLandChick Jeani Thomas Richie

    You’re a genius!  That is all!  Thank you so much for this post, it made so much sense to me! :)

  • Matthew Shadbolt

    Hi everyone,

    As part of the original online conversation about this (and at the insistence of Rob), I’ve spent some time thinking about this, digesting the conversation, and wanted to share some thoughts.

    While I agree with the fundamentals of Rob’s argument, there’s a few issues I think are missing from this discussion, which I’d like to add to the mix. My main concern with Rob’s post is the lack of viable, visible examples within the real estate community of Rob’s approach actively working. This is why so many of us are looking elsewhere (i.e. the music industry) to communicate our points. This lack of concrete examples makes this difficult for those in the ‘advice’ sessions which we were following online, to grasp the concept of what determines good from bad – all they hear is ‘starting posting because if you’re not you’re missing out’. While Rob’s argument that essentially ‘good’ = ‘passionate’ is difficult to argue against, I’d suggest that passion is simply one aspect of what makes something effective and ultimately ‘good’.

    This blog post is a good example of the problems inherent in a passionate approach. Passion can cause you to create things that are too long and are a barrier for the recipients to actually even consume. For example, to return to our music industry analogy, however groundbreaking Public Enemy or Nirvana were at the time, they were still working within an established and somewhat agreed upon framework of the 3 minute song designed to be played on the radio. They had distilled their ‘passion’ into a format which they understood that the audience would be familiar with, however challenging and innovative the material.

    So, just as we disagreed yesterday with the advice of ‘post great content that people will want to share’, ‘be passionate’ isn’t an endgame in itself either. I feel like passionate content exists in real estate, pretty much only within social at the moment (I wouldn’t characterize any type of online home search as ‘passionate’ although I would love it to be), but my criticism of such content is that it is very often poorly executed. There is a very important quality issue missing from the content creation discussion. If it looks like crap, is tough to hear, or unreadable, people will not use it, no matter how ‘passionate’ the intent behind it – as a result your work becomes invisible. This is why I disagree with Rob’s point that you can’t strategize around creative – I think you have to. This is what ad agencies do, and why some in the real estate industry hear the call to think of themselves more as media companies, especially around their marketing. I believe there is real value in thinking this way, and goes further towards Rob’s goals of ‘owning the town’ than anything you could do on any one platform – it has to be completely comprehensive (and multi-platform) in solution.

    So the idea of ‘making what you like and hoping for the best’ is really only the start of the process. I think that ultimately the audience will tell you what works, and you can still make whatever you want, but it has to be somewhat framed by who’s consuming it – even if you dont know that when you begin. While Coke hasn’t changed it’s secret formula (or at least successfully), it HAS changed the way it communicates with its audience over time, and that strategy is informed by their market. I err to use Apple as the exception to this rule (as they are generally the exception to any rule), but they personify Rob’s approach very well – the idea that ‘people dont know what they want’ is exactly how they develop products – who would have come up with a MP3 player with only one button on it? Or a computer that comes in a choice of colors? Apple have been able to shape the market, and I believe this is also possible with online real estate content as well. Malcolm Gladwell is also an interesting read on this approach (re: spaghetti sauce). The idea of how people search for homes online, for example, I hope is due for a major shake-up as I dont think it reflects in any sense what happens offline.

    The idea that the only content strategy is self fulfillment only reflects part of the process. None of us are Stanley Kubrick. But the principle is the same – do what you love, and no-one can disagree with that advice. When I hear ‘post great content’, I worry that the poor agent in the seminar, already overwhelmed, and the one who truly needs and is looking for guidance and insight, is being done a disservice by the ‘experts’. We cannot realistically expect agents to be photographers, copywriters, videographers, analytics experts, content strategists or programmers. These tasks are being heaped upon those individuals, especially at these ‘events’ and fueled by social media discussions.

    As I repeatedly mentioned in our Twitter conversation, it is the WHAT that they need to hear. While the discussion as to what is ‘good’ is intensely subjective, the parameters of the box are not. A Facebook post is a certain size, a video is of an optimum length, a listing has certain slots to fill. What you do with those erodes what is ‘good’ if you dont focus on absolutely making it look the best it possibly can, in a way that is as easy to consume as possible.

    So, we need examples in order to crystallize this in the minds of real estate professionals. I hope that this discussion goes some way to helping create them. 

    Rob, thank you for creating a challenging post to respond to, I’m glad I took the time to really think about this discussion. I very rarely respond to blog posts, but I think that’s something I’d like to change after this.

    • http://www.notorious-rob.com Notorious R.O.B.

      Congratulations, Matthew. I think this might be the best comment ever left on this blog. And you’re making me re-examine my positions, which… does happen, but not all that often. :)  So thanks.

      I’ll be back to respond in depth, after giving it more thought.

  • http://mybrooklynreport.com Michael Corley

    I’ve got to admit … I followed Matthew Shadbolt over here to this convo from twitter because I was intrigued.

    I’m a blogging real estate broker in Brooklyn and I’ve actually, up until this moment, thought I was the only guy in the room who held the same notion as you Rob.

    The reason why I began taking a more “creatively passionate” approach to producing original content is because I couldn’t bring myself to write the same 25 verbs and 13 adjectives used by Agents (yes, I’ve done the research and it’s true)

    So I started writing my property descriptions in novel format, with vivid language in the third person and saw my pretty regular real estate web site convert more visitors requesting appointments…when that happened I knew I was on to something.

    I then began blogging in strong, passionate prose on real estate topics considered taboo by many of my peers in NYC and saw it resonate with the readership (I even was interviewed for a documentary as a result).  

    In fact, I can honestly point to the articles at My Brooklyn Report that a prospective client read that won me the business even before they picked up the phone to call me or send an email.

    Netting 5 listings that earned a total gross commission income over six figures in the last 24 months was just the start to what I began to realize (and it’s exactly what you point out …. the audience doesn’t know what they want …. but they loved to be entertained, inspired, pulled in, moved, taken away … you get the point).

    The majority of licensed Agents, I fear, aren’t up to the task for this one reason … no one ever grew up wanting to become a real estate broker (unless they grew up in a family brokerage).

    So the unique copy writer skills (headlines/title, opening sentence, compelling 1st paragraph, etc…) isn’t anything an Agent wants to hear they’ll need to learn to become better at sales.

    They’re all busy on twitter, facebook and linkedin mastering what should already be first hand skills in their arsenal … how to start a conversation.

    Just visit twitter on any given day and peer into the stream of any real estate broker and watch what their serving up to their followers: Latest sales statics, new developments, shift/changes in markets, etc…and it’s not as though the other 5, 10 or 15 Agents in their market aren’t tweeting or sharing the same stuff.

    My apologies in advance for the long reply here … it’s just good to know I’m not the only guy in the room…..

    But I’ll leave on this note for my colleagues … if you wait too long for empirical evidence to signal that this might just be the way to establish your USP in your market, another broker will already beat you to it because …. THE WRITER RUNS THIS SHOW!!! … because everyone loves to read a good yarn spun.

  • http://westchesterrealestateblog.net/ J Philip Faranda

    There are very few agents who blog well for business in my view. They either aren’t consistent or write such contrived, key word loaded stuff that they are unreadable. That is over strategic, and I don’t care how passionate they are, if a person sees “XXXville real estate agent” 15 times in 4 paragraphs they are gone and not coming back.  

    God Bless Joe Ferrara, who gave me the best blogging advice in the world: Don’t think about it, just write what you want to write when you want to write it. In the last 12 calender months I have 48 transaction sides and can trace at least 12 to my blogging efforts: either members of the public who found me online or other agents who referred me business because they subscribe. 18 of my 43 listings also come directly from blogging, so the trend is evident. 

    Joe also said to not worry about the “rules.” To the RE.NET orthodoxy, I am probably a heretic. I don’t contribute primarily to my WordPress site, I am mostly on Active Rain. I don’t go to many events.  I could give a lick about keywords, and I never learned analytics. Doing all of that might make me better. When Chris Frerecks asked me about this stuff last year I had him walking away shaking his head. 
    But I put out lots of my own thoughts and feelings as they come, and the percentage of business I do thanks to blogging has grown consistently since 2008. This is to say nothing about the media exposure and recruiting results. Blogging has been very good to me. 

    All that said, blogging passionately in one’s own voice IS a legitimate strategy. Avoiding overthinking and speaking one’s mind is a strategy. It isn’t contrived or manipulated, it is just an approach. There may be some people who don’t trust their own voice or can’t write well enough to drive a point home. Blogging may not be for them. But for people who do like to write, if they don’t put out content that is in their own voice and where they just FEEL BETTER for having written it (isn’t that why writers write?), no strategy will ever truly work. 

  • http://www.NestingInNashville.com/ Stephanie Crawford @AgentSteph

    I love Law & Order :)  All of them.
    Seriously, great post.

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  • Matt

    Rob – Your Public Enemy example is not lost on me. To me rap was cheating. It wasn’t music. It was stupid. Those low end bass beats changed my mind for good. Chuck D sang about a world that didn’t exist to me in the suburbs, but I listened. I didn’t know that I wanted to care, but somehow I found myself listening deeper.

    Listening to your audience can have great benefits, but in the case of most of the people listening to the speakers at conferences, they might not even have much of an audience to listen to. You have to give them content that may or may not work. You have to toss it out there and see what is working and what isn’t. You can learn a lot by listening to your audience’s reactions, but I don’t think it’s the be all end all of content creation. I talk a lot about hockey in my social and blog circles. Very few people care or want to hear it. I’m not following my audience on this one at all. Yet, I’ve found that there is a small audience for it and those people are passionate about it and we’ve made real life connections because of it. Several of them are clients because of it.

    Give people what they want – you. Not everyone will find it “perfect” but those that do will be more rabid and hungry to get more than you could ever imagine.

    PS I think you’re a great example. Everyone loves a good short blog post. The statistics back that up and everyone teaches it as a mantra. You? To hell with it. You write what you want, how you want. And you know what? People flock to you, because they didn’t know they want in-depth analysis like you provide.

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