If you ever watched Bewitched, you will remember Samantha’s husband, Darrin, worked at an ad agency.
As part of his job, Darrin came up with catchy slogans and jingles, and hand-sketched ad ideas to present to clients who were looking to build their customer base.
In those days, building a brand was all about who had the most memorable advertisements, in the most visible places.
Decades down the track, and advertising still plays a big part in how we build a successful brand, but as our customers have become more savvy and more cynical, they want much more than just a clever ear worm.
Now, customers want to know the brands they buy from are responsible, genuine, that they really care. They want to support companies that support them.
On a national or international level, customers look for companies that are responsible, ethical and that don’t want to violate the rights of their customers to make an extra dollar.
On a local level, customers look for businesses that are integrated firmly into their communities, and are led by people who understand not just the needs, but the real challenges of their neighbours.
Real estate is no exception to this, and for a long time, agents have known, to be successful at a local level, you need to embed yourself in the community – genuinely – and play a supporting role in its health and growth.
Recently, one of EAC’s members contacted us because they are working hard to build their local brand, but want to know more about engaging their local community and becoming a part of the lifeblood that runs through it.
In this article, we tackle community engagement – what to do, what not to do and how to be a local hero, rather than a local celeb for all the wrong reasons.
What not to do
There’s being famous and there’s being infamous, and in real estate, at a local level, you definitely don’t want to be the latter.
One of our team tells this story of the town she grew up in:
When I was growing up, we had a handful of different real estate agents in our regional town.
The agencies led by the youngest two agents were constantly competing for the spotlight.
Both attended all the local events – you knew if something was on, these two agents and their teams behind them, would be in attendance.
On the one hand, you had one agent who rolled up his sleeves and got involved. You’d never miss him cooking at a barbeque and having a laugh with someone, commentating behind the scenes at the local show, wearing a sponsored jersey and ripping it up on the field in a football game.
On the other hand, the other agent would ‘descend on our events’, gracing us with his presence. He would show up, shake hands, wink across the room at people he knew and be seen in all the right places. But he never did anything. He didn’t really lift a finger to help – unless specifically asked.
Needless to say, the more involved agent and his team were the more respected bunch in town. Both had strong brand awareness – everyone knew about them – but people preferred to work with the first agent because they knew he’d roll up his sleeves and do everything he could to get the job done for them.
What this simple story tells us is that it is not enough to be present, to be known – you have to be known for the right reasons. Local engagement is not about dropping in and being seen, it is about being truly involved.
When it comes to what not to do, building a reputation as the ‘big man in town’… who won’t lift a finger to help, is not the best approach to engaging your community.
How to build true community engagement
With our ‘what not to do’ story in mind, building your local brand through community engagement needs to come from a genuine place.
You need to select activities that really appeal to you and that you are not just willing, but eager to get stuck into.
We’ve included a list below of ways you can build engagement with your community.
Don’t dive into all of them – select those that most resonate with you, that you can take meaning from and give meaning to, and make them a cornerstone of your regular engagement activity now, and into the future.
Sponsor what makes sense
One agent that we spoke to sponsored the local horse racing in his regional area. In talking to him, we found he had never been to the races because he didn’t really support the sport and he didn’t really know who attended the events.
When selecting a local sponsorship, make sure it’s something that will attract the right kind of people – the people who are going to be your potential clients, or who are likely to mention you to potential clients.
Make sure the activity or event you are sponsoring is something you really support and that you know helps to foster spirit in the local community.
A lot of agents select to sponsor children’s sport for these reasons.
Children’s sport – right at that level where kids hit their peak and the sport becomes a local draw card – fosters great values in the youth of the town and helps them spend their time productively. It also attracts their parents – potential buyers and sellers – to the side lines.
Lead a local charity event or cause
The most important thing to remember when volunteering your time, is that those volunteering around you are likely doing so for purposes unrelated to business growth.
They have a real passion or a real personal connection to the charitable cause – they are also locals who could be property sellers or buyers, or influencers of sellers and buyers.
Being part of volunteer or charity work is a great way to connect more with locals and build your brand and engagement.
But, if it’s not genuine, if you’re just there for the photos, those volunteering with you, and attending the event will see right through you, and the result could be the opposite of what you’ve planned.
When selecting a charity, find something you are passionate about and can get involved with in the long term. A great example is one real estate group that runs a homeless dinner in the backyard of their office several times each year.
The owner of the agency has been involved in work with homeless people for years (and for the most part has done this quietly and without fan fair), and now invites other locals to volunteer, and join her agency in putting on these events.
They partner with local supermarkets and other businesses, and local media covers them to help get donations towards the events.
The agent and the brand are now known for their homeless dinners and it is part of what their community loves about them.
Use Facebook to engage the local community
Facebook can be one of those marketing channels that we just get done – we tick the box and move on. But it can also be a great channel for local engagement.
One brilliant example of an agency using it to really cement itself as the go-to in the town, is a team that hosts a closed, local Facebook group.
Within the group, it holds regular, live Q and A sessions and invites members to submit questions about real estate, whenever they have them, to be answered promptly and openly.
The agency has used Facebook to become the accessible and knowledgeable authority on real estate in its town, giving priority to answering questions very quickly, with practical responses that often lead to greater conversations with its agents.
These conversations create the foundation for relationships and ensure locals think of their brand first when seeking out a specialist to sell their home or property.
This particular agency also does an excellent job with its open content (outside the group).
Instead of posting listing after listing, it gets out in the community at local events, and shares pictures of its team engaging naturally with locals, so they can spot and tag themselves and share posts with others.
If you are going to take this route, always make sure you have consent to take and share the image of someone else, and a parent’s consent if the photo is of a child.
Draw on local influencers
Celebrities like the Kardashians or Taylor Swift aren’t the only influencers in the world – at a local level, you will have your own set of community heroes, celebrities and personalities who are trusted.
In smaller communities, a lot of locals are influencers, because everyone knows each other.
Make strategic partnerships with local personalities, and when working with them, share collaborations on social media. After selling any property – especially those of local celebs – make sure you get a video testimonial, post it to Facebook and boost it so everyone around town sees it!
Outside of these four examples, there are so many ways you can build on your local engagement strategies and become an important and useful part of your community, in a way that positively reflects on your business:
- Join town committees or the local chamber of commerce
- Take out a local radio spot and provide the Saturday morning (the sport commute) update on the local market
- Put something interesting and relevant to the community – like a photo slide show of a recent community event you were involved in – in your window to attract more viewers
- Create a simple, print mini-mag that showcases local businesses and attractions and leave it outside the front door for visitors – this keeps you top of mind for outsiders looking to buy and move into the community
- Place ads – mindful to be community-orientated – in the school newsletters or local bulletins
In 2017, global ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi conducted a study in the USA, visiting small towns across 13 different states. Not surprisingly, they found 95% of locals reported a sense of pride in their community.
As an agent, your ability to help build a community others can be proud of, your genuine commitment to its health and wellbeing, and your capacity to help it celebrate its uniqueness, can have a big impact on the people around you, and on your brand.
Photo by Nico Smit