This is a story about my personal quest into the world of Instagram.
The push to grow my business via Instagram started one year ago — and, I’ll be honest, it was out of pure, competitive jealousy. I was hanging out at a friend’s house when I found out that his wife had 5,000 Instagram followers. I thought, “I can beat that.”
My only hope to grow my Instagram following was to simply get in front of people — a lot of people. I used a few different methods to do this:
- Facebook scrub: Instagram offers a prompt to search your Facebook account for friends who are also “Insta users.” I was connected immediately with hundreds of people: old high school and college friends, people around the community and even friends of friends.
- Searching friends’ photos: I began looking through my friends’ photos to see who “liked” them. Naturally, I recognized names of mutual friends and connected with them.
- Search hashtags: I searched hashtags of words that I thought would connect me with like-minded people. For example, searching #realestate brought me to thousands of pictures of homes posted by Realtors. I would “like” and comment on these pictures to connect with other Realtors.
- Utilize hashtags: I utilized hashtags on all of my photos so that other people could come across my pictures. One way to cheat the system a bit is to go to your old photos and comment on them with a lot of hashtags (30-plus) to end up on more searches. That way people are still able to find you, but your friends and followers don’t have to see a paragraph of hashtags right when you post a picture.
The best I am able to do is get people to look at my profile, but at that point they still have the choice to follow me (or not). I wanted people to think, “I have to follow this guy and see what he is about.”
As a Realtor, I understand the importance of a home’s curb appeal. The first look at a home stirs a mixture of emotions for a buyer and solidifies 90 percent of how they will feel about a property. That is why I wanted my profile to look perfect. On Instagram, you get only a picture, a name, 150 characters for a bio and a website link. I wanted every detail to be perfect because you get only one first impression.
For my picture, I used an artsy shot I had taken months prior while modeling for a friend in photography school. I decided against using my professional headshot; I thought that would be a bit cheesy. For the bio, I used bullet points to make bold statements that would catch people’s eye. One was “top 2 percent Keller Williams Realty worldwide” — use whatever works for you.
I’ll admit, I tried everything to gain a presence — even the lame methods. One approach I tried was to download an app called Get Followers. This led to hundreds of immediate followers, but they all unfollowed me within days. It was a complete waste of time. I even tried buying followers from the various websites that offer it. Some social media sites will actually deactivate your profile if they catch you buying followers, so I bought only 100 to test the waters. A few months later, Instagram restructured its filters and all fake accounts were deleted. My 100 followers went away.
The moral of the story? There is no easy way out; I had to utilize good, old-fashioned hard work.
I would assume that people’s biggest complaint about building a social media presence is that it takes too much time. Well, that is not what I found. I did spend, on average, one hour per day building my Instagram account; however, that hour was broken up all throughout the day and usually during times I had nothing else to do. I spent 10 minutes while waiting for a meeting, 20 minutes while eating lunch, 10 minutes while lying in bed, and so on.
Then I hit an unforeseen breaking point. About a month into this process, I began to become a little drained. Sure, it was only about an hour a day, and what else was I going to do while waiting for my doctor’s appointment? But still, was my work really going to pay off? What was I really accomplishing by having thousands of people follow me on Instagram? Is my ego that big? I was seriously considering calling it quits until I hit an unforeseen twist; I began creating real relationships.
What I had forgotten amidst this game is that each number represents a real person, and these real people began really engaging me. I began collaborating with agents across the nation about our marketing, answering questions from aspiring Realtors, and joking with people who commented on my pictures. It was at this point that I began to understand the power of social media.
Followers are only half of the equation; I had to post cool pictures to keep people interested. The best news? My job as a Realtor made it easy to post good content. As is evidenced by the increasing number of HGTV and Bravo home shows, people love seeing properties. I found that specifically kitchen shots get the most attention. Also, pictures of unique aspects to homes, like modern shower fixtures and architectural details, get great feedback. Ironically, traditional shots of the front of a home have proven very unpopular for me.
However, I didn’t forget the “social” in social media. It isn’t called “business media,” so I made sure to include pictures of my life with pictures of my listings. I get the best feedback on pictures with my wife just living our lives together. People tend to want to see the real you, not the professional salesman version of you next to an “open house” sign.
Now, I have nearly 7,000 followers, but I only average about 300 “likes” and 10 comments per picture. Naturally, I thought that only a few hundred of my followers were actually seeing my pictures. Wrong! I have discovered that there is a huge percentage of dormant Instagram users who don’t post pictures or engage, but who are well-versed on what is being posted.
For example, I was in San Francisco last weekend and ran into a woman who I hadn’t seen in years. She commented about how proud of me she was for how well I was doing in real estate. She loved seeing pictures of the homes! I didn’t even know she had an Instagram account, let alone that she was following me, because she never engages on my pictures.
These results are strictly from my one-hour-a-day Instagram push this year:
- One sale – $ 700,000.
- Two referrals.
- Two active buyers.
- Strong relationships with Realtors in more than 10 states.
- A new blog (myagentadvice.com) that is primarily promoted on Instagram and has thousands of readers.
- A new avenue to stay connected with previous clients.
- Excellent mass marketing — I do not go three days without running into someone who mentions something they see on my Instagram; I imagine this branding will be showing dividends for years to come.
Sure, one extra sale is a drop in the bucket compared to the 19 homes I sold last year, but considering it came from a free source of marketing, I’m happy! My referral and new client numbers are growing at an incredible rate, and I expect even better results next year. And let’s remember, besides my time invested, this approach was free.
There is never a bad time to build an audience. Frankly, I am shocked by the results that originated from my competition with my friend’s wife. But I have learned a valuable lesson: There is never a bad time to build an audience. Business is all about branding, and social media has allowed us to control our branding in a unique and inexpensive way. It has also allowed us to build international audiences while sitting on the couch at home.
Here are some quick tips and tricks:
- Choose a filter that you use on all pictures to provide consistency. (I use Snapseed’s “Drama” filter.)
- Regularly comment on and “like” others’ photos; the more you engage others, the more they will engage with you.
- Post once a day — Instagram analytics like that level of interaction and may feature you on the “people to follow” page.
- Tag people in your posts to open yourself up to their followers (only, of course, if they are actually in the picture).
- Tag your location in your pictures to connect with that venue and the followers who search the pictures there.
In case you are wondering, my friend’s wife is mopping the floor with me in our competition. She has upwards of 20,000 followers, partially because she is the founder of a wildly successful fashion blog. Oh, well! My business is stronger than ever, and I forecast at least three sales this year coming directly from Instagram. The median home price in my city of Santa Barbara is $ 1,220,000 — and I’d say three commissions of that caliber are worth some time spent on my iPhone.
Dusty Baker is a high-volume real estate agent and established blogger.