There’s an impressive content marketing strategy in play; on the First National Real Estate website. Compelled to find out more, I contacted a long-time friend, Stewart Bunn, their National Communications Manager, for his behind-the-scenes insights.
Stewart Bunn, National Communication Manager, First National Real Estate, whom I have known for well over a decade, was happy to explain how their content strategy increased their presence, evidenced by the largest Facebook fan base of any real estate brand in Australia.
First National made their initial foray into content marketing back in 2009. As Stewart remarked, “It was baby steps back then: a regular blog and a presence on Facebook and Twitter. However, it was isolated, and not integrated with the rest of our marketing.”
Small wonder when you think back to the early days of social media when most people over the age of 30 were oblivious to the possibilities.
Not so the able First National CEO, Ray Ellis, who’d observed increasing use of smartphones at bus stops, train stations and so on. His goal then was to provide the answers to many of the property questions being tapped into Google on those phones.
An integrated content strategy
By 2012, social media and social media marketing were embedded into many people’s lives: it was time to take a more integrated approach.
It sounds easy when you say it quickly: “We’ll develop a content strategy.” In reality, it took many months of research and planning, with the combined efforts of the CEO, the Communications ‘Team’ (Stewart), the online services team and the member services team, as well as an external digital consultant.
Three months of research went into segmenting their audience into eight ‘life stages’ (renters, young couples, first home buyers, investors, upsizers/downsizers, divorcees, relocators and retirees) that inform buyer behaviour and needs. For each of these eight stages, First National produced FAQs that address the frustrations and hopes of consumers at that stage of their real estate journey.
From there, it was another three months to build Social Express, the 24/7 internal social media publishing platform. Launch, road shows and training swallowed up another six months.
Launch and implementation
The actual launch was during the 2013 National Convention on Hamilton Island, where around one-third of the network signed up to the publishing platform immediately.
Commented Stewart, “As we’re a co-op rather than a franchise organisation, joining Social Express is optional. At any one time, around one-third of members are signed up to the system. This isn’t because it doesn’t deliver – it does – but as members learn how to use social media, they sometimes leave our system to run their own show. We’re happy when members are confident enough to go it alone because that means we’ve given them the skills they need.”
While members subscribe to Social Express, they’re provided with content but the trick to engagement is that they must still add one-third of the content themselves to localise for the community in which they operate.
“The trick to engagement is that they must still add one-third of the content themselves to localise for the community.”
Getting your social media and blog content strategy right is worth the effort. As Stewart noted, “Within six weeks, we’d increased organic traffic to the national website by 300%, we had a 62% lift in first-time visitors to the site and a 42% increase in page views. It helps that we have a search marketing strategy working alongside our content strategy.”
“We had a 62% lift in first-time visitors to the website in just six weeks.”
Blog content is amplified through social media and published to Social Express subscriber pages; in fact, according to Stewart’s data, First National has built the largest Facebook fan base (111,000 incorporating all member pages Likes) of any Australian real estate business.
All member office teams and agents are encouraged to like and share posts, whether they are posting about the office birthday party or a carefully crafted piece on new property legislation.
“Blog content is amplified through social media.”
“What I look for are reviews, shares and comments on posts; that makes me happy,” observed Stewart. “We know that 82% of members on our publishing system have 5-star reviews on Facebook. When we know from published surveys that 92% of people agree that they’d use a business with a 4-star rating or higher, you can see what an enviable position we hold.”
Social Express has been a resounding success, with members having easy access to publishable content. In addition, high reach (2 million+ quarterly) provides high visibility for the First National network, and provides its real estate agents with credibility and trust.
The most recent plank in their content strategy has been First National’s revamp of its inbound marketing strategy. Through ‘gating’ some content and adopting new systems, they increased blog traffic significantly. Astonishingly, their lead generation in just two months has already exceeded the total for all of 2016 – an enviable result. As Stewart pointed out, “We have an option on our main website for readers to contact agents directly. However, we’re running the long game with this latest development. As readers sign up, we can nurture them along their property journey. When we hit on a particular pain point in one of our blogs they receive, we find engagement goes through the roof, with readers sharing the content or tagging friends and relatives.”
Clearly, when you have a communications ‘team’ of one, it’s wise to seek a bit of outside help to generate some of the content needed. Stewart works closely with two external content providers who supplement the content Stewart generates himself. The external sources provide general interest property content, while Stewart’s own articles tend to be more topical. No matter the topic, each blog post is designed to address a frustration or pain point.
Of course, generating all the content to lead to great results is time-consuming. It’s a full-time job for a network communications manager and, for a branch office, you’d need to have a dedicated staff member to generate content and manage social.
Or you could outsource it to someone who knows what they’re doing and has a passion for property.