The Most Dangerous Threat to a Realtors Online Marketing Efforts

Written by Tom Fernandez. Posted in Business, Real Estate Websites

Real Estate Marketing Digital Sharecropping

This post was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Sonia Simone. I’ve added my two cents and tried to make it even more relevant for Realtors. And so here it goes…

We have a great bookstore in my town — the kind of place you picture in your mind when you think of a great independent bookshop.
It’s perfect for browsing, with lots of comfy chairs to relax in. The books are displayed enticingly. There’s a little coffee shop so you can relax with an espresso. They get your favorite writers to come in for readings, so there’s always a sense of event and excitement.

They do everything right, and they’ve always had plenty of customers. But they still closed their doors last year.

No, not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t Amazon that killed them, or the proliferation of free content on the web, or the crappy economy.

They closed the store because they were leasing their big, comfortable building … and when that lease ran out, their landlord tripled the rent. Literally overnight, their business model quit working. Revenues simply wouldn’t exceed costs. A decision made by another party, one they had no control over, took a wonderful business and destroyed it.

And that’s precisely what you risk every day you make your business completely dependent on another company.

For your average Realtor it might be Zillow,,

Or any of the real estate website providers that license aka: “lease” websites to agents and brokers rather than offering a self hosted option.

It’s called digital sharecropping, and it means you’re building your business on someone else’s land.

And it’s a recipe for heartbreak and failure.

What’s digital sharecropping, anyway?

Digital sharecropping is a term coined by Nicholas Carr to describe a peculiar phenomenon of Web 2.0.

One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.

In other words, anyone can create content on sites like Facebook, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. The more content we create for free, the more valuable Facebook becomes. We do the work, they reap the profit.

The term sharecropping refers to the farming practices common after the U.S. Civil War, but it’s essentially the same thing as feudalism. A big landholder allows individual farmers to work their land, and takes most of the profits generated from the crops.
The landlord has all the control. If he decides to get rid of you, you lose your livelihood. If he decides to raise his fees, you go a little hungrier. You do all the work and the landlord gets most of the profit, leaving you a pittance to eke out a living on.

Well, we’re not subsistence farmers any more, and our work doesn’t involve 12-hour days in grueling conditions. So is sharecropping still dangerous?

It is, for a couple of reasons …

Landlords are fickle

More and more small businesses are moving all of their marketing to sites like Facebook. It’s local, it’s free (or at least cheap), and it makes businesses feel like they’re doing something cutting-edge.

Realtors continue to double-down with Zillow & Trulia by subscribing to their advertising programs and embedding their widgets to their own real estate blogs which only helps Zillow & Trulia outrank Realtors in the search engines.

But what happens when Facebook thinks you’ve done something that violates their terms of service and deletes your account? Or changes the way you’re allowed to interact with your customers?

Facebook is a particularly fast-changing platform, but it’s not the only one. An entire industry has sprung up based on trying to figure out what Google’s going to do tomorrow, both as a search engine and as an advertising platform.

If you’re relying on Facebook or Google to bring in all of your new customers, you’re sharecropping. You’re hoping the landlord will continue to like you and support your business, but the fact is, the landlord has no idea who you are and doesn’t actually care.

Landlords go away

The other problem with sharecropping is that the landlord may or may not be here next year.
Sharecroppers have put millions of hours into sites like Digg or MySpace. And those sites still exist — but they’re no longer bringing the traffic they once did.

Sharecropped land, in other words, has a tendency to become less and less fertile over time.

Maybe Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ will buck the trend. Maybe they’ll continue to stay healthy and vibrant for decades, rather than a year or two.

Perhaps Zillow, & Trulia and the others will also be here for years to come.

The best we can do is guess. And if we guess wrong, the livelihood of our business is at risk.

So are Facebook and Google bad for business?

Of course not. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many more sites are all superb tools to add to our marketing mix.

The secret is to spend most of your time and creative energy building assets that you control.

There are three assets you should be building today, and should continue to focus on for the lifetime of your real estate business:

  • A well-designed website, preferably WordPress with IDX, with your own hosting account
  • An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
  • A reputation for providing impeccable value and service

These things are the equivalent of buying your building instead of renting it.

Now any of these can fall prey to outside influences. The bookstore’s building can burn down. And your site can be hacked, your email account closed down, your reputation smeared. But repairing your assets is in your control. You can fix the hacked code, export your email list to another provider, and respond effectively to manage your reputation.

More important, you can proactively protect those assets by taking website security seriously, avoiding any spammy or dodgy practices with your email, and cultivating a loyal audience who will vouch for you as being one of the good guys.

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your business — don’t put it all at risk by building on rented land.

How about you — do you feel confident that you’re developing your own online assets?

How’s the balance between assets you control and third-party sites like Facebook, Zillow, Google or

Let us know about it in the comments.

How to Find Your Own Independence Day

Written by Tom Fernandez. Posted in Business

Another great little post here by: Sonia Simone co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media.

Highly relevant for Realtors and/or all other working folk…

If you’re in the U.S., you’re probably taking today off — it’s our Independence Day.

So when you get back to work, will it be awesome or … not so much?

Will you be using your best gifts? Doing work that energizes you?

Are you proud of what you do every day? Or do you dream of doing something much bigger, much better, much more meaningful?

If your daily work and business life isn’t reaching “awesome” yet, there’s one thing you have to do in order to find that satisfaction and independence you’re looking for …Start treating your business like a business.

Stop apologizing and shuffling when people ask you what you do — tell them loud and clear.

Stop agonizing over spending small amounts of money on necessary tools for your business, when the cost doesn’t come close to your monthly Starbucks tab.

Stop pretending you won’t have to learn how to sell. You’ll have to learn how to sell.

Stop telling yourself you’re going to start taking it seriously some day.

This is your life. Every minute you waste is a minute you can’t ever get back again.

I don’t care if you run a multi-million dollar software company or you sell a few copies of your ebook every month.

You are a business owner. Own it.

Start treating your business like a business and it will start to grow and flourish. That’s how you’ll create the independence you deserve.


Share this post if you need to stop or start doing anything listed on this page!


Happy Independence Day!