Ed Stulak, an agent with RE/MAX Platinum in North Brunswick, N.J., has 43,400 Instagram followers on his account, @edstulak. Now with three years in real estate, he claims all his sales have come from Instagram—in large part because he has used it to build his personal brand.
“I didn’t do any advertising, I didn’t do any marketing, I spent zero bucks,” Stulak bragged recently at Adapt + Grow Agents 2019, a sold-out event that drew nearly 300 brokers and agents to Asbury Park, N.J.
That’s not the case for most in the field, though. Building a personal brand and a social media presence go hand in hand. But Stulak, who also coaches other agents on using Instagram to boost their business, said most don’t effectively use social media to build their brand and market themselves, generate leads and communicate with clients.
Stulak encouraged attendees to cast fears aside and said it’s never too late to cultivate a relevant following by building an online community and providing valuable content that will make followers want to come back for more and encourage others followers.
“I don’t care if you’re 18 in this room or if you’re 80, social media is the modern-day age of marketing and branding,” Stulak said. “If you were willing to go door-knock and send out mailers and hustle, then hustle with social media, because this is what is going on today.”
Stulak grew up in a Czechoslovakian family and played ice hockey at Penn State University before being sidelined with an injury. He later worked on social media, marketing, and branding with some of the big players in the social media world, including Gerard Adams, who is known as “The Millennial Mentor” and was one of the creators of Elite Daily, a website targeting millennials.
How to Build an Instagram Following
Before you get started on Instagram, ask yourself a few questions. First, why? If it’s just because you think having 10,000 followers “looks cool,” that’s not good enough, Stulak said.
When you do have a following, what are you going to do with them? Are you just going to passively “be grateful every single day when you post a picture of yourself hanging out showing a house?” Stulak asked. If so, that’s not enough. To build your following, you have to provide value to followers with your content. “Everyone loves free stuff,” he said.
Determine your ideal audience because understanding your community is key. What kind of content would they be interested in? Instagram is all about the visual. What kind of pictures, videos, and other information are they willing and going to “absorb?” he added.
If your goal is to attracting buyers, sellers, renters, or other customers, it’s important to create content with photos and videos that resonate with your followers. Depending on your desired audience, you could post tips for first-time homebuyers, pros and cons of selling a house on your own, or information about why buying is better than renting.
With the right content, your followers will come back for more, and may even tell their friends about your account, and that will lead to more followers, Stulak said.
How to Use “Follow Farming” on Instagram
Don’t focus only on getting a huge following. When it comes to Instagram, it doesn’t matter if you have a big following, “as long as your community is solid,” Stulak said. You could have 40 followers or 400 followers, but “as long as they are super supporters and advocates of what you are you doing, you’re good, you're golden,” he added.
One way to build an Instagram following and ultimately drive sales leads is through what Stulak calls “follow farming” or going on Instagram, Facebook, or other social media sites, searching for local people and hitting the button to follow their accounts with hopes that they’ll follow you back. Stulak said the method has helped him generate a lot of leads.
Here’s how it works: Depending where you sell real estate, you might type #Hoboken or #Pittsburgh or #Dubai into the search engine to find people to connect with. Once you connect with someone, you can send that person a follow request, a message, comment on their picture, or like a few of their pictures.
Stulak said the first time he did this, he connected with a woman who posted that she was looking to sell her three-bedroom, two-bath house in Hillsborough, N.J., at the end of the summer— and said he got the sale. “I was like, ‘that’s pretty cool,’” Stulak said. “That cost me nothing but my time.”
Connecting with Area Businesses on Instagram
Another way to get more followers and generate leads on Instagram is by connecting and potentially collaborating with area merchants or businesses. So if there’s a pizza place on Instagram near where you sell homes, follow it as a way to connect with its local followers.
You might let the owners know you’re hosting an open house near their business next Sunday and would love for them to bring a pie or two. “I’ll promote you, you promote me—boom, that’s awesome,” Stulak said. “That’s local exposure and you’re both helping each other out.”
During a Q&A session, a middle-aged mortgage broker admitted that platforms like Instagram might be intimidating for someone his age who’s mainly using Facebook. He asked how someone can learn to be creative with the graphics and interactive types of posts. Stulak encouraged him to look at what other successful social media influencers or celebrities are doing.
“Don’t be so intimidated by not wanting to post content,” added moderator and event organizer John Vagueiro, president and founder of Adapting Social, an Asbury Park design and marketing agency. “Too often, people are scared to go live or to post content of themselves because they don’t want to be judged, or they’re scared they might mess up or it’s not perfect enough.”
Don’t be a perfectionist, he added: “Social media is not about being perfect; it’s about being real.”