The future of online lead generation is here, and you can't afford to ignore it.

In a well-established industry like real estate, it’s all too easy to color inside the lines as you grow your business. But sticking to face-to-face interactions, word-of-mouth referrals, and traditional marketing techniques ignores a world where authentic connections are increasingly made in the digital space.

It’s time to forget the lines, take a step back, and see the rest of the picture. Your clients now live on Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat, and they no longer settle for a few grainy pictures on a subpar website. They want more, and forward-looking real estate professionals are delivering.

Why the Digital Landscape Matters

From when they first enter the purchase funnel, customers experience a highly digitized process. For starters, they no longer depend on glowing referrals from their neighbors or friends at the office. They take matters into their own hands, spending hours researching agents online.

Even when scouting properties, buyers are looking to pictures and videos more than ever to determine their interest level. Thanks to 3-D, or at least high-resolution, images of most homes, buyers can digitally walk through a listing before ever setting foot on the property. Some of the more innovative real estate companies are investing in drones to provide 360-degree views of available properties.

Don’t worry, though; you don’t have to memorize a drone user manual to keep pace with the competition. The secret is much simpler: Your digital-first approach should center around social media and rapid follow-up.

Use Social Networks to Capture Leads

Here's how you can start to foster relationships that eventually turn into sales.

1. Establish meaningful connections, minding Facebook’s algorithms. Just because a connection is digital doesn’t mean it can’t be authentic. Friend prospective customers on Facebook and slowly begin interacting with them. Don't go overboard. Start by liking a few pictures, and make sure to post some of your own photos during that same time period. Show that you’re a real person. Due to Facebook’s algorithm, the more you connect with a contact, the more your name and business will pop up in his or her feed. Another great tool is Facebook Live. Use this free streaming service to showcase open houses, new listings you’re touring, and exciting new developments in your market. Your friends will receive a notification every time you go live, and the video will show at the top of their feed if you've been consistently interacting with them.

2. Throw your Instagram Story into the ring. With 800 million active monthly users, Instagram is no longer the app of photogenic food. It's a great way to reach potential clients in their first stages of buying a home. Perhaps the most valuable tool within Instagram is its newest: Stories. The ephemeral nature of the posts mean your Story is always fresh and relevant, encouraging real-time interaction from your followers. Plus, the analytics are more reliable: Because users must intentionally click to view your Instagram Story, you know that they're actually interested, rather than aimlessly scrolling through their feeds. As for content ideas, ask clients if they’d be OK with you sharing a video of them receiving their keys for the first time. Show off your “hidden treasure” listings with quick video tours. Consider offering before and after shots of DIY home repairs and updates.

3. Ready, aim, Snap. Though Facebook Ads have been the darling of the real estate world, Snapchat is giving that system a run for its money. Snapchat’s hyperspecific targeting capabilities rival those of Facebook due to its wealth of user data on millennials, who comprise the largest share of home buyers at this point. When users watch a snap in Discover, Snapchat builds upon their profile of behaviors and interests; it also takes into account how long they watch. Through Snapchat Ad Manager, you can first choose between four objectives (site traffic, app installation, awareness, and video views). Audience targeting is broken down into geography, demographics, preferences, and behaviors, but you can also choose whether you want ads to just appear in Snapchat's curated content or in all Snapchats, even those between friends. Finally, you can also target users based on the devices they use, their internet connection type, and their service provider.

Don’t Let Your Leads Languish

When one lead is likely going to multiple agents, you need to build meaningful connections quickly, and thanks to social media, this process has never been easier. But no matter if your potential client pipeline is filled by social media outreach or other lead generation programs, it’s all about immediate follow-up.

Online lead generation means more potential clients are arriving at your desk in their earliest stages of the buying process. It’s tempting to put them off, thinking they’re not ready, but this is a mistake. According to the Lead Response Management study conducted by, when salespeople follow up on cold leads within five minutes, the chances of converting them into clients are 21 times greater than they are if they wait 30 minutes. And in its 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the National Association of REALTORS® found 70 percent of buyers and 74 percent of sellers only interview one agent, so if you can be the first to respond, you’re much likelier to lock down that lead.

Though new technology can seem overwhelming at first, it’s crucial that you acknowledge these growing trends and evolve your business to thrive in a digital-first world. Even if you don't attract and retain clients in the digital space, you can rest assured your competitors will.