The Takeaway with Nobu Hata, Featuring Maura Neill

Are you using social media to build your referral base as effectively as possible?

Maura Neill, ABR, CRS, MRP, ePRO, is a top agent with RE/MAX Around Atlanta Realty. She talks with Nobu Hata of NAR in his latest podcast about how she leverages social media to boost her offline marketing and build her brand while effectively managing her time.

The Takeaway With Nobu Hata is a new audio podcast series. It features in-depth discussions on business-building tips that successful real estate pros are using in the field.

Listen and share The Takeaway with Nobu Hata.

Nobu Hata, NAR Director of Member Engagement: All right, folks. Welcome to The Takeaway.  This is Nobu Hata of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. On The Takeaway, we talk about real estate, but it’s one topic, one person that actually practices the thing that we’ll be talking about, and makes money doing it. Today, I have Maura Neill. Say hi to everybody.

Maura Neill, ABR, CRS, MRP, ePRO, RE/MAX Around Atlanta Realty, Alpharetta, Ga. Hey, everybody!

Nobu: Where are you from, for the people who don’t know who you are?

Maura: I’m a REALTOR® in Atlanta, Georgia.

Nobu: Maura, let’s talk about referrals. Let’s talk about driving business from the people that love you the most. You talk a lot about staying top of mind to get referrals. The question I really want to lead off here is, why are we so bad at referrals?

Maura: Well, I think the first mistake we all make is we lack follow-up. We’re a lot more reactive than we should be. I think a lot of that has to do with having a lot of systems in place and constantly tweaking those systems and not thinking about that when you write your checklists. For example, post-closing, once you write that checklist, it’s not going to do itself, so you need to put systems in place to work your checklists. And then you have to make sure they are not just drip marketing, because it’s easy to set up drip email campaigns and hit start and they’re just getting messages from you. Your name is staying in front of them, but to actually take the time to connect on a personal level with personal messages—that’s an investment of time that a lot of agents feel they don’t have. They look at it as a time suck rather than a time investment.

Nobu: Is that the first step? Is it kind of carving out the time, then? What do you do when you’re looking to gain some mindshare with some folks to drive referrals? Is it carving out time? Is it accessing clients? What do you do?

Maura: Well, first, I think you have to make time in your day to actively engage with your clients and your sphere. We have a list of things that we have to do to get every single deal closed, but then you also have to make the time to check in with, say, Facebook. Look at your list of clients on Facebook. What are they doing? Who’s having a baby? Who’s getting married? Who had a death in the family? Who is just having a bad day that you can reach out to with a phone call or a hand-written note to say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you today!” And that takes time. It requires time when you’re not in the car, time when you’re not focused on 17 other things, when you’re not working through your checklists or anything that you’re still doing that is transaction related that you haven’t passed off to someone if you have a team.

So, the very first step, I think, is figuring out where the time is in your day.  Is it in the morning at coffee or is it in the evening over a glass of wine? Where are you going to take the time every single day to make a personal connection with someone?

Nobu: So, after you figure that out—I have picked Thursday evenings once a week to just go in and reach out to my sphere—what is the one thing that folks should do in their strategy for these referrals to stay top of mind? Is there something you would go right away with? Is it philanthropic? What is it that works for you?

Maura: Well, I think you have to decide which clients you’re close with. Do you feel comfortable enough with them that, when you’re engaging with them personally, it’s one-on-one? The rest of your sphere is more on an event level or a group level. For example, your core group of clients—your A+ clients who would never use another REALTOR® and will only refer to you, you can reach out on a one-on-one basis. We heard from one this morning. This will be their fifth transaction with us in the last three years, either personally or referred. They will never call anyone else, and that’s great, so for them, when we see that they’re having a new baby or we know it’s their kids birthday, or we know they got a promotion at work, we are going to reach out with a phone call. We’re going to maybe send a card, send a gift or flowers or something.

Nobu: It’s figuring out where you’re getting the most business from, saying hello and paying attention to Facebook. That might be for the one- or two-referral person. If you’re getting five or six deals from somebody, that’s somebody you want to devote some time to.

Maura: Absolutely! We use Facebook lists and we put our clients on the lists and, if somebody listening to this hasn’t done that yet, it is such a time saver for blocking out the time to check in with those clients. I have a list of A+ clients and it’s multiple referrals. They engage with us all the time on Facebook. They share posts. We are paying really close attention to them. Then we have just a client list of the rest of the people that we are friends with on Facebook that engage with us and we want to stay top of mind with them, but maybe we don’t have as much attention or engagement with them. We use Facebook lists extensively and that helps us to see in a very efficient, time-sensitive way, what’s going on in their lives. But it doesn’t keep me on Facebook for three or four hours a day while I sift through everyone.

Nobu: Yes, it’s getting rid of all the distraction, right? The idea of putting A+, A, B, or C clients all on Facebook, Twitter, CRMs. It’s everything that makes sense, right? Do you do that as well?

Maura: Absolutely. We don’t do that much on Twitter, but definitely in the CRM. You know, for my birthday party at my house, we might invite those top-top A+ A+ clients, but our charity events like Trick-or-Treat for The Troops or if we do a blood drive or a canned food drive, that’s going to be opened up to everyone on past client lists, the whole sphere of influence and everyone that we know.

Nobu: So, let’s talk about these events that you throw every year. What do those events look like? Are they heavy on sales? Are they heavy on “Give me a referral?” Or is it celebrating the community that you sold houses in? How does that work?

Maura: Well, the two big events that we do semi-annually, like Trick-or-Treat for the Troops, we do invite our entire client lists to. We’ve gotten the community involved in the past with putting donation barrels at restaurants. Basically, we’re collecting donations or to send care packages to our troops who are deployed and who are away from their families during the holidays. The other event that we do is a little more personal, because it’s in our home and it’s a cookout. We do Hotdogs for Homeless Dogs, where we literally provide hotdogs, buns, and condiments. If anyone wants side dishes, beverages, or anything else, they bring enough to share. They bring a donation to the animal rescue that we are connected with. One we do at the office or at a park, weather permitting. Trick or Treat for The Troops is more of a client appreciation party. But we tie in a charity angle, because it gives us a little bit more of a reason to throw the event. And then the other one is more of just an excuse to have a cookout or party at our house, but it still has an angle of supporting a community organization nonprofit that’s near and dear to us.

Nobu: Yes, here’s the thing. I know you are very passionate about those two subjects. You’re passionate about rescues and you’re passionate about troops. That is something I knew before I actually met you. Is that part of it? I mean, people try to shoehorn thank-yous with other events and it doesn’t seem authentic, which is why I think a lot of these things don’t work half of the time. Would you agree?

Maura: I would. It’s hard to carve out the time and spend the money for an event if it’s not a cause or it’s not something that you’re passionate about. It’s something that means a lot to my family and me on both counts, animal rescue and supporting the troops, so the advice that I give when I talk about this is, find a cause that you are passionate about and that’s near and dear to your heart and that will help you to incorporate it into your business. If you’re picking a cause or a charity because it’s popular or you think that it’s going to garner you the most business, you’re not going to have the consistency to keep it long-term.

Nobu: Totally. Do you reach out to these folks or do they reach out to you at some point after you get enough publicity about this stuff and it kind of perpetuates from there? I mean, did you have to reach out to them at first or was it easy?

Maura: With Trick-or-Treat for The Troops, we don’t working with an organization. We just package up the donations and ship them off ourselves. Our lender and our closing attorney helped us sponsor the postage, and some REALTORS® around the country who see what we’re doing sent us money for postage, but really that is something that we do just on our own, but with the animal rescue it’s not easy. It is a group that we knew, a hundred-percent volunteer-run organization, and obviously there are struggles that come with that from a logistics standpoint and from their own internal standpoint.

We were noticing that a lot of what we were doing posting about them online wasn’t getting the notice of their social media team because they were so inundated. You know, their social media team was also the team that pulls animals from the shelters and tries to coordinate fosters and adoptions. We had to reach out to them and have a sit down and kind of hammer out a plan. We donate money from every closing to a charity as well so and they are one of our chosen charities, so we fostered a much stronger relationship with them.  \You really have to take the lead on it because a lot of times especially if it’s a smaller local organization and they just don’t have the man power to keep up with everything.

Nobu: Yes, being passionate about that really helps because it does take a lot of work. ROI on this: do you have any idea of how much you’re getting back in terms of commissions or in terms of marketing dollars? Do you have an idea about that? Has it been well worth your time? 

Maura: Well, I would say it’s definitely worth our time from a feel-good standpoint, but, yes, we see a number of referrals around the times that we do the events. They go up tremendously, so in October, when we do Trick or Treat for The Troops, we are more top-of-mind with our entire client sphere, because we’re emailing them about it. We’re sending them physical mail about it. They are seeing it on Facebook. They are seeing it on our business page, and these things aren’t real estate related. You’re just catching their attention with things that you are doing and reminding them that you’re still out there. I don’t know a dollar amount. I know we can count on anywhere from a handful to a dozen referrals every year around these events, depending on how much publicity we do. We have a system. So, we know in the middle of August we start planning Trick or Treat for The Troops. The Hotdogs for Homeless Dogs we do in the summer, so that comes out in late spring, early summer when we’ve picked a date. We know to send the email on this day and follow-up with people on this day, send a broadcast, call heir voicemail on this day.

Nobu: But you’re dripping and dripping notifications of these events as part of your marketing campaigns. It isn’t just about how it’s a great time to buy or a great time to sell or I’m out of listings. It really does change the narrative when you differentiate from the other stuff that people are sending out to potential buyers and sellers out there, right?

Maura: Absolutely, and to be honest with you, when we’re sending the more real estate-related emails, like, you know, our listing inventory is low, or it’s a great time to buy and it’s a great time to sell, we see our unsubscribe rate go up. When we’re sending actual community information about things we’re doing, even if they’re not going to participate, the unsubscribe rate is much lower. I see a tremendous value from that from a marketing standpoint, because my clients know that if they’re ready to list, they’re going to call me. They don’t need me to tell them that it’s a great time to sell, and, quite frankly, those are the emails that I would unsubscribe to as well.

I would want to read what’s happening in the community of who’s doing good things, especially in the current climate we’re in in this country. I want to know who’s doing good things in the community, and what is the result of those things. I might want to attend that event or I may not have time, but I want to read about it. I don’t want to read about market statistics and how great the person who is sending the email is. We get enough of those in our daily lives. I don't need to be one more person that adds to that noise.

Nobu: That’s awesome! At the end, it’s really about passion projects, being different, getting mindshare—not necessarily likes—but getting mindshare with folks who are being inundated by information every day and getting them offline and earning business that way.

Maura: Absolutely!

Nobu: Hey, Maura, that was awesome! Thank you very much!

Maura: Hey, Nobu! Thanks. It was my pleasure!

Nobu: This is The Takeaway, folks. Check us out nar.realtor.

The Takeaway

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About Our Speakers

Maura Neill, ABR, CRS, CDPE, e-PRO, MRP, MA, REALTOR®, is a second-generation REALTOR® who combines her love for the industry with her passion for education. Maura is an active agent with RE/MAX Around Atlanta, leading her team and representing buyers and sellers on a day-to-day basis, and considers education - both clients and other real estate agents - an important part of her role as a REALTOR®. Maura is known for her love of the 4 Bs - bacon, bourbon, beagles, and her husband, Ben - not necessarily in that order.

Nobu Hata is the director of digital engagement for the National Association of REALTORS®. Before joining NAR, he was a real estate agent with Edina Realty in Minnesota. The self-described geek has called Alaska and Minnesota home. Now, he’s in in Chicago or on the road meeting with REALTORS® and association executives to talk about NAR, their business, and the integration of digital technologies in the real estate industry.

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