The New York Times, in a bid to stay relevant in the new media environment, has weighed in on the phenomenon of local place-blogging:
Suburban bloggers, though, spawned a subgenre of narratives about diaper changing, neighbor trouble, temporary traffic snags and other subjects rarely considered worthy of publication in previous eras.
Back then, it was hard to tell whether these lonesome scribes could sustain the chore over the long run, and if they did, what sort of audience they might attract.
Nearly a decade later, bloggers in the suburbs are starting to answer those questions. Many have let their sites go untended, but a few have built serious local journalism operations, while others have developed a following on certain topics and bask in the muted limelight of Internet fame. These survivors offer newly minted bloggers a pixilated blueprint for how to rise above the chaos of the blogosphere. For readers, the blogs are providing news in ways unseen in traditional local news media.
Interestingly enough, not one of the local blogs that the Times profiled was written by a real estate agent. Granted, this may be the result of bias on the part of "journalists" to highlight those blogs that are "newsy" in nature. But there may be something more going on here.
In fact, I believe every real estate blogger should take a good hard look at the websites mentioned in the article: Baristanet, Red Bank Green, Hoboken411, WestportNow, and New Haven Independent. Unless your hyperlocal blog is getting 82,000 monthly visitors (the number that Baristanet.com gets), you might want to think about emulating what is obviously working.
For myself, what immediately stands out that differentiates these local blogs from realtor local blogs is that they are media companies and operated as such by media people. The most important impact of this is that these blogs are relevant for people who are not looking to move into the neighborhood. They are relevant for people who just live there.
In contrast, most local realtor blogs are completely irrelevant to current residents. As a result, they cannot offer the kind of news, insights, and a feel for actually living in that town that the local media blogs can.
I mentioned in the comments of this post that I really liked Perri Feldman's NJRealEstateWire site. And I do, so take the critique with that in mind. The problem here is that while I appreciate the site as someone in the real estate industry, I have no reason to bookmark it and visit it as a resident of Millburn -- a town that Perri covers. As it happens, Millburn doesn't have a local media blog like Baristanet, but if it did, I would bookmark it and visit it constantly.
Just as a comparison, look at the top three most recent posts right now on the frontpage of NJRealEstateWire and on Baristanet:
- Livingston, NJ 2008 Home Sales
- NJ Tennis Clubs Along the Midtown Direct Train Line
- Staging Your Home WILL HELP IT SELL
Is there any question that if I were interested in getting the feel of a town, I would get more out of Baristanet (for Montclair area) than out of NJRealEstateWire (for Millburn area)?
The sad thing here is that the local realtor blogs end up working against its goals: reaching people who are interested in a particular neighborhood and its goings-ons. It's impossible to brand yourself as a local expert in the community when the local people aren't reading your blog, and there is no conversation going on.
Look again at the number of comments on Baristanet, and compare that to the number of comments your typical local realtor blog generates. There is no comparison.
What's ironic -- perhaps tragic -- about this is that perhaps the local realtor is often best suited to be running a local media blog. As part of her job, the local realtor is going to know quite a bit about the feel of a neighborhood, the shops, the city council actions, schools, in short -- what's going on. But because she aims so much at trying to sell houses and getting leads off her blog, she will end up producing content that most people are completely uninterested in reading.
At the same time, as licensed real estate professionals, realtors are under certain regulations that the non-realtors are not. They have to be careful about what they say or write about a particular area in a way a journalist does not. What to do?
Keeping in mind that advice is often worth what you've paid for it, here are my thoughts.
1. Decide what business you are in when blogging
Are you in the home-selling business when you're blogging? Or are you in the local media business? Decide, then act accordingly. This could mean that you setup a separate operation for your local blogging and avoid tainting it with overt commercialism. Or it could mean that you focus simply on realty blogging, understanding that you will be at a major disadvantage when up against a real local blogger.
2. Create an Ecosystem for your Local Blogging
Since most realtors are actually in the business of helping people buy and sell homes, it doesn't make much sense to start a second job in local media. This means that realistically, what you need to do is to create an 'ecosystem' of local blogs in your neighborhood. Encourage someone to start a local media blog, with both content (you can write about local real estate issues) and with cash (advertise on their local blog). Reach out to other people who may be able to write about one aspect of your town, then bring it all together under one local media operation.
Just because you can't directly compete with the likes of Baristanet does not mean that you have to cede the real estate advice area to someone else. Become the local real estate columnist and write all about the local market, constantly.
For example, like this.
3. Separate our your professional marketing and your blogging activities
Make sure you have a website for your brokerage operations -- a clean, well-designed brochureware/search site that is aimed at those who are looking for representation. At the same time, don't let your blog become just an advertising platform for your brokerage business. I can't think of a quicker way to lose credibility than to use your blog to overtly troll for business. This is also the hardest thing to do.
Even we here at Onboard Informatics have issues with this. When you're passionate about your business, you can't help talk about it. Our mantra here is to use the blog simply to converse and communicate, but sometimes, we find it hard not to talk about our services and products. So cut yourself some slack, but at the same time, remember to at least try and maintain a Church and State separation.
Local blogging is the next wave. People are inherently more interested in news that affects them personally. But what they want to hear about is local media -- news, opinions, etc. Real estate only plays a part of that picture -- an important part, but still only a part.
So start talking to your neighbors -- form that ecosystem. And give your neighbors (and visitors) what they're looking for.
Image Credit: Ronald Saunders on Flickr.com