What Your Online ‘About Me’ Says About You

Online personas are a window into who you are as a professional. Are you sending the right message to people who find you on the Internet?

March 18, 2015

If you pose with your dog for a Facebook profile photo, do you look less professional? Should you include details about your personal life in your website bio? Do you say too much—or too little—about yourself on your social media pages?

How you portray yourself and your business online can have a big impact on consumers’ decisions about whether to work with you. REALTOR® Magazine convened a panel of consumers to evaluate a sampling of online bios and profiles from real estate professionals around the country. The panelists revealed what matters most to them when choosing an agent and offered insights into what home owners and potential buyers may find most and least captivating about your online personal branding.

Do Your Photos Show You in the Right Light?

It’s standard to have a professional head shot on your company websites, but is that the photo prospects are seeing when they search for you online? Often, it’s your social profiles that pop up first in a Google search. So what kind of a first impression do those profile photos make? Are pictures with pets and friends acceptable? What about images taken at social events or in a public setting? Although there’s no right answer, panelists unanimously favored agents who used professional photos across online platforms and cautioned against using any image that appears too casual.

They noted one exception: when a more relaxed picture speaks to your specialty or business acumen. Gregory Burrus Green, an associate broker at Village Realty in Nags Head, N.C., sells mostly vacation homes in the oceanside community. So it was perfectly appropriate for him to use a Facebook profile shot of him and his dog on the beach, said panelist Carrie Bell, 30. “He’s showing that he’s part of the lifestyle he’s selling,” Bell said. “If I were buying a beach house, I would see him as someone who gets what I’m looking for.”

Panelists generally agreed that photos should have a consistency across platforms—especially when it comes to age. Seattle-based broker Wayne Lubin with John L. Scott Real Estate, for example, used what appeared to be a recent photo on his realtor.com® profile, while photos on his company website, Facebook profile, and LinkedIn pages seemed more dated. The panelists’ advice: Use photos that depict how you look today—with a similar hair style and color. “It’s about being honest about who you are,” said June Wood, 67. Photo discrepancies can make you seem disconnected from the up-to-the-minute nature of online information today, she added.

Worse yet is not bothering to upload a profile photo and allowing the ubiquitous gray silhouette to stand next to your name. That sends the message you’re too lazy or time-crunched, or don’t have the technical know-how, to upload an image.

Does Your Bio Have a Point?

“About me” bios serve as your informal introduction to consumers. Here’s where you can get creative, communicating your personal connections to your neighborhoods or highlighting hobbies that add value to your real estate knowledge. Make sure that what you’re saying will have meaning to potential clients and the message you intend to send is clear.

  • Avoid vague statements. A professional bio isn’t the place for stream-of-consciousness musings. Instead, talk about yourself and your experience. Panelists said Lubin’s note on his realtor.com® profile that “God isn’t making any more real estate! Therefore, I’ve learned that buyers buy and sellers sell at any time,” while true, didn’t give offer them a reason to work with him.  Panelist Matt Bell, 30, said general statements provide little value. “It sounds like he’s having a beer with his buddy—not talking to a client,” Bell added.
  • Get personal—then get to business. You can share personal details—it humanizes you—but don’t belabor the point. Remember that clients are seeking a pro with business skills first. The panel liked knowing that Green’s family had a 200-year history in his community but called the details in his bio “overkill.” He should have more succinctly stated how his family history improves his ability to sell real estate in the community, noted panelist Carrie Bell. “I like agents that have a little bit of personal info in their bios, but mostly business,” she said.
  • Proofread your copy. The panelists were quick to spot misspellings and missing punctuation in a few of the agents’ bios. The errors in this case weren’t deal breakers, but they were a distraction.

Can You Back Up Your Story With Data?

It’s popular in professional bios to talk about your ability to navigate tough negotiations, close transactions quickly, and get the best price for your clients. Prove it.

Support your claims with stats that illustrate results. The panelists said they wanted to see more profiles that included information such as how many properties you’ve sold, how close your sales are to list price, the typical price range of your listings, and how long you’ve been working in real estate.

Panelists liked the way realtor.com® profiles provided fields for agents to fill in such information. Yet only two of the agents reviewed had completed the fields. And Nicole Smith, CRS, SRES, broker-associate at RE/MAX Masters in Southlake, Texas, was the panel’s clear favorite in this regard. On her realtor.com® profile, Smith noted her 20 years of experience, typical price range of $389,000 to $799,000, seven listings sold in the last six months, and eight active listings.

“To be honest, I don’t read bios; this is the only information I care about,” said panelist Joshua Rolock, 57. “I want to see somebody who is moving property and selling homes for the asking price. Show me what you’re doing.”

Client testimonials can support your bio, but they must contain hard information and not just bloviate. The panelists were strongly critical of agents who posted testimonials that appeared overly self-serving.

Thomas Cady, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Jacksonville, Fla., included a testimonial in his bio in which the client said Cady’s smart marketing efforts led to the home being sold for the asking price in 19 days. The time-on-market figure lent the testimonial particular credibility, considering many online agent reviews are less detailed and sound automated, Rolock said.

Are You Being Social?

Do you promote your social media profiles in your business communications? If so, “set it and forget it” is not a good strategy. That’s because your social media presence can tell potential clients as much as—or more than—your bio. With regular substantive updates about your community and the real estate market, you send the message that you have the insights buyers and sellers need. Long gaps between updates say the opposite.

Even if you’re regularly posting on your personal page, are you keeping up that business page? When the panel convened in January, Lubin had not updated the status of his Facebook business since November 2013. Big gaps like that make you look inactive, said panelist Maya Bird-Murphy, 22. “I want someone who’s constantly working and knows what’s going on right now,” she said.

Certainly, the need for a social presence has been drilled into the real estate industry’s consciousness, but the panelists said they’d be more forgiving of an agent with no Facebook business page than one with a page that is irregularly updated. “If you’re not doing anything with it, take it down,” Rolock said.

It’s not just the frequency of postings that matter. The content of your updates is also important. Sharing articles, photos, and links to listings is a tried and true way to engage followers, but add your own spin to them. Include comments and voice your opinion on the articles you share instead of just silently sharing them.

Panelists pointed to Nicole Smith’s Facebook business page as the best example of this. When Smith shared a Jan. 27 infographic from the National Association of REALTORS® highlighting the most popular listing and closing dates of the year, she added: “In case you were wondering … in my opinion, EVERY day is a popular closing & listing day.” Panelists said it was an excellent way to add personality to her post and show the human behind the Facebook page.

The Takeaway

If our consumer panel made one thing clear, it’s this: Take care with your online persona. Craft accurate, error-free online bios and social media profiles, and write them with consumers’ interests in mind. Keep your photos up-to-date and consistent. And use your social postings as a way to bring your personality and your value as a real estate professional to life. These steps communicate the essence of you and your business, so don’t think of them as tiresome chores. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. and in the Internet-connected world, you’re projecting your image 24/7. What will be consumers’ first impression of you?

How we did it: REALTOR® Magazine asked practitioners to submit links to their online “about me” bios, social media profiles, and LinkedIn résumés for a chance to have them critiqued by a panel of six Chicago-area consumers. In January, we selected five submissions, from practitioners with from nine to 20 years of experience, from the 141 we received. The panelists represented a wide range of ages—from 21 to 67—and backgrounds: Maya Bird-Murphy and Ariella Chavarria, recent college grads expecting to each own a home in the future; Matt and Carrie Bell, a married couple planning to buy a home this summer; Joshua Rolock, a home owner of 15 years; and June Wood, a renter who sold her condo last year. A big thank you to those practitioners who agreed to be subjected to public scrutiny.

Graham Wood
Executive Editor of Digital Media

Graham Wood is Executive Editor of Digital Media for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@nar.realtor.