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Local Experts, Parkbench, and Escaping the Local News Graveyard

Rob Hahn got me thinking about the topic of local experts again. If you haven’t noticed by now, it’s a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Parkbench, the subject of a recent founder interview, is a neighborhood news platform helping real estate agents be the digital mayor of their neighborhood. They actually refer to it as a Local Leader Real Estate Marketing System (truthfully, I’m not exactly sure what that means).

A bit more about their model:

Real Estate is a relationship based business and we help you stand out in your community. We will help increase your sphere of influence by enabling you with your own neighborhood website. Our system has worked for hundreds of real estate professionals across North America.

A Few Thoughts

Speaking of Rob, he also mentioned the how to be a digital mayer blog post by Grant in his one of his #GetReal videos.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying — I’m a HUGE advocate for developing/demonstrating hyper local expertise as a central strategy for an agent/broker.

That said, there is a rather large graveyard of startups who tried to build businesses on hyper local neighborhood news. I wrote about local news and real estate just a few weeks ago, and mentioned a few of them (Outside.in, Patch, Blockfeed). Localism is another one that made a run at it many years ago.

(read this post for insights from a failed attempt at another news app, Inside.com).

Why is that? The problem with “local news” is, well, it’s not really a “problem” to the majority. There’s literally news everywhere you look online. Finding a different/new source for local news is not a “problem” many home owners / consumers care about solving.

Put yourself in the buyers shoes. What does a page like this or this truly help you solve or answer?

User acquisition in the “news” vertical takes considerable time, since most marketing comes from word of mouth and not as a result of people seeking a specific solution to a problem they’re facing.

There are thousands of other websites competing for that same local traffic/attention. Other agents, brokers, newspapers, portals among them.

Even if you succeed in attracting a hyper local audience — how do you monetize an audience without an urgent problem in need of solving?

It’s true, buyers want to get to know the neighborhoods they are contemplating moving to (whether from far away, or across town).

It’s true, local news (can) drive leads.

It’s true, there is value in collaborating with others locally (and nationally for SEO).

It’s true, going it alone SEO-wise is time consuming and expensive.

The Core Challenge

The challenge with Parkbench’s model is a lack of agents playing the long game (how many  agents genuinely make decisions based on what will help their business 3 years from now, and remain committed for 3 years to see it to success?) as well as the cost/time of acquiring customers.

Jim Duncan and Ines are examples of those playing the long game over the past decade — but the reality is most agents give up on local blogging before they ever get to a point where they are generating qualified leads from their efforts.

Becoming the Digital Mayor

Were I to commit myself to being the digital mayer of city/neighborhood X, I’d go into it knowing it’s a 2-3 year strategy. I’d fully expect to write several hundred blog posts at a minimum, and likely record numerous videos and perhaps even a few podcasts.

Thus, for me, the prospect of using a platform such as ParkBench comes down to the following big question:

Why create and curate local content on someone else’s platform?

Being a massive content creator for over a decade, I know full well the time and effort required to create great content — and that content’s value over time. Content is permanent breadcrumbs back to my business (some my thoughts from 2008).

I know how hard it is to generate traffic.

Is the risk of a company (whether that be ParkBench or any other entity) changing their mind and doing something different with my content (or showing ads on it) 2 or 3 years from now worth it?

Wrap-Up

ParkBench’s offering becomes more interesting IF they do all the work and drive qualified local traffic interested in speaking to an agent. It’s no secret there are plenty of agents/brokers willing to pay for qualified leads. That said, traffic acquisition and eyes on brand is the hard part of the equation.

It gets interesting if you place their technology into a brokerage committed to investing heavily into local overs the course of several years.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe being the digital mayer is exactly what an agent/broker should be doing. I know anything is possible.

I just don’t happen to believe lack of technology is the reason most agents haven’t embarked on that strategy/journey — or that a better tool will result in more sticking with the strategy long enough to succeed.

Am I wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • This has nothing to do with technology. If someone isn’t acting “mayor-like” already then they have no reasonable chance at executing this at all. How fun would it be to follow Jim if he wasn’t as engaged in local politics as he already is? How cool would it be to follow Ines if she wasn’t actually out enjoying Miami as much as she already does? Quite simply, they are just interesting people. You can’t manufacture or white-label this.

    If an agent is doing anything that resembles participating in their local community, then they already benefit from it by the relationships they make and enrichment they gain by doing those things. A few of them document it and spread that benefit further. Interesting agents are easy to find online. They already write blogs, sponsor or coach sports teams, participate politicly, have a cool Instagram, or share opinions on Facebook. What else is humanly possible for these people to do?

    And while this whole thing is great to discuss for people who have the personality or lifestyle which allows for them to participate in enough experiences that might contribute to a point of view, its not reasonable to expect every agent can or wants to do this. Maybe the customers who like reading books alone in their office need to find the agent who also likes to keep to herself rather than starting a relationship with someone they might not jive with.

    As far as where to produce the content, this really doesn’t matter for real estate agents. Finding the handful of people who even would find the content interesting is the biggest challenge, if that means Instagram has the audience that agent is trying to target, then they should definitely get awesome at creating content on Instagram if designing experiences on that platform combined with the ability to advertise puts that content in front of the right people. Advertisers should be doing lots of things, but to suggest they need to stand up and maintain proprietary platforms is just not a reasonable, let alone necessary thing for an average real estate agent to do.

    • This isn’t a technology problem.
      Not everyone is interesting enough to pull off being the digital mayor.
      Not every agent can or should attempt this strategy.

      Agree with all of those statements 🙂

    • deidrew

      To me it seems like the opportunity to be the digital mayor now exists more in Next Door and in Facebook groups and as Greg mentioned, on Instagram. Jim Duncan and Ines built local brands in a way that would be more challenging now if you were trying to drive people to a specific destination. However I think there are many different ways to be the digital mayor now that could work for different personality types, you can do it with words, with photos, with videos, by being in forums and being on service.

      • Totally agreed. I bet Ines and Jim are active in local fb groups / nextdoor — in addition to the presence they maintain on their own websites/blogs.

  • Sep Niakan

    Yeah, absolutely no point for anyone to be the digital mayor of someone else’s platform. It’s too easy to have your own attractive wordpress site. But in this crazy world full of information, it is pretty damn hard to stick out, whether you have a personality or not. Ines is both a very interesting and social person, has very specific interests (interesting architecture) and she started building her brand years ago when there wasn’t as much noise. The earlybird gets the worm. Whoever starts now definitely has to have a 2-3 year plan MINIMUM (but more like a 5 year plan), the more focused they are about what they write the better, the more of an interesting focus it is to a niche group of individuals that has money is important (you will lose playing the general game), and they should be doing constant reach out by being “web-social” by creating value for others around the web and building relationships that can turn into things like mentions, link-backs, invitations to both on- and off-line events, etc, to build up the SEO and general social game. In conclusion, it’s not for the faint of heart…..

    • Indeed… not for the faint of heart

      If I were to start an endeavor/strategy now, I’d probably do something along the lines of Evergrey (partnered w/ Whereby.Us).

      “Yeah, absolutely no point for anyone to be the digital mayor of someone else’s platform.”
      I’m not sure I agree actually. I do think there is value to being a digital mayor on a platform like nextdoor, or inside private/secret fb groups (if those sorts of local groups exist for your neighborhood/city) — if there is already significant scale/reach.

      Would the “social impact realtor” work? (not that I’ve ever thought about being an agent…)

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