Zillow Premier Agent SummitI went to Zillow’s Premier Agent Summit in Seattle this week. It was a focused and well-run event, one that smartly ties in with the company’s current strategy of developing uber-Zillow-agents as its core following and revenue stream.

I’ll get back to that in a second, but I know that a few of you are shaking your heads in disbelief after that first paragraph. I have a reputation in certain circles as being “anti-Zillow”. I’m unapologetically quick to criticize the company when they don’t play nice with agents, or don’t respect our listing property. But I’ve also praised Zillow’s macro-data intelligence, its technological prowess, and its focus on consumer experience. As a Zillow and Trulia user with thousands of contributions on their websites (and a Premier Agent label), I’d call myself more of a cautious participant…but pardon the digression.

The summit was held in the Washington State Convention Center, there was no fee for attending, and parking on-site was picked up by the host. This may seem like small beans, but if you’ve ever tried to wrangle real estate agents into an event, it’s not. Agents can be very cheap. Why else would $5 Starbucks gift cards and appetizers draw them across town to a broker’s open? You just have to get them in the door.

CEO Spencer Rascoff was one of the speakers, at an event for less than 100 agents. Even if it was a short trip from the office, it was a surprise to see that commitment to the program. He took questions directly from agents.

The summit focused on how these agents, all advertising subscribers with Zillow, could use the platform to make more money. It was specific in that regard, with agent panels detailing their processes for maximizing Zillow reviews and responses, leads, and follow-up procedures including the new connect/concierge lead scrubbing service.

This wasn’t a regular real estate conference that spanned the world of transactions. It was a tightly knit instructional event on how to use Zillow as an agent’s primary source of business. Of course there were salespeople ready to take new zip code subscriptions, but the overall theme was how to generate more contacts from on-page content, how to convert that lead, and how to use Zillow products to develop further referrals. These were Zillow users discussing their common tools.

That’s the company’s current strategy: cull the dabbling masses, focus on the big dollar customers, and train them to put their entire focus on Zillow as the lead source. So by providing an event like this with concise business growth tips within the Z-sphere, they’re likely to build that network of major spending agents.

There was a long discussion about Zillow’s new listing video tool. Within the Premier Agent app, agents can select their listing, take multiple video tour clips on their phones, and the app will seam them together and post them directly on Zillow. This is a nice tool for agents who aren’t currently using video. It’s made even better because there’s clearly some image stabilization built into the app, so the tours aren’t shaky. Clips must be 20 seconds or less, so the video doesn’t get burdensome. There’s no audio, voice, or music, so the agent can’t screw that up.

The strategy for promoting it was more interesting than the app itself, however. There was a long(er than necessary) back-and-forth between Spencer and an agent as to why agents couldn’t download that video and put in on another platform. Spencer said that they’ve been having that discussion every day (and two hours yesterday).

Though the agent didn’t agree, Zillow’s decision was a smart play for market concentration. If the agent’s video is only displayed on Zillow, more agents and consumers will be likely to spend more time on Zillow.

Listing display changes doubled down on the strategy. Listings with videos from the Premier Agent app will now rise to the top of the search results. That’s right, agents who pay for premium positioning for your listings: unless you upload videos to your listings, they’ll be sitting below the listings of the agents who do.

This is the squeeze. Do it our way, on our system, and we’ll reward you. You scratch our back, we scratch yours. Just don’t go half way. That’s not good enough.

I left the event knowing that I wasn’t going to be buying zip codes any time soon, but appreciating the value being delivered to agents who do. Zillow’s on to something with these focused summits, and others should take note. There are some real loyalties being built in these tribes.