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Technology Trends for 2014

by Matthew Ferrara

FerraraArticleAs 2013 draws to a close, many real estate professionals are reviewing their business plans for next year and using the fourth quarter as a time to invest in their sales and marketing capacities for the future. Of course, this means taking a look at the latest trends and fine tuning their technology tools to capture future business. But what should smart agents be focused on for 2014? Here are five key trends.

1. Mobile

The number of mobile devices connected to the internet already exceeds the number of desktop devices. So any marketing strategy needs to be "third screen" ready to empower the public using smartphones and tablets to consume their content.

For starters, an evaluation of your website is in order. How does it look on your own mobile device? If necessary, have the code updated to fit better and permit easier navigation by asking your designer to employ responsive design code to your website. This new kind of coding lets your website automatically reformat itself to fit any size screen – small, medium or large – and reformat everything from layout to buttons to images on the fly. Responsive design greatly improves your website's usability for mobile consumers, and you don't need to create a separate app either.

2. Video

Building from our mobile advice, consider this important trend: More than one-third of all mobile data is spent watching videos. Consumers are getting everything – news, entertainment, shopping – from sites that leverage video. According to studies by the National Association of REALTORS®, video continues to be the third most important website feature buyers want to see, after great photos and thorough property descriptions.

Anybody who has ever shopped at Zappos.com knows that every pair of shoes in their catalog has a great video to help sell it, too. Yet video marketing remains very far behind in real estate. (And no, we don't mean photo slide shows, unless you carry a Viewmaster instead of a digital camera!)

In many ways, creating great video marketing is a prime way to differentiate yourself from lots of competitors. Not only will it help sell a particular listing, but showing it in future listing presentations will deliver a powerful statement about how you believe real estate should be sold. Real estate is made for video commercials. Storytelling is the heart of great TV, and every home has a story. In fact, most REALTORS® don't even need to do the camera work. They should be the writers and directors, even the actors, but leave the technology to any of the very capable local videographers in their area. In 2014, listings with videos are going to run circles around listings with slideshows.

3. Video Communications

Continuing the theme of mobile and video, we find another exciting technology trend: video communications. The era of "Star Trek" video-phones is finally here! Tools like Skype, Apple's Facetime and now Google Hangouts have made video chats ordinary for millions of consumers, whether they are at their desk or on the go. Video chats are the perfect antidote, too, to communications tools that have stripped away the personal interactions (think: texting).

According to Pew Research, in 2013, nearly 20 percent of all cell phone users made a video call from their mobile phone, and even greater numbers of Gen Y’ers and affluent consumers did so, too. That's a big number, considering only 50 percent of cell phone users checked email on their device. Future salespeople will need to be comfortable with video chatting with prospects, clients and other agents. And video chat will open up all sorts of new marketing opportunities – from real-time virtual buyer tours of homes, to streaming video from open houses and collaborative problem solving to put together an offer. So, increase your data plan and get familiar with video calling as soon as possible.

4. Social

Social media adoption is no longer really a trend. The number of users exceeds a billion on Facebook and hundreds of millions on other networks like Twitter and LinkedIn. But the future trends will be the rapid increase of niche social networks like Pinterest, Medium and Potluck. Smaller, more topic-focused social networks are great places to concentrate your efforts and engage like-minded individuals. And since social networking is just about making friends and maintaining relationships, what better place to do it than in a nice group that is easy to manage and excited about something in common. Even on mega networks like Facebook, the rise of groups is an example of how people are looking to curate smaller, more familiar sets of people, who get to know each other to an even greater degree than the "shout out" spaces of the main networks. Some networks, like Path, even limit the number of connections you can make, so you have to be more selective and connect more meaningfully.

5. Clouds

Ok, really, it's just one cloud: THE Cloud. The "ubiquitousness" of internet connectivity means that in 2014, the "cloud" (online storage and computing) will essentially be your computer. Your devices will matter less in terms of form, power and system, as long as they can access key data and websites that perform "function" online. You might have an iPhone, an Android Tablet and a Windows laptop. And you wouldn’t even need the latest of those devices, as long as they had connectivity to the internet and run a browser. The implications of the cloud become more important to running a smart business next year: connecting consumers, teams and managers into one collaborative transaction process.

Plus, the cloud solves key business problems. You never run out of storage. Most cloud data is constantly backed up, and the cost of software falls dramatically when you "rent" rather than "buy, install, upgrade" the latest programs. Already more than 60 percent of the work traditionally done by a server in your office is being done on cloud computers in the U.S., and nearly 40 percent of contact management software users have their entire database online. Consumers already love cloud storage and sharing, using tools like DropBox and Microsoft Skydrive rather than large hard drives or memory cards.

In addition to these five areas, lots of other trends should be on your short list, too. Keep an eye on digital cameras, which are pushing marketing towards 40-megapixel images that deliver sharp, crisp images to high-resolution displays. New approaches to mobile devices, such as Samsung's Galaxy Gear Watch and Apple's anticipated iWatch, will open up new possibilities for managing your flow of information on the go. And the possibilities that your marketing videos could start appearing on people's home televisions continue to grow, as internet-enabled televisions let users browse YouTube and Vimeo content on their large-screen home entertainment systems. These trends promise to make 2014 the year where creativity and connectivity combine to deliver your best sales success ever. Good luck!

Matthew FerraraMatthew Ferrara is CEO of Matthew Ferrara & Company, an international real estate consulting, management, strategy and sales organization. For more than two decades, Ferrara has been helping top performing brokerages transform their marketing, technology and customer service strategies to create loyal clients and lead the competition in the next generation of real estate business. Learn more at www.matthewferrara.com.

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