When Foliovision first got acquainted with Richard Silver back in 2013, we knew we were at the start of a very fruitful relationship. Richard was already a big star on the Toronto real estate scene, being a real estate agent for the past 35 years and an ex-TREB president. He came to Foliovision with his Richardsilver.com site, which was badly hurt by Google Penalty at the time and found itself at the bottom of Google search results.
Together we built Torontoism.com and produced hundreds of articles during the past four years. Torontoism grew, and today it is a team of five real estate agents supported by two customer relationship gurus, catering to both Torontonians and international buyers and sellers. Here is Richard's and Torontoism's success story.
Richard was raised in Alberta and went to University in Oregon where he studied dance. About 40 years ago, he moved to Toronto. He used to be a song and dance performer, but he was always interested in architecture. After buying his first house in 1979, he was so impressed with the realtor and the service he provided, that he decided to become a realtor as well.
Richard was always the pioneer of technology in the real estate business. He bought his first cell phone before the system was even up and running in Toronto, he had one of the first CRM systems on a Commodore 64, and he was one of the first agents with a website in Toronto.
Over the years, he spent a lot of time building his new website, he wrote blogs and created and moderated his social media profiles and it was going very well for him until Google penalized a lot of sites between 2012-2013, which made his site, and many others, drop in Google search results.
I was with another provider back then and I was always watching who my competition was in the search engines and my competition seem to be the same people all the time and as it turned out they happened to be Foliovision's clients.
He met one of our clients - Jamie Sarner at a real estate conference and they talked about how Foliovision helped him with his website. Back then, Richard was putting 12-18 hours a week into his blog and social media, and it was becoming very labour intensive for an already very busy real estate agent. Soon after the conference, the penny dropped and Richard decided to hire an agency to take care of his website, his content and his social media profiles.
I met Alec and Sanela and it's been wonderful ever since. It's been a great bonus for me and I look at it as if the money I pay to you would be the money of me having a full-time assistant but instead I got the whole team at Foliovision looking after my site and social media.
For the past four years, Foliovision has been in charge of maintaining Torontoism.com and producing written and visual content including newsletters and managing Torontoism's social media profiles.
Torontoism: your go-to resource on all things Toronto
But Richard didn't just give us total and complete control of his website and his content. He communicates and discusses what's going to be published or what campaign for social media we've come up with on a daily basis. Without his input, Torontoism wouldn't be a success story.
He understands the importance of being included in the process creating content for his website and his social media profiles, and he understands that people are looking for real estate agents they can relate to.
Too many agents write about listings, about sales and they're too transactionally based. For me, the website is more about living in Toronto, how to take advantage of the neighbourhoods, how to learn what the neighbourhood's bonuses are. We publish restaurant reviews, interviews with interesting Torontonians and articles about neighbourhoods and having such articles on your site makes you less transactional, it makes you a real estate agent for life, rather than a real estate agent for one deal.
The first thing we did back in 2013 was a new design for the site. After that, we started producing new articles, one article per week moving to two articles per week later. But we kept the old articles written by Richard and updated a few of them over the years. We made sure to stay within the topics Richard covered on his site back when he was doing it himself. If you want to blog - you have to find your niche. With Richard we've chosen real estate, technology and food and started producing articles which fit either one of the categories.
In addition to that, we created neighbourhood guides with professionally taken photos, choosing the neighbourhoods closest to where Richard works and we also added an MLS Search to Richard's site.
Torontoism's Neighbourhood videos
We created buyers and sellers guides and sign up forms for people to subscribe to the newsletter, to request a free home evaluation or to book a showing of any property they found on the site.
Since Foliovision started working on Torontoism.com, the number of yearly visits to the site has grown by 1,015 percent, with more than 1,100 visitors a day on average. Richard's personal Twitter profile reached 10K followers in 2017. Torontoism's Facebook Page has 3,7K likes and an organic reach of 1,200 people on average.
Posting quality articles regularly and updating social media profiles works very well, but the client has to be involved in the process. A lot of people are a bit wary of posting about their businesses on social media and then there are those who post just about their business and nothing else. It's important to know how to utilize your personal Facebook profile for business because it's a very valuable tool for real estate agents. But it's also important to know when to stop. With Richard we found a system that works:
The balance is important. The reality is that we're realtors so we're going to post about real estate. As long as it's 10 or 15 percent of what I post, I think that's ok. It's when your every post is about real estate and how to sell or what to sell the property it becomes a problem.
Staying true to your personality matters
Including little personal details in your promotional materials goes a long way when it comes to real estate. It makes it easier for your potential clients to relate to you. It makes people want to engage with you.
Torontoism sends a newsletter once a month and also special occasion emails, such as holiday greeting cards or invites to charity events. A lot of work is put into compiling the monthly newsletters and making them a perfect mix of business related information with interesting details from the lives of Torontoism's team members.
We feature a lot of events from our personal life as well, because we are a very diverse group of people and the fact that Rizwan is out there riding a horse while I'm training my dog and Sherille is baking pies with her daughter Lily, these are the things we do every day and it's important to show that we're people too. And I think that's one of the reasons our newsletters are successful.
Good content matters
The same strategy applies to our content and social media. Acting as a real person on social media, instead of just sharing new listings and spamming people with the same posts all over again is what makes Richard and Torontoism stand out. When we're researching new topics and writing articles, the first step is discussing the topics with Richard and the team. A lot of times they are the ones suggesting topics, which makes it very easy for us to make sure the articles and social media posts we publish have that special Torontoism signature on them.
All of the articles we post are connected to the Torontoism team in some way. The ideas from the articles come from their work, their personal life and their love for the diversity of Toronto. One of the most popular articles is definitely the list of the Top 10 Local Food Stores in Toronto, which went viral on social media when it was posted.
Other popular content includes Torontoism's People of Toronto section, where we featured a number of popular Torontonians such as the ex-mayor Barbara Hall, the famous architect Siamak Hariri, ex-Chief Planner of the City of Toronto Jennifer Keesmat, journalist and author Shawn Micallef and many more.
In our real estate articles, we try to cater to all buyers and sellers group again using the expertise of Torontoism Team's members to support the stories and explain real estate related issues. These are not always the most glamourous topics, but they are valuable to the readers, such as our articles on importance of inspecting a house for UFFI, buried oil tanks in the backyard or Kitec plumbing before you buy it. But we're also very open to write about controversial topics such as problems between realtors or politics.
The key is to make your content useful to your readers, especially when it comes to real estate, and you can rest assured they will follow you. If you just try to sell them houses all the time, they'll get annoyed, bored and leave. Torontoism team understands this very well.
Adjusting your marketing strategy along the way matters too
In 2013, Richard moved to one of the biggest real estate agencies in the world - Sotheby's International Realty Canada. Back then it was only him and his assistant Tania Bettencourt. Over the past four years, Richard has built a team of six realtors.
They were able to break through to the international market and today about five percent of their clients are foreigners. The Torontoism team is now able to serve clients in ten languages: English, French, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Portuguese, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Ukrainian and Persian.
Moving to Sotheby's was a big thing. I was noticing the growth in the city of the international marketplace and how the city was more and more diverse. That's where Toronto is moving. It's the engine of Canada, but it's also the multicultural hub of Canada, and to be able to serve people in a number of languages is very important. And to understand different cultures as well. Even when it gets to pricing a house, 499 doesn't cut it the way 488 does.
When Richard decided to work with foreign clients, we added articles explaining both sides of the transactional process, so we posted stories about working with foreign clients and what you need to know when working with different cultures. But we also post articles about how to relocate to Toronto, which neighbourhoods have the best schools and which neighbourhoods are the most popular among millennials, boomers or any other age group.
Another big part of Torontoism's success story is the number of media features the team is getting. As a past TREB president, Richard is frequently asked to share his opinion on current real estate issues, and he's often invited to podcasts and interviewed about the Toronto real estate market, running a team and working with foreign clients. The journalists know the Torontoism team and they're always reaching out to us with questions and media opportunities, whether it's features in the Globe and Mail, CBC, Wall Street Journal or a podcast about running a real estate business.
Every agent on the Torontoism Team is an expert in a certain area of the real estate business. Richard himself mentioned a couple of times that when he was building a real estate team, he was not looking for carbon copies of himself, but rather agents specializing in areas he wasn't expert in.
So when a media feature opportunity presents itself, it will go to whichever team member knows about it the most, making the team a great source for journalists looking for experienced realtors they can interview. This just proves that you should make sure your website, if you have it, is a portfolio of your knowledge and expertise if you want people to call you and rely on you for your expertise.
Working with Foliovision
Working with clients such as Richard is the best possible scenario for a marketing agency. We think of ourselves as personal coaches to the client, trying to get their best out of them and turning it into web-friendly content. To do this, we have to be in close touch with the client almost constantly. You have to learn from the client or rather with the client, to be able to tailor the articles and social media posts according to their personality.
It's not always easy when the client is a busy real estate agent always out at showings. But a website, with all its bells and whistles, is a projection of a personality, whether it is a team or a single person, and without client's input, it wouldn't be possible and most importantly it wouldn't be genuine.
Even though he's one of the busiest real estate agents in Toronto, Richard appreciates our daily communication because he understands the meaning behind it:
You're always thinking ahead and you're always there with amazing ideas. Your service is excellent, you're very creative and your customer service to us is priceless.
Richard was always one step ahead of his competitors and we're continuing the tradition with him.
Sanela was born and raised in Croatia. From the moment she learned how to talk, she spoke two languages: Croatian and Slovak. Following her roots, she moved to Bratislava where she graduated with a Master’s degree in Journalism.