The Real Estate Dish: 15 Minutes with Inman's Amber Taufen
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he spends 15 minutes getting to know Amber Taufen, Editor in Chief with Inman. Amber shares her unique insights on real estate trends as she manages content and oversees a large team of full-time, part-time and freelance writers, as well as 3 editors, plus more than 500 contributing writers.
Listen to the Interview [Audio]:
Eric: Amber, how long have you been working in the real estate industry, and specifically for Inman?
Amber: I started working in the real estate industry and at Inman in November 2014. Prior to that, I was working in print and digital media for about 10 years. My first exposure to real estate was my job at Inman, and that started in 2014.
Eric: Is there something that you find really interesting about the real estate industry now that you’ve been in it for a couple of years? Is there something that really stands out?
Amber: You know, I think the thing that really is interesting to me is the whole question of “Who owns real estate industry data?” Coming in as a relative outsider, it was not something I ever considered. And, if you had asked me before I started at Inman, then I probably would have said the homeowner is the person who owns the data. But after spending some time in the industry and understanding exactly what goes into a real estate listing, my opinions changed. So, it’s an interesting debate, though—definitely something that I’ve been keeping my eye on.
Eric: For people that don’t know you, what would they be surprised to learn about you?
Amber: Well, one thing that surprises people to learn is that I work remotely. I live in a very small town in the mountains of Colorado, called Bailey. And, although I follow real estate trends in big cities—including Denver, which is the closest city to me—I don’t get to see a lot of that manifesting in my own market. The pace here is a little bit slower. So, I keep in touch and apprised of everything via the Internet.
Eric: Is that the culture of Inman? The staff is able to work remotely like that, but yet stay connected with all the tools we have?
Amber: Absolutely, and it varies. I probably have the most spread-out team out of all of the departments. We do have a home office—a central office in California, in the San Francisco Bay area. But, we have a philosophy that if you’re the right person for the job, then location shouldn’t really matter.
Eric: I know you oversee a large group of diverse people and you still do a lot of writing yourself. How do you continue to find time to write, as well as manage all the staff?
Amber: Well, some of it is delegation—being smart about where I’m really needed with my time, and where I can ask my staff to sort of pinch hit for me while I spend some time writing. Some of it is just practice. You know, I’ve been in this job for a while. So as I’m going through my week, I’m always thinking about different topics to write about. That’s usually the most time-consuming thing, as I see it, is figuring out what you want to write about. Once you have a really good topic in mind, then it’s pretty quick.
Eric: How do you stay relevant and come up with new ways of... sort of spinning the same core stories that are out there? You know, being a writer myself—I don’t write a lot, but I find very tough sometimes to come up with fresh ideas. How do you push through that?
Amber: A lot of it has to do with personal experience. For example, I just bought my first house in February… at the end of February, and that was a huge driver of content for me because it was the first time I’d ever gone through that process. I was doing something that my readers do every day, and looking at the whole transaction from start to finish with fresh eyes—knowing what I do about the real estate industry—gave me a lot of fodder. So, that I think is part of it; paying attention to situations in your own life that could turn into a column, perhaps. And then, really just understanding what is happening in the industry. You know, we have different things that we cover, on a regular basis, that sort of refresh different stories. One example might be earnings calls… quarterly earnings calls for some of the nationally, publically-traded companies. We won’t be talking about Xome, which is a real estate marketplace—we don’t talk about Xome every week or every month, even. But, we will be talking about Xome every quarter, because we’ll be discussing the financials. So, that’s another way we keep refreshed—just by adding new news hooks to older stories.
Eric: You’re bugged by a lot of people like myself… how many pitches does your team actually see a day on average that you have to deal with?
Amber: Personally, I probably route and deal with about 20 to 30 pitches a day. Multiply that by 4 writers on my team, a couple of editors, and it mushrooms significantly.
Eric: How do you decide if something’s newsworthy, or if you want to have a member of your team cover it?
Amber: We actually have a pretty simple test at Inman—at least, I think it’s pretty simple. Our readers are primarily real estate agents and brokers, and with any pitch that I get, I want to be able to answer the question, “How will this help my readers’ business? And why should they care?” So, if it’s a consumer-focused story, then that’s probably not a fit for us… unless it has something to do with the real estate transaction. That’s really it. If you can tell me how your product or story is going to help my readers’ business and why they should care, then you’ll probably pass the test.
Eric: Ultimately, how does someone become a contributor?
Amber: There are many ways you can become a contributor. Usually what happens is they read something on Inman that they like, and realize that it was written by somebody not on staff. They reach out to either myself, or my contributor editor—her name is Dani Vanderboegh—and she manages all of the contributors for me. She’s the ultimate cat herder, in some ways. They reach out to myself or Dani, and we have guidelines for them to follow. We explain what the program is all about. We get them set up with a Wordpress account, a landing page, coach them through any story ideas if they’ve got any, and tell them what’s already been published. If it’s too similar to something we’ve already run, suggest alternates that they could explore, and then just get them writing.
Eric: What advice do you have for Realtors that want to include content—really hard, meaningful content in their marketing mix today?
Amber: The advice that I see given all the time, that I think is really solid, is “know your audience”—first and foremost. If you don’t know who you are talking to, and who you’re targeting, then you won't be able to write something that pulls them in. I find the really easy place for most agents and brokers to start, is think about some of the common questions that you get asked over and over again by your buyer and seller clients and answer them in article form. Then, you have a link you can send to people if they ask you that same question via email, or if somebody asks Google that question, you can show up (in the search results).
Eric: Now, it probably doesn’t change, but using social media—more and more Realtors are using social media—is there different content coaching for the use of social media today?
Amber: I have heard that the best use of social media is really a relationship builder, not so much necessarily a lead generator. So, in terms of that, I would say if you’re trying to build a relationship with people, it probably makes a lot of sense to handle your own social media, and really let your personality come through. Don’t use it as an obvious sales tool, would be my best advice.
Eric: I have to ask you: being Editor in Chief… how do you overcome writer’s block?
Amber: Well, writer’s block is the bane of any journalist’s existence. There are all kinds of workshops that I do with my own editors and writers to sort of overcome it. One really easy way to sort of generate content, if I’m really stuck, is I’ll go look at stories that are trending on Inman that are trending purely because of search results. How I would identify those is looking for trending stories that weren’t published in 2016. For example, one fantastic example of this would be a real estate tax deductions checklist we wrote in March. We wrote it in March because we saw that an article we published in 2012 was trending. People were looking for tax deduction information. So, if you’ve got a backlog of content, you can sort of find what people are looking for and cater to it. There are also tools like BuzzSumo and some other social media trending tools, and some other tools like that you can use to see what your competitors are writing about you. If they’re jumping on a boat that maybe you should be on.
Eric: How far would you work in advance in terms of a content calendar/media calendar? Is that well-populated, or does that come together fairly quickly through a quarter or a month?
Amber: You know, it’s a bit of a mix. When we know that something is coming, like an earnings call or a lawsuit’s been scheduled, something like that, then we can really plan our content calendar in advance. For me, as a columnist and a writer, I could probably do a much better job of planning a content calendar because my work is not so hooked to the news. But, in general at Inman, we are sort of a hybrid. There are some things we can count on that we know are always going to come; earnings reports, lists, our own special reports, things like that. But, in general, we also try to keep a level of flexibility, so that we can make sure we’re not going to miss anything, because we’re too focused on what we knew was coming.
Eric: Tell me more about Inman Select. It’s a program that you folks launched in the fall of 2014. For someone that doesn’t know about it, what’s the backstory? What is Inman Select?
Amber: Inman Select is a subscription membership program. When you join Inman Select, you get access to all the content on Inman. So, if you are not an Inman member, Inman Select member, and you visit the website, then some of the content will be open and available to you, but you will find that you can’t access all of it.
Eric: I’m a member of Inman Select. What type of content am I able to access that maybe non-members cannot?
Amber: One of the biggest areas that we offer members, but non-members don’t have access to, are our special reports. Those are proprietary reports that we research in-house. They’re based on our own research that we do. And, we create downloadable PDFs. Not only do you get the full report and our own analysis of it, but you can also see the full results and how our readers responded to our questions—if you download the full PDF. That’s one extra that you get. We have a tech reviewer who reviews tech, and will explain to agents whether he likes it or not, and how it fits into their business plan. So, that’s something that Select members get that ordinary visitors wouldn’t be. There is also a whole slew of exclusive content. Our reporters really work their beats hard. And there are a lot of stories that we uncover that you just won’t see on RISMedia or anywhere else. If we’ve got an exclusive on something, it’s probably going to be member-only.
Eric: When you think about Inman Select, is there a target persona? Is it a certain broker who does something, or an agent that does something? Or is it more general, it would serve both those groups well?
Amber: It would serve both those groups well, I think. Really, the purpose of it is we’re trying to help agents and brokers elevate their business. Become smarter at their jobs. Become better at their jobs. And survive and thrive in an industry that’s changing all around them. So, if you are an agent or broker who’s concerned about the changes in the industry, or who really wants to make sure you’re staying abreast of what’s happening, then it’s a good fit for you.
Eric: As you look forward to 2016, what industry-wide news trends should brokers and agents make sure they stay abreast of?
Amber: You know, one thing I’m seeing a lot of, just from my standpoint, is mergers and acquisitions and consolidation across the industry. We’re seeing it happen with some of the multiple listing services—the MLS’s are consolidating. And we’re also seeing it happen with some of the bigger brokerages. Brad Inman ran a podcast not too long ago with the president of Real Trends, where he talked about mergers and acquisitions, and discussed this sort of phenomenon where a brokerage gets to a point where it just can’t scale any more, and it makes sense to sell at that point. I think really paying attention to what’s happening in the M&A and consolidations space is going to be important because it’s a money making tactic. And it's really hard to compete against a big entity that is consolidated and has a lot of different arms in different areas. If I were an agent, I'd be keeping an eye on that trend for sure.Share to: