Getting online leads takes some work. Here’s how Illinois agents and brokers are making sure every contact counts in the digital world.

Converting online “visitors” into legitimate buyers and sellers has become a nearly full-time job for today’s agents.

“Online lead generation is definitely a numbers game,” says Brian Kwilosz, broker/owner at EXIT Real Estate Partners in Downers Grove. “Or more specifically, it’s a giant funnel that you really have to sift through to get to the legitimate, interested consumers.”

“Online lead generation is definitely a numbers game”
– Brian Kwilosz

The increased exposure and number of “hits,” brings the responsibility of following up on those leads with the goal of at some point making them pay off. According to Leslie Ebersole, a broker with BRIX Group at Baird & Warner in St. Charles, that follow-up activity should be one aspect of a larger lead-generation effort.

“A lot of agents make the mistake of assuming online lead generation is a standalone activity,” Ebersole says. “We all want to get calls off of Zillow to list a home, or emails generated by potential buyers through, but the reality is that the ‘true’ lead may be further out, and it may take time — months or years even — to cultivate and turn into an actual transaction.”

“A lot of agents make the mistake of assuming online lead generation is a standalone activity”
– Leslie Ebersole

The good news is that many Illinois REALTORS® are bucking the low-conversion rate trend by using existing lead-generation platforms in interesting ways and recording sales that originated online, but that can’t always be traced back to a single interaction or platform.

Build a Database and Give Them Stuff

“Facebook itself is great, but unless you have a platform for collecting leads, you’re not going to get the most out of the platform,” says Justin Letheby, broker/trainer at Berkshire Hathaway Starck Real Estate in St. Charles.

And once the mechanisms are in place to collect the leads — be it a corporate website, a landing page, or some other platform — Letheby says agents can make them more powerful by simply giving something away.

“Sign up today for a weekly update on real estate activity in your area,” or “Email me for a list of the top 10 home staging tips,” are both good ways to get site visitors to register.

“Always give away something of value without an ask,” says Letheby, who has had particularly good success with a “day in the life” online video that breaks down a specific aspect of the real estate market or sales process into easy-to-view clips.

“Always give away something of value without an ask”
– Justin Letheby

“Generating leads online is about communicating and getting in front of people as much as you can,” says Letheby. He tells agents to pay particularly close attention to conversion of their online leads into actual closed transactions.

“I’ve fallen short in this area in the past, having dropped the ball on a potential transaction because I was caught up in other things,” says Letheby. “I’ve since put the right systems in place to manage the leads, and wound up growing my database of online leads from 400 to 1,600 within less than 12 months.”

Hit ‘Boost’ on Facebook

Facebook is a hotbed for everything real estate-related, and this makes it a great lead-generation tool for agents.

“Facebook is a good platform because you can get in and generate leads relatively cheaply,” says Kwilosz, whose last campaign cost about 80 cents per lead.

To maximize that investment, Kwilosz hits the Facebook “boost this post” button for the listings. This allows him to select recipients to push the post — which is initially published on his Facebook business page — out to a larger audience. To get the most out of the boost, he sets up “personas” or different target ad sets according to where the property is, what the price point is, and who it will appeal to.

“With Facebook, there’s a lot of very detailed drill-down data on everyone,” he says, “so you can pinpoint pretty much exactly who you’re looking for.”

Kwilosz says those efforts pay off and they also help to feed his referral pipeline. One buyer he connected with on Facebook purchased an $800,000 home, referred Kwilosz to his mother who, in turn, sold her home and is now shopping for a townhouse.

“I’m excited to see how many people viewed it and reacted to it — and all at a reasonable cost of about $5-$10 to reach about 10,000 Facebook users.”
– Linda Linder

“I also sold her brother’s house,” he adds, “so I got three referral deals out of a single online lead.”

Linda Linder, a broker-associate with Strano & Associates in Belleville, also uses the boost feature on Facebook. Whether she’s posting a new listing, a recent sale or a price reduction on a current listing, Linder boosts the post based on select criteria (an individual’s location, interests, etc.) and then tracks the results.

“It’s amazing how many responses I get,” says Linder, “and I’m excited to see how many people viewed it and reacted to it — and all at a reasonable cost of about $5-$10 to reach about 10,000 Facebook users.”

Keep Your Finger on the Response Trigger

Ryan Cannon sold more than 37 properties in 2017, and says at least 20 of those transactions are “somehow related” to Facebook. How does this REALTOR® with RE/MAX Traders Unlimited in Peoria do it? One of his secret weapons is the auto-reply feature on Facebook, which allows him to instantly reply to any message even if he’s too busy to write a personal note at the time.

“Whether someone is using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other online lead generation tool, the trick is to have your phone in hand like a gun in a holster,” says Cannon. “You have to be ready to respond at all times, even if you can’t or if you don’t really want to.”

“You have to be ready to respond at all times, even if you can’t or if you don’t really want to.”
– Ryan Cannon

Using the auto-responder, Cannon uses messages like, “Thanks for messaging me. I’ll try my best to get back with you within the next 30-45 minutes.” Using this method, Cannon can keep his “typically responds within X amount of time” rating on Facebook as low as possible.

“Consumers want to know how quickly you’ll reply,” he says, “and that’s a pretty good gauge for them to use.”

When capturing leads, Cannon says he’s had good luck with not requiring visitors to register in order to access content on his site.

“I try to be less controlling in this super-competitive world that we live in, knowing that in the social media world, the less pressure the better,” he said. “The idea is to be as approachable and genuine as possible, as opposed to making it seem like you are the only option.”

Leverage Less-Used Social Sites, Such As LinkedIn

Very few of the REALTORS® interviewed for this article were using LinkedIn as a lead-generation tool, but it’s working well for Heather Gustafson, a broker with @properties in Chicago.

Focused primarily on new construction sales and marketing for developers, Gustafson posts frequent articles on her LinkedIn page.

For example, Gustafson has shared articles previously published by local media about @properties projects on LinkedIn. Not only do those posts attract a high number of views, but they also prompt network connections to ask questions and request brochures.

“I put something out there about our River North project and suddenly everyone knew that we were working on it because they learned about it on social media”
– Heather Gustafson

“We’ve seen a pretty big spike in conversations on LinkedIn as a result,” says Gustafson. “It’s something our potential client base really gravitates toward.”

From the agent’s perspective, Gustafson says LinkedIn also provides a level of sophistication and professionalism that isn’t always as evident on more mainstream social media sites.

In return for these efforts, Gustafson has raised brand awareness for her team and the properties they represent.

“I put something out there about our River North project and suddenly everyone knew that we were working on it because they learned about it on social media,” Gustafson says.

About the writer: Bridget McCrea is a business, real estate and technology writer in Tampa, Fla. She can be reached at

Legal Note: Whenever you are trying to generate leads, whether in print or using social media platforms, you need to be transparent about how you will use the information.
(See Illinois Real Estate License Act, Section 10-35)


7 Online Lead Generation Action Tips

  1. Use the platform’s built-in tools to get more out of your listings. On Facebook, for example, the boost and auto-responder functions can help you reach more people with little extra effort.
  2. Don’t confuse information requests with online leads. “Every agent has converted a lead from a basic offer to do a home valuation, but every agent on the planet is doing that right now and most of those aren’t leads,” says Leslie Ebersole.
  3. Finish what you started. If you start a Twitter profile, finish it. If you start using Instagram, follow through with it. “Polish everything on a regular basis and make sure you’re being complete, thorough and consistent,” says Ryan Cannon.
  4. Review your timeline regularly. “Delete stuff that you really don’t want on there permanently and create a professional presence that allows people to really ‘dig into’ who you are,” Cannon suggests.
  5. Keep up with your offline lead-generation efforts. “If you’re working a certain ZIP code, neighborhood, or subdivision, then you should probably also be doing mailings in those areas with an emphasis on your just-listed, under-contract, and just-sold listings,” Ebersole suggests. “This will go a long way in reinforcing your online lead generation efforts.”
  6. Develop a follow-up process. Knowing that the next agent is just a mouse click or two away, be sure to use a combination of personal notes and auto-responders to let prospects know that you’re a “real” person who is handling their request.
  7. Be the expert. “If you’re lucky enough to get on the phone with someone who’s asking about a house in a subdivision or particular price point, you need to have that information down pat,” says Ebersole. “Quietly dazzle them with information.”