"When the general public thinks real estate, they think, 'What is going on in that neighborhood, what do I want to do there, what's my lifestyle?' " said Jeanne Whipple, a Realtor and Philly Home Girls cofounder.
Whipple and Kristin McFeely began the Philly Home Girls team in 2011 and initially used an Internet data-exchange (IDX) website that provides Multiple Listing Service information to market properties. They pulled the plug on that site, which cost about $400 a month, in 2012, after receiving one too many fictitious e-mail addresses and phone numbers, McFeely said.
The team's new site allows for more customization, which the Philly Home Girls use to showcase the founders' aesthetic, Whipple said.
Between January's soft launch of the new site and the end of September, Whipple and McFeely combined for $25.8 million in sales, second behind another Coldwell Banker Preferred-Old City team that has seven more agents than Philly Home Girls does, according to the local office's data. The figure already surpasses Philly Home Girls' sales for all of 2012 and is a 56 percent increase over sales in the same year-ago time period, Whipple said.
A rebounding real estate market helped that boost, but Whipple said the change in online marketing, which draws proactive clients, is a factor.
Dominique Messihi, who co-owns the Web and graphic-design firm Pepper Lillie Ltd. with her husband, contacted Philly Home Girls after finding them online.
"Buying a home is an emotional ride," said Messihi. "I want to connect with the person I'm searching with."
The online marketing gives buyers the opportunity to get to know McFeely and Whipple before deciding on a broker, she said.
The social-media sites, which post new listings between photos of a South Philly garden tour and mentions of a visit to the N3rd Farmers Market, contrast with the online presence of agencies using IDX websites.
"We are not just pushing houses," said Zoe Draper, Philly Home Girls' project manager, who leads the social-media campaign. "We are helping people build their lifestyle."
The digital campaign makes up about 80 percent of Philly Home Girls' marketing, while traditional advertising, such as paper fliers, accounts for the remainder, McFeely estimated.
It's a strategy other real estate firms should consider, said David Bell, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who specializes in social media.
Internet users spend more time on social-media sites than any other category of websites, according to a Nielsen Holdings N.V. study released in December.
"In the virtual world, you have to go a step further and personalize what you do," Bell said.
The Philly Home Girls' blog includes a list of each team member's favorite walkable sites in her neighborhood. The repurposed Mason jars pinned to the agency's Pinterest board would fit alongside the distressed turquoise table in its Market Street office.
With openness come some risks, such as losing potential customers with different tastes, but it ultimately creates a better match, Whipple said.
Bell agreed, noting, "They are not just another group of Realtors with a set of listings."
But he cautioned against exact imitation: "Other Realtors should be thinking about: 'What story do I have to tell?' "
Wharton's David Bell offers these marketing tips:
Determine how frequently customers visit your sites, and add content accordingly.
Post items with potential for others, to draw attention to your business. For example: a Virginia man used JetBlue Airways' "All You Can Jet" pass while raising money for the American Cancer Society and tweeted about it.
Exercise caution - the Internet has a "permanent shelf life."