Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

An App Worth Talking About

Freedom Communications Unveils a Real Estate iPhone App
Obviously we’re quite excited about our new baby, our iPhone app — I think it’s turned a lot of heads. Wow, you guys have your own app!

On October 10, 2011, Freedom Communications announced their partnership with Gabriels Technology Solutions and unveiled a new real estate iPhone app, which they plan to release across their portfolio of 27 daily newspaper markets. When I met Dave Hiebeler, Freedom’s National Real Estate Manager, at the 2011 Western Classified Advertising Association conference in San Diego, Calif., he excitedly pulled me aside to show off the new app that had just launched. We quickly set up a time when we could talk further.

Hiebeler explained that they released the app on September 27 at the Orange County Register, following a soft launch period of three to four weeks. As of October 28, when I spoke to Hiebeler, there had been 750 downloads of the app. They chose OCR for the initial launch because it is their flagship newspaper, has the biggest circulation and has a vibrant real estate market. “California has been a leader in trends,” Hiebeler said. “What’s interesting in Orange County is that they’re seeing strong activity in many zip codes and new construction as well. We serve up over 100,000 listings in this app in just Orange County.” After OCR, Freedom plans to release the app at the Colorado Springs Gazette, and have it in all 25 markets by Q1 2012. Additionally, in Q1 they hope to expand to Android and iPad platforms.

Above the Fold | How did you develop the app?

Dave Hiebeler | We worked with our partner, Gabriels Technology Solutions, to develop the app. They are the software company that powers all of our real estate websites. We’re working on the renovation of our real estate sites in all 27 dailies. We just upgraded the Orange County site and rolled out the iPhone app with it.

AtF | Tell me about the app. Do you sell advertising within it?

DH | Mainly it’s content, but we’re working on adding advertising to it. We’re only one of a small handful of papers using a real estate app, but we feel ours is different. One unique feature that we have is GPS, so you can pull up listings near you. And, not only can you see the MLS listings, you can search all the local classifieds and listings in one spot.

With the constant promotions we do, both with the newspaper and the online promotions, our aim is to drive local eyeballs, because, just like politics, all real estate is ultimately local. The main thing for us, as a positioning statement, is that this really does send a strong message to local Realtors® and builders that newspapers are relevant.

AtF | What other unique features does your iPhone app offer?

DH | So as you go through the app, what is special or unique is that we have some wrinkles and twists that aren’t in other real estate apps. So, for example, after you put in your city and search your beds and baths and price range, you can look for just listed or price reduced or open houses. And when you get search results, you’ll see the photos we provide are different. We’ve bannered them [just listed, price reduced, open house, etc.], much like you see in a newspaper app. It’s a great user experience.

The other cool thing that we have is a “My Portfolio Dashboard” that folks can access. So what that means is, as a homebuyer, if you’re on a showing or tour of a property, you can actually take photos and make comments or notes and post them on your dashboard (if you set that up on our regular website). The general public doesn’t see it but it shows up on your dashboard in your shortlist of interested properties.

That’s what’s different about this. That’s really, what I consider, a cool feature. We’ve got some other viral things we do. Like you can text a listing and email to a friend. A lot of people use that.

We’ve also got a great tool section and a great real estate dictionary on our iPhone app. Whatever you want to know about certain real estate terms you might see in a listing and were afraid to ask, you can go to the glossary and find out. It also has a digital tape measure to measure room size while you’re on site. You need to provide a product for the home hunter. Our app is all about personal alerts for open houses, price changes, and new listings — that’s really where this app ties into the regular site. So if you set up your personal dashboard, you really can do some additional things for your search.

AtF | So, is the dashboard only available with the app? Or is it on the website too?

DH | It’s on our website too. Any reader can access it. They don’t need a subscription to the newspaper. All they need to do is go to the website and register, they fill out their email and what they’re looking for. So, once they set up their dashboard  —  which is quick to do — they can start saving listings and creating their shortlist.

AtF | How are Realtors® liking it?

DH | I think they’re surprised by the innovation we’re showing and demonstrating. We can translate our regular real estate site into 10 different languages. And the fact that we can do new technology things like that, coupled with rolling out the new iPhone app, really does change the conversation. It goes back to, are you regarded as a relevant player from a budget standpoint. If you’re an individual Realtor®, or real estate franchise if you will, you’re asking “should I invest my budget with the newspaper?” With new technology solutions, the conversation totally turns around, like “WOW! You guys are really with it.”

AtF | How do you do tracking in the app? How do Realtors® know they’re seeing results from your app?

DH | Well, that’s a good question. We’re working on that right now. We’ve just done the launch and we’re working on the stat reporting. We’re going to go deeper into that, because we’re all about the matrix of our mobile and web solutions. But I can tell you right now we’ve had 750 downloads. That’s something that our standard is, if you’re doing anything in web or mobile, then you need full access to analytics. So we’re working on that.

AtF | Of course, I’m sure you can track the textings of the listings and the emails to friends.

DH | Absolutely.

AtF | Have you ventured into QR codes at all?

DH | We are heavy into QR codes. And, interesting that you asked that, because I just had a conversation with Dan Walker, our real estate manager in Orange County, and that really does take the dimension of print and make it interactive. So, someone runs a print ad with QR codes, we can actually track how many people have downloaded the QR code. And when you think about it, it’s really like a phone call, from an engagement standpoint. And we’re really all about measuring engagement, and that’s why we use Gabriels Technology Solutions. They are a really good provider of measuring engagement of web activity. Because, beyond page views and emails and phone calls, people want to be stealthy when they’re on the web. People want to do it on their own terms. So if we can show the Realtor®, broker, franchise owner or builder, hey, this is how they’re getting to you or where they’re going, they’re pretty impressed by that.

AtF | So are people actually using the QR codes?

DH | They are. I think what’s happened with QR codes is that a lot of markets were ahead of the actual understanding of what a QR code can do…I think the general public is starting to figure out the use of a QR code.

AtF | What unexpected challenges did you face?

DH | Oh boy, that’s a good question. After working with our developer and finding out all the things it can do — all the different things that I’m talking about, the toolbox, the census data, the neighborhood demographics — it was a question of how to simplify. How can you make it simple and easy to use for the home hunter.

AtF | What advice do you have for people looking to implement something like this?

DH | Allow yourself enough time and certainly be realistic. Whether you’re building on a website or an app, control expectations. If you want to do this well, you need to allow yourself time.

AtF | Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DH | Overall, the strength of our company is that people really know us as the local market. As you group us together, we generate 4.4 million search results per month. We get an 11 percent click-through rate, which is about four times the national average. We want them to identify with the local brand. We’re really the backbone behind that.

Obviously we’re quite excited about our new baby, our iPhone app — I think it’s turned a lot of heads. Wow, you guys have your own app!