Interview with Drew Meyers of the Zillow Blog

[photopress:drewmeyers.jpg,full,alignright]Drew is one of the most frequent contributors on the Zillow Blog, which is considered to be one of the best corporate blogs around. I was fortunate to spend some time with Drew at the Blog Business Summit this past fall where I was also turned on to his personal blog where he takes on all types of technology issues. Drew has all the attributes of a great blogger… interesting, smart, opinionated… so I was particularly happy when he agreed to tell us about his blogging experiences.

What inspired you to start blogging?

We decided to start blogging at Zillow for a couple of reasons, well before the site even launched. We felt that blogging was, and still is, a powerful way to communicate. It allows us to talk to people; to give them insights into our site and the industry overall, while also gaining feedback directly from our users. Additionally, we believe in being transparent with our users (and the industry) and we try to do this by blogging about what is important and top of mind for the company. It’s real. It’s refreshing.

Personally, patience isn’t one of my strong traits (though I’m improving). Everyone who has worked in a software/web development environment probably knows that it takes time and man power to make an idea a reality. By blogging, I feel like I’m making an immediate impact to help build and strengthen Zillow’s brand one post at a time. Blogging is also a very creative way to express myself through writing.

Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?

There are a number of personalities amongst those of us who are regular contributors to the blog, all with preferences on topics we like to write about. This is great for our readers, as we like to believe that there is something of interest for everyone on any given week — it is one of the perks of having a group blog. As for me, there isn’t one specific topic that I like to cover. I have many interests and real estate is a very broad category, giving me freedom to write about a wide range of issues – if I HAD to choose one, I’d say the technology side of real estate.

What have you done to personalize your blog?

Audiences increasingly want companies to provide some insight into the personalities behind a brand, a concept that blogging allows us to do. We encourage as many employees as possible to contribute. As you can see on our blog, there is a range of levels, departments and variety of topics that our contributors tackle. It can be our tech guys trying to explain the Safari issues, it can be our general counsel talking about the significance of the Craigslist ruling, it can be an intern pitching the widget he just created or Lloyd announcing that “we’re opening it up.” This range of contributors adds a dimension of personalization.

We’ve also recently added MyBlogLog’s “Recent Readers” widget to make it even more personal. We think this helps our readers connect with each other. We like the picture feature so much we are thinking about adding this to the site for our contributors in the near future.

Do you have any favorite posts?

There have been a ton of great posts since we first launched the blog in February. A few favorites that I have posted include:

  • Why Do You Blog? — Along with many others in the real estate industry, I have grown to really enjoy blogging. With this post I tried to get inside the heads of some of real estate’s most intriguing bloggers regarding why they are compelled to blog.
  • The Shire in Bend, OR — I really do like finding interesting or odd stories related to real estate that interests a wide audience. And seriously, I’m not including this just because it focuses on my uncle’s development — I would have written about the Shire even if the developer wasn’t a relative.
  • Seattle During a Windstorm — Zillow employees are down-to-earth people and sharing some personal stories is essential to building relationships with our users (even if those relationships are only virtual).

What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?

If you asked our blog team this question, each person would likely have very different answers (which again, makes us pretty unique). For me personally, my favorites include:

  • 3 Oceans – Kevin is an incredibly smart guy (our Blog Team even got to meet him while he was in Seattle) and likes to write about the technology side of real estate.
  • A VC – David Gibbons (Zillow Director of Customer Support) and I are both pretty avid readers of Fred Wilson’s blog focused primarily on the Web 2.0 space.
  • Scobleizer – What I really love about Robert Scoble is that he is REAL. He says what he thinks and doesn’t hide from any issue. He’s definitely a 1st mover in social media by revolutionizing corporate blogging while at Microsoft with his Naked Conversations book. His new company, Podtech, is an early front-runner in the podcasting and videocasting explosion.
  • Trizoko biz journal – This is an business blog that definitely has its own style. If you’re looking for some business advice mixed with a good chuckle, this one’s for you.
  • Guy Kawasaki – Guy is simply a fantastic communicator who always seems to write interesting stories.

What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?

I would say the team overall is the greatest tool. We tap into each other to bounce ideas around or to brainstorm new angles & then make them a reality through collaboration. We all have different news sources that we read regularly which mixes things up a bit. I’m a pretty big fan of regularly reading posts on Active Rain to find interesting perspectives on different topics within the industry.

Technology-wise, I do Technorati searches and have an RSS reader, both which help monitor the blogosphere to track industry blogs.

How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?

Very heavily. As many of you know, Zillow has not spent any money on traditional advertising. Yet, we’ve managed to attract between 3 and 4 million users a month strictly via PR and word of mouth efforts. That said, the Zillow Blog is our primary communication tool with the outside world and thus has been very important to us from a marketing standpoint.

What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?

In 2007, Zillow is planning to upgrade the site in a number of ways. The Zillow Blog team certainly has no shortage of ideas, but we always like to hear feedback as to what features would make our blog more interesting and engaging. Any ideas?Some features we are thinking about include:

  • Effectively surfacing recent comments and most popular posts
  • Author bios and photos
  • Burning feeds for each category of our blog
  • Giving the Zillow Blog team a better way to surface links we find interesting, but don’t have time to write a whole blog post about. Basically, a link-blog within the Zillow Blog structure.

What is the one tool or feature that you wish your site had?

We’d love to have a blog widget for the Zillow Blog that allows a reader to pull a Zestimate (via our API) right from the sidebar of the blog — hint, hint to the developer community. Between this and the features above, I would be a happy camper.

What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?

I see it being different in four key ways. 1.) Real estate blogs will add multimedia, both audio and video (video blogging will explode in the next 3 years), to become more interactive. Many realtors will probably have short overview videos detailing all the neighborhoods that they cover available on their blogs. 2.) I think that about half of the influential industry bloggers today will remain highly influential – the ones that don’t tire of the time required to blog. 3.) I predict neighborhood blogs will all but overtake local neighborhood newspapers in the vast majority of major cities as consumers continue to turn to online news sources. 4.) I certainly agree with Sellsius’ response to this question — that a blog will be attached to EVERY real estate web site.

38 thoughts on “Interview with Drew Meyers of the Zillow Blog

  1. Drew,

    You said : “As many of you know, Zillow has not spent any money on traditional advertising.”

    That surprised me. I thought you guys had mega funding? Why no “ad money”?

  2. Ardell-
    Thanks for asking! 🙂 We made an early decision to spend all of the money that would have gone towards traditional advertising towards our product instead. We believe the best investment we can make is to find (& hire) the best employees possible — so we’ve done that. The great team we’ve invested in has been instrumental to creating our website that 4 million users per month find valuable. In the end, all the advertising money in the world can’t keep users coming back to a web site if it doesn’t satisfy its users.

    While our blog is our main marketing tool — I do want to extend a huge THANKS to our fantastic PR team (led by Amy B) that has helped us gain a huge amount of exposure through the traditional press.

  3. Drew,

    I feel like we are raining on your head…burying the interview. Sorry, it’s getting “busier” by the second around here with all the writers.

    I have another question. Why does Zillow need a personality? That’s like Microsoft needing a personality. Isn’t that just for the little guy?

    Your personality is GodZillow! Who could rise to that magnitude by blogging…huge weight on someone’s shoulder’s to match the personality of the blog to the enormity of what Zillow is.

  4. Ardell-
    I suppose I’m up for answering another question (and adding to my personality??). I certainly don’t think Zillow NEEDS a personality. However, I do think reminding our users that there are actual people behind the Zillow site (it’s not a bunch of robots with no personality programming 15 hours a day) is important. Even though Zillow has been quite successful thus far, it is because of the people & personalities that we have gotten to where we are.

    My personal opinion is that any company, large or small, benefits from providing a way for their customers to relate to the company on a personal level — business is about relationships (virtual or real).

  5. I have to agree because I probably “like” Redfin because I’ve liked the people who I have gotten to know who work there. Ditto with Zillow and David G. I don’t really “know” you, David G’s more out and about where I can see him than you are. And, like Glenn, I have met David G in person. It does make a difference.

    You are absolutely correct…everyone and every company and every blog needs a personality. Interesting.

  6. Great interview Drew.
    Not only is Drew an excellent blogger but he is a great contributor in the overall conversation. He visits & comments on a great many blogs (i see him everywhere) and I am glad when he stops by to comment. He is open minded and a good soul. Zillow got themselves a good man.

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  8. dewita,

    The interviews are definitely a lot of fun to publish! I’m definitely conscious of keeping my opinions out of the interviews and just trying to let the bloggers speak for themselves. There is still so much to learn about real estate blogging!

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