It started with MySpace (Not really, but let's say it did anyway), but now it's morphed into niched markets, and Active Rain is one of those. To what do I refer? Social media that is. The Web 2.0.
Inman has done an excellent three-part series on the rise of social media, what's working and what's not, and the role real estate is playing in it. (Registration is required, darn it.)
Of course, when it comes to social media and real estate, AR is king of the hill. Part 1 of the series devotes much of its content to AR...
"ActiveRain, the most prominent real estate-focused social network, emerged last June and in less than a year has amassed more than 20,000 real estate broker and agent members. The site now gets about 150-200 new members each day, and site traffic has doubled in the last month and a half, according to co-founder and CEO Matt Heaton." (I watch the counter at the top of the page and that number exceeds 200 in any one day as best I can tell.)
The article goes on to suggest that, while social media is good for networking with colleagues, etc, it may have limited bearing on sales. "But even as thousands of real estate agents flock to ActiveRain, the way homes are bought and sold remains unchanged. Many industry professionals are enthusiastic about new social networks, but are also unconvinced that these sites will change the habits of top-producing agents," states the article.
Here's the thing. It's the consumer, stupid! (Actually, I'm not calling you stupid...it's a take-off on something Clinton said years ago about the economy...ah, guess you had to have been there.)
Consumers are using social media in all forms. That's really the issue. The Web 2.0 has empowered them to share information, ideas, recommendations and referrals. Hello! They are talking about you! We need to be listening to what they have to say and getting in on the conversation. That's one reason it's important that we participate in the same social networks they do, and the reason we need to blog. If we don't have a voice in the conversation that's already going on, we become irrelevant.
It's not really about figuring out a way to use Web 2.0 to generate leads. It's about staying relevant with the vast number of consumers who are living their lives online. It's about creating personal relationships with these people that, hopefully, will result in transactions. It's creating a transparent environment where trust can be achieved and where you are perceived as a knowledgeable expert. It's about putting the "real" in real estate. (Corny, but I couldn't stop myself.) I know, I'm preaching to the converted.
Part 2 of the series continues to talk about AR and centers around blogging as the glue that makes the Web 2.0 stick. It also references our dear friend Mary McKnight. One salient point Mary makes in the article is that agents are using AR as a way to increase their search engine rankings. That's actually happening too! So, see, all the time you're spending on the site is actually good for something! :-)
(Reading through the series as I blog here, I'm beginning to think Matt paid Inman or something. So far, it's really all about AR! Just kidding...just kidding!)
Oh, one other thing. The article says AR is a good place for new bloggers. While I'm not new to blogging, I do concur, it is a good place to be. And, if you happen to be a new blogger, is it a GREAT place to get your feet wet.
Part 3 does move on to other social media sites (guess Matt didn't pay enough to get traction in all three articles...again, just kidding!), including the now infamous Twitter, which up until a couple of weeks ago no one had ever heard of even though it has been around for about a year.
That's the nature of the Web 2.0. It tends to have a quick rise and fall, not unlike some pop culture superstars. Here one minute, gone the next.
"Julie Jalone, a Realtor for Lyon Real Estate in Roseville, Calif., is experimenting with Twitter, a tool that allows people to send quick, short text messages to update the world on what they are up to at any given point in time, from a phone or from a computer. Of course, someone has already developed a Google Maps-based Twitter mashup, at Twittermaps.com, that maps the location of folks who sent recent messages to the Twitter site."
The article also mentions Real Estate Voices, which is like Digg, only for Realtors. As an aside, REV is built using a software called Pligg, which anyone can use to build similar sites. That's the thing about Web 2.0 usability, anyone can do it. The next generation net is not about technology, it's about people. It's like Google's new coop search engine thingy. Anyone can build a niche search engine using Google technology...easily, quickly, and at no cost. But, then again, you can do that with Rollyo or Swiki, and even your own social network using Ning. Truth is, you can create your own Web 2.0 empire using these and other tools. Again, for the most part, it's all easy and free.
Ah, but I digress...
Let me suggest a social media strategy. Keep in mind the overarching principle: The consumer is in the driver's seat. They are really the marketers. It's their opinions and recommendations that others are listening to, not our marketing messages. We've been largely tuned out.
That being said, you need to:
- Establish a beach-head in the Web 2.0. Your blog is one way to do that. It gives you a stake in the game.
- Listen to what they are saying. Use sites like Technorati, subscribe to RSS feeds, and watch Homethinking.com to get a sense of what the consumer is saying about you, your company, the industry, etc.
- Get a seat at the consumer's table. It's important to not merely listen, but to engage. That means doing things like setting up a MySpace account (or some other social network), commenting on consumer's blogs. and updating your own It's their show, but you need to be sitting on the front row. (Does that make sense, or am I trying to hard to create meaningful metaphors?)
The value of Web 2.0 for Realtors as I see it at this point (and, keep in mind, my opinion is subject to change with or without notice), is a) sites like AR are great for collaboration and we need to take advantage of them for networking, encouragement and instructional purposes, and b) our use of social media from a sales and marketing standpoint needs to be less oriented toward creating our own structures, and should be geared more toward getting involved with the consumer where they are.
Whew! I've said more than I know, but I would value your contribution to the conversation, so please add to it. Disagree with my assessments, or confirm them. Whatever you do, don't let this 30-minute diatribe be only a monologue. What's the fun in that.