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Here’s an idea to make any agent’s day: If you’re finally fed up with the poor results and high costs of postcard mailings, newspaper ads and cold calls, and you’ve come to the conclusion that blind mass-email marketing makes you more annoying than maybe it’s time to get LinkedIn.

Or MySpaced. Or RealTowned. Or Facebooked. Or a member of just about any of the hundred or so major social networking sites. No matter how you look at it, the opportunities just add up.

First, look at the research. No, not the online web blather: of course the social network sites are going to “claim” they are the next greatest thing to croutons (which recently replaced sliced bread as the next greatest thing). We mean the consumer research. It looks like this: Baby Boomers are quickly losing ground as the “largest” source of real estate business to the combined numbers of Gen X and Gen Y. With more than 100 million X and Y’ers still in the market – yes, they are, and going to be the driving force for the next 30-40 years – it’s time to start propsecting on their turf.

In the “olden days” prospecting for sellers and buyers meant going to the Boomers’ watering holes: television, radio, newspapers and mailboxes. Yet fully 40% of homes were sold to first-time buyers last year, and the majority fo those were Gen X and Y’ers. Who don’t read newspapers, watch television on their computers, listen to satellite radio or download commercial-free podcasts and don’t ever check their U.S. mailboxes (they receive and pay their bills online, not with stamps!).

Now, if you’re just getting around to social networking, you’re pretty late to the game – by about 3 years. That’s still par for the course for most REALTORS and technology, though, so if you do it after reading this blog post, you’ll likely be ahead of the curve for most of your competition anyway. If we really wanted to turn social networking into real estate’s next money-making frontier, however, we’d get managers to start mandating it for every agent. Yeah, pretty impossible; managers can’t even get them to show up at an office meeting.

No question about it: Social networking will be a key method for contacting future buyers and sellers. A large source of sellers in the next 5 years will be Gen X’ers who are about ready to move up. They only work within friends or vendors who are referred to them through their sphere of influence. They think all REALTOR marketing – and marketing in general – is baloney (and they are mostly right). So you’re only going to get their attention if you can leverage their sphere of influence. That means someone they know knows someone you know who can put in a good word for you. Like LinkedIn’s “Recommend Me” function. Maybe even just an email. But it’s certainly not going to be an air-brushed glam-shot on a postcard that catches their eye…

Making eye contact with Gen Y’ers is going to be even harder. That group of attention-deficit, multi-tasking, wireless networking socially shy first time buyers (and we do love them!) doesn’t pause long enough to read your e-newsletter (who gets email these days? send them an IM!) And since they’re co-dependent purchasers using Mommy and Daddy’s money (ie., Bank of Baby Boomers) you’re going to have a double-deficit to work from when creating relationships. So once again, they’ll want to get to know you – which doesn’t mean your ego-centric website of awards and typed testimonials. It means they’ll check out your “real-ness” on your social networking page, look at who’s connected to you (and do they trust them) and maybe throw a virtual martini at you. And then, maybe just then, they’ll write something on your virtual “wall” and accept a “friend connection” from you and bingo! You’re making friends in cyberspace.

Look, you don’t get to write the rules. So stop writing ads. No, you’re not going to need an avatar and some virtual dollars, or go walking through a 3-D fanstasy world to find future customers: That’s kids stuff and it’s going to remain that way as long as human beings don’t live in bubbles. But as long as the party stays online – and it’s only getting bigger – you’re going to need to work the room. No more going “to the club” to rub elbows with future customers. For the future – starting today – you’re going to have to social network online.

Now, get to it!