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While the vast majority of REALTORS still don’t know that exists, there’s definitely a trend growing amongst “early adopters” to drive a stake in the heart of Web 2.0 world. Being first often creates a competitive advantage – such as being first to respond to a buyer’s inquiry on a property. On the other hand, being effective with technology requires something that too many REALTORS still need to learn:

We don’t care that you have just listed another overpriced property!

On the surface, social networking is the easiest technology for the industry’s Boomer-somethings to master. Unlike MLS systems, forms software, corporate intranets or the menus of not-so-smart-smartphones, social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are mercifully straightforward. Simply fill in the blanks and you’re in the network. A box for your name, another another for your email and website. And don’t forget the box box for your high-school photo. Social networking is easier than taking an overpriced listing.

Or is it? With half a billion people doing it, real estate professionals might want to take a few minutes to study a few good profiles. Then copy them, link to them and learn. But don’t make assumptions that your online photo makes you an instant social celebrity: Unlike personal bragging sites, it takes more than a snazzy page to master this new medium. Great social networking is about how you interact with your sphere of influence online.

That’s the entire point, of course. Social networking isn’t advertising. It’s about managing an endless ‘online conversation’ where your friends, family and past/future business connections interact. With you, through you, and because of you. And that’s how you leverage Web 2.0 to build relationships online. To stay connected. Social networking is the ultimate solution to the “customer for life” problem in for any industry.

Which would be great news, if somehow the usual real estate “minimalist approach to technology” could be avoided.  So far, though, it seems like all the real estate industry has heard about social networking is: “Look! Another web site where I can slap up my personal bio, drip-out my photoless listings and copy-paste my classified ads!”

Alas, it’s simply awful. As usual, REALTORS are treating social networking like another e-substitute for postcards and their pathetic listing sheets. Too many status updates, wall-postings, share-a-links and the REALTOR-to-REALTOR discussions and nothing more than big, bland blather.

Oh! Who wants to send me a sale? Hey, I want referrals! Look! I’m online! Isn’t this cool?? No, it’s not. And click, you’re not my friend any more.

One can only thank the advertising gods that nobody has yet to figure out how to post real estate listings on toilet paper.

We wouldn’t act this way in “real life” social networking, so why do so online? Nobody networks like this at a party or restaurant. Do you move from handshake to listing sheet when you meet someone for the first time? Somewhere along the line, agents have completely missed the point: Social networking isn’t just another place to vomit your advertising.

The case in point came to me the other day, by “blast email” within my LinkedIn account. I went from being ” a friend I trust” to just being another address in a distribution list. Worse was the content of the message. It was – gasp, I can hardly say it – full of ABBREVIATIONS! The REALTOR simply cut-and-paste their NEWSPAPER CLASSIFIED AD into a mass-blasted email to their entire social network list.

Not hyperlink to the listing. No photo. Not even fully spelled out words. I nearly cried.

Aside from violating almost every online advertising rule, this mass-blast contravened the culture of social networks. Online social networks have rules, just like a golf club has a dress code. Each has a kind of culture. What is acceptable is slightly different in each, so there isn’t one set of rules. But it’s fairly certain that in most of the social networks, rampant advertising isn’t the norm.

Just as email has a certain kind of communications etiquette, structured networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, operate within behavioral norms. Consider them social networking manners that sit somewhere between red-light-websites and the buttoned-down-IRS website. Somewhere in between is a culture that defines how to get connected and interact in each social network.

Most importantly, perhaps critically, is that social networking isn’t a new space for “blast advertising.” In fact, you’ll notice that even the most “open” social network – MySpace – is very mild when it comes to integrated advertising, by both the site owners and the participants. In general, most social networking is a place where people interact: not a sales platform. It’s about building and maintaining relationships with people you know and people you’d like to meet. In a normal, not-in-your-face sort of way.

This doesn’t mean to say you can’t do “business” using social networks. It’s done all the time. But it’s done in the kind of way that says, “Hey, nice to see you again! Hope all is well. By the way…. ” Not WHAM! BAM! SPAM YOU, MA’AM! Not a torrent of advertising in every personal update, every shared link, every photo upload. It’s just not the social networking way.

Social networking isn’t traditional marketing.  It isn’t blast advertising. It isn’t a new distribution channel for your career. Yes, it’s about you – but the real you, the full you, the human you. It’s where people learn about you, and learn to trust you. It’s where they see who also knows you, likes you, and trusts you.

It’s where referrals come from – but aren’t demanded via spam. Where relationships matter – because people get to know more about the “whole you,” not just the “promotional you.” Where updates tell the story about the normal you, not just the client-testimonial you.

Every time you try to turn social networking into blatant advertising space, you’re going to rub the online culture the wrong way. Maybe even look silly – or desperate. One dimensional. Generation X and Y could care less about your marketing message anyway: They don’t believe it, and they don’t trust it. And if that’s all there is on your social networking page, they won’t hug you for it. Not even Generation Y.

And they certainly won’t hire you.

If you’re not careful, awkward social networking can result in the exact opposite of your desired outcomes. Instead of becoming someone people seek out, trust, and refer to each other, you could become someone they disconnect from, delete or simply filter out.