Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

NARdiGras Note #1: Social Knowledge Strategy

The 2010 NAR Convention in New Orleans has barely started and already great ideas are everywhere. For starters, try creating an internal company social network!

This great idea comes from our friend Kevin Kaplan at Long Realty, who demonstrated a wonderful use of social media on the “inside” of the real estate brokerage of the future. For more than a year, Long Realty has been using an “intranet side” social network to help its agents share and learn from each other. The tools work very much like public social networks – with postings, updates, discussions – but the focus isn’t on announcing new listings or price reductions. It’s on sharing the most valuable competitive advantage a company has:

Human knowledge.

Long Realty’s strategy is very smart. They have learned the lesson Peter Drucker taught decades ago: The future of competition will occur between knowledge, not tools. Most companies today have very similar sales and marketing technology. The usual array of printing, emailing and publishing platforms. Some companies are slightly ahead with wireless or video, others ahead with Twitter or tablets computers.

But the companies that get ahead in managing their knowledge capital are going to beat them all.

An internal social network isn’t a completely new concept. Companies in other industries have been collecting their employees’ experiences, ideas, techniques and tips into corporate databases for decades. Whether you work at a corporate help desk or a hotel concierge desk, the ability to tap into your company’s collected wisdom and knowledge has always made a difference. Especially to the consumer.

What is different is to see this approach being applied to real estate companies, where the model today remains stuck on “independent” contractors who frequently have to “figure things out” on their own. Even the best training departments and managers can’t be available all the time for agents who encounter challenges daily. That’s where an internal social network is a quantum leap idea.

Certainly, agents always helped each other out, giving advice on the fly to their colleagues in trouble. But Long Realty is asking a different question: What if they can capture and catalog the best practices – proven, tested, and validated – and make those answers available to all of their agents all of the time. On any device, from any connection to the web.

The technology itself is clever, but it’s also as easy to use as Facebook. Agents contribute in any format they want – words, images, files or videos. The learning curve is quick, and the system becomes transparent, so everyone can focus on their contribution, not what to click. It’s also proactive, sending out summaries of recent entries and alerts to new information. It doesn’t just collect information; it activates it by making sure the people who can use it have it.

Aside from answering questions and solving problems, the internal social network concept tackles lots of other challenges for modern brokers. It offers a learning environment for new agents trying to absorb best practices quickly. It gets experienced agents involved in the performance of everyone at the company. It lets self-identified leaders and teachers at every level of the company share their knowledge in text, video, pictures and documents. And it creates a culture of teamwork and interdependence.

It’s a winning formula for the real estate company.

Imagine a world where agents work as an organization – not just a collection – of subject matter experts. A approach that empowers everybody to make a permanent contribution that ripples across the entire company, and does not fade away when the office meeting or training session ends. A strategy that decreases the time for agents to become productive or to solve problems. And creates a culture where the sum of individual contributions is amplified in the interdependent whole.

Long Realty’s knowledge network is remarkable because it does what so many companies never get to: It combines a strategy for organizational competitiveness with a tactical technology that empowers each individual knowledge worker. Now isn’t that much more exciting than just another drip-marketing program or website facelift?

I can’t wait to see what Day 2 brings for great ideas from the 2010 National Association of REALTORS Convention here in New Orleans!

  • Wilk5

    I love this idea!

    I wonder what other agents think, and how this concept could be implemented in a real estate office where so often agents see each other as competitors, and can be reluctant to openly share information. While I realize that these people are coming from a place of fear, worried about the loss of business/revenue, for some, these are economic realities. I could see how such a site might be utilized by only those with an “abundance mentality”.

  • Peggy, there are many ways this can be looked at:
    1. Much of this depends upon the company’s culture. if you have a “pure competition” culture, then it will likely be less successful/fail than a more “team” approach.
    2. The “internal competitor” model will seriously diminish over the next decade, as Gen X’ers look for companies to act like ORGANIZATIONS (ie., I want agents to capture the buyers I generate by listing a home…) and Gen Y looks for everyone to “get along” and work as a team. This kind of infrastructure will be vital to being productive in that environment. Remember, the average agent today is 54 years old….. so the “pure internal competitor” model will change as these agents cycle out of the industry.
    3. In fact, MORE revenue would be gained, even by fierce competitors because it’s not competition but COMPETENCE that undermines competitors’ ability to thrive in a brokerage. There’s plenty of pie to go around; but none of us get ANY pie if one of us can’t solve problems and close the deal……

  • Great report. Thanks. So, what platform are they using to power the thing, or did they create their own?

  • Ken: Look at companies like Telligent. They have a solid track record.

  • Treva Fox-Christy

    Matthew, this is a great concept and I am proud to say here at my office, we all help each other. Our QB on down to the newest broker are valued team members. You are so right, instead of the competitive mindset, it just makes us all stronger. Strong knowledge among an offices’ brokers makes a reputation of competence and a producing company.

  • Ken – happy to share more with you what we are doing at Long Realty and what our experience has been. just drop me a note if you like.

  • Thanks for your comments, Treva! It’s important that real estate companies learn to compete as organizations, not just associations, of subject matter experts. Think of it like the solar system: There are bigger and smaller planets, but they all revolve around one sun (goal).

  • Thanks Matthew and Long Real Estate for the great idea. My new agentdashboard intranet is going to have a social aspect, but it was planned to have a simple status field. Your post has inspired me to dig deeper as you make it clear that this is a great benefit for the future of real estate brokers.
    I will now move toward better leveraging my “knowledge capital!”
    Thanks for the advice.