20 July 2009

Has the “Groundswell” Effect Finally Reached Real Estate Companies?

When the book Groundswell hit the bestseller list just over a year ago, there was a lot of talk. For many companies it became a bible for effectively using social technology, communicating with today’s consumer and strengthening their public image.  The two authors who worked for Forrester Research at the time (one has since left) really hit the nail on the head in my opinion, and many companies both large and small have baked social technology into their DNA. Advertising dollars began to shift, in fact a Q4 2008 online survey conducted by Forrester showed that marketers planned to increase their spend in areas such as social networking, blogging and user generated content, while decreasing spending on traditional media. After all, your brand is whatever your customer says it is. And there are now many ways for the customer to say it online.

So what has happened within the real estate industry?

Frankly, from a broker owner and brand perspective, not much. Agents jumped on the bandwagon early on creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, joining blogging platforms and organizing Barcamps to informally train each other and spread the word. I wrote about this in an earlier post  “Who Is Shaping  Our Future” – hats off to the group of agents, and a few broker owners who are spearheading this effort.

But what about the brokerage companies, the regional and national brands? Leadership is noticeably absent in this arena. I’m not talking about developing a Facebook  training program, or allowing a staff person to set up a company Twitter page. I’m talking about becoming visible, taking risks, engaging the public in an open and honest way, inviting commentary,listening to what your customers are saying and making decisions as a result.

Don’t think the agent population isn’t noticing this absence of leadership. Don’t think it isn’t being talked about online and offline. The way business is being conducted has changed right before our eyes, and while the real estate industry has always been a slow technology adopter, this is not the time to have your head in the sand. Here are some tips and how leaders in other industries are taking control:

These companies are all taking risks… as consumers are going back to drinking tap water, Evian stands out. In a space where the competition is fierce, and you are not perceived as the best, AT&T invites commentary to help them improve in a world where CEOs have spokespeople, a few such as Jonathan choose to face the world of blogging head on. And in an industry most deeply wounded by this recession, Mini Cooper takes a chance that an online community of hopefully satisfied customers  will help sell more cars. This type of stuff takes guts.

In our industry there is a lot of chatter about “The Brokerage of the Future”. What does this industry need to look like to capture the interest of  the customers of today and tomorrow?  We decided to be proactive and engage the “groundswell “to assist us in doing some modeling. Are you curious? Join us in the conversation as we unveil our work at  Real Estate Connect San Francisco and on this blog in the weeks that follow. Leadership in the real estate industry has never been more important than right now.

22 thoughts on “Has the “Groundswell” Effect Finally Reached Real Estate Companies?

  1. The lack of leadership is completely staggering. Real Estate is more relational than ever as the trust factor has ballooned in the shockwave of the bubble’s burst. Social media informs and reports on spheres of influence in a rapid manner. It is good old-fashioned “flow” but even more systematic, sustainable, repeatable and fun then say, “pop-bye’s” and sports schedules.

    The big brokerages (national and local) are hard-wired to think of ways that they can change consumer behavior, get them to act the way they want them to act, and/or pay for placement before faces. Correspondingly, many of their approaches are web-based, not social-based. Brokerages and franchises that help agents build their permission asset (100% sustainable via social) will be the ones that succeed.

    1. Benjamin, thanks for your feedback. We all need to know that we have entered the “consumer controlled ‘era of real estate, and social based networking and marketing practices will either make or break an agent, a company or a brand.

  2. Here is what I’m seeing over & over again.
    1. The late 40’s – 50+ management of real estate entities don’t get it. And if they get pressure to experiment their value of the channel is so low they won’t commit enough $$ to create something meaningful.

    2. To be successful with the groundswell a real estate entity must excel at marketing. For so long real estate has been lacking real marketing skill. Ads in mags, paper etc, don’t count.

    3. Social/new media tools are not so much about direct marketing as they are about establishing relationships. Too often real estate entities want a direct result: “If I do this, I get that.” This stuff doesn’t work that way.

    I was fortunate enough to work with an open-minded, forward thinking organization and we developed WeLoveSteamboat.com – Total hit – The community loves it & we just had an art showing downtown using a bunch of fantastic photos from amateurs who posted to the site.

    Here’re some great photos:http://bit.ly/hYtIP

    1. Jay, I agree with your points in #2 adn #3, but I must say that as someone who falls into the age catagory you mention in #1, I have to disagree! There are a number of us in various businesses who get it, even if we are a bit “older” in age,our minds are still young 🙂

    2. Jay, I am turning 51 next month and I also rock! Many of us do get it, and in fact, we were trained in relationship selling. We have loads of experience in this arena, and we EXCEL at it. As a matter of fact, I think we prefer it. So, be patient and watch out! ; )

  3. Interesting stuff.

    I see a few things.

    A. Old guard, hanging on for dear life, hoping to survive long enough to retire/exit/sell/fade away. (slow toast)

    B. Old guard clueless and scared shiftless. (fresh toast)

    C. Solid leadership skills; set savvy strategy, rally the troops, inspire the troops, wise enough to hire 2.0 trainers/speakers/presenters, savvy enough to retain and attract talent that embraces the 2.0 future. Dabbles in 2.0 but is currently personally uncommitted. (a two slice toaster)

    D. Radioactive Always On Killer App Toaster Oven = The Skill set of C + the Mind set to embrace, point and shoot 2.0 connection/converstion tools and toys.

    The immediate future belongs to C & D. The long term future belongs to D.

  4. Has groundswell reached real estate companies? No, absolutely not. Groundswell is an excellent read, but I have yet to see any brokerage anywhere create a successful client community online. There have been some good attempts, but none fully deliver. The best results I’ve seen so far are from individual agents in the real estate blogging community. Engaging clients and building trust with strangers on the internet is an art few people understand. The lack of leadership on this front in the real estate community is appalling.

  5. Dear Sherry, I am glad to see you in a role as leadership of a large franchise posting about such an important issue.

    As several other’s above have commented, individual Agents seem on board, but where is leadership? Hats off to you thinking outside the box! – Jeffrey

  6. Hey Sherry,

    This gap is REALLY starting to become just silly obvious.

    For the last few years it’s been building up steam.

    Now, even the “we really don’t get it” crowd realizes that this is a problem and are (as Ken says) planning their exit strategies or otherwise treading water.

    I simply can’t wait to see how this all unfolds in the next few years.

    My guess is that a whole new breed of brokers will be leading the business. I seriously doubt that we can teach many of the old dogs any new tricks 🙂

  7. The day I read this post, I received an email from my brand CEO with a big announcement that we are going to have a convention! The only brand at the “evil empire” to do so. I so much want to put together an eraREBarCamp in Nashville. Would I be the only one there?

  8. Jay Thomspon, you're my hero. Dang, I hate commenting after you.

    Anyway… If the groundswell had reached any big brand real estate company, it's BHGRE. As for the others, some are showing signs of trying to turn the Titanic, but overall their silence is deafening.

    Even if they are at the very early stages of 'getting it', I can understand why big brand brokerages might be scared to death of the groundswell, because it means a profound shift in their value proposition.

    If the stats are correct and Facebook's fastest growing demographic is the 45-54 age group, then sooner of later the social media lifestyle is going to creep into that level of management.

    While we wait for that to happen, we'll keep immersing ourselves in new technologies and do our best to leverage our new found knowledge & experience as early adopters.

    1. Hi Andy, There is nothing better than being an early adopter, and who would know better than you! It’s exciting to be shaping the change, and I am hoping this post is an eye-opener for those who are sitting on the sideline…

  9. Sherri,

    Broadly speaking, the leadership in RE companies hasn’t stepped up as majority of of them still have agents that are used to the “pre-groundswell” way of thinking. For companies that will survive and really thrive, there needs to be a change in the guard or enough freedom given to others by the broker owners, so one could innovate, take risks. We are not there yet, but I believe a few companies will make the transition. Can’t wait to be a part of it

  10. One of the primary reasons I left a C21 franchise office and opened my own brokerage was an almost complete lack of knowledge of, and more importantly willingness to even explore, blogging and social media.

    Too much “old school” thinking for my taste, and nothing in sight on the horizon to indicate any change.

    The brokerage model currently in place, which consists mainly of hiring anyone with a license and a pulse and socking them with desk fees and ridiculous surcharges for things like E&O and “transaction fees”, needs to change.

    Human beings are resistant to change. “But it’s always worked this way” is a common mantra. Technology should assist and make this change easier to swallow, but there has to be a willingness — at the top — for this change to happen.

    Will it happen? Probably. If nothing else as old school, ‘big box” brokerages continue to shutter their doors the smaller, lean & mean brokers who “get it” will take their place.

    And I have to add a comment to Jay. You said, “The late 40’s – 50+ management of real estate entities don’t get it.” Being 48, I am right smack in the middle of that age demographic. I think I get it. Or at least try to. It’s not age that keeps someone from being to understand and embrace a groundswell.

  11. Now I get to follow Ken, Matt, Jay, and Andy, et al…. great comments guys, as usual. Thanks for the topic Sherry.

    I have noticed recently at my local Board of Realtors and through various engagements via REtechSouth that many of the leaders of these ‘traditional’ brokerage brands are starting to realize the groundswell building. I don’t believe they know exactly what’s changing in the equation (consumer culture), but they do feel their current formula will not work in the future. They are asking for help! They want to learn and want to work with those who already ‘get it’.

    I think the key will be for us early adopters to stay away from the ‘hire us experts’ temptation and just encourage more ‘test it yourself in a public petrie dish’. It will take more than a few to change an industry that is historically extremely slow to change. Tomorrow’s industry leaders will embrace those resistant to change and take the time to have more conversations and less presentations on how the industry can be better together. Pushing the groundswell larger seems the best way to cause an industry to shift.

    1. Jeffrey, I don’t mind some prodding from those outside the industry to help move things in the right direction, but as broker owners and brands, we need to lead, not follow.

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