According to McKinsey, global companies are increasingly using Web 2.0 technologies to engage their customers. Tapping web services, collective intelligence systems, and peer-to-peer network capabilities were the top three technologies companies were currently deploying or planning to deploy. Respondents indicated that customer acquisition was the number one reason they were deploying social media (the respondents also stated that they use Web 2.o media to more efficiently engage partners and suppliers as well as internal collaborative purposes). Several respondents indicated that social media is particularly valuable in terms of ideation and creation of future products.
In a similar report, McKinsey interviews Cammie Dunaway. Ms. Dunaway indicates that Yahoo’s concept of digital salons (online focus groups) have delivered unprecedented success with respect to new product prototypes and new product development initiatives. Yahoo also measures consumer engagement as a success metric (i.e., share of time spent on Yahoo and the number of media properties “consumed” during this time).
Applying social media to real estate home search is a logical step. Real estate firms should begin experimenting with new forms of engagement. Despite the fact that homes are not commodities novel opportunities exist to deploy social media. Virtual renderings of homes (pictures, virtual tours, etc) offer a rich bed of experimentation and engagement opportunities, and there currently exists technology real estate firms can deploy to support this initiative. For example, Benjamin Moore has a tool where consumers can select templates or upload pictures of their own homes and then change color schemes; Halstead Property has deployed a similar tool. There are 3-D home design platforms available.
A creative firm could move beyond the virtual tour and allow consumers to actually change the color and layout of a prospective home; or grab widgets that have predefined parameters pertaining to build-outs or additions, thereby allowing consumers to visualize how a home would appear after the completion of such. Rounding out the experience, a firm could allow an agent, or team of agents, to answer questions via live chat and have a local interior design consultants “on call” to do the same. These types of consumer-facing features not only meet the consumer engagement parameters explored by McKinsey, but actually allows consumers to design or alter a product so they can visualize, experience, and “feel” how a home will look after purchase (allowing a consumer to virtually move in to the home and get a deeper sense of the living space). As Mini Cooper and Scion have found, the higher consumer engagement, the higher the return on customer acquisition strategies (measured in engagement and brand loyalty).