Facebook and Twitter real time search is good for multichannel marketing strategies

Facebook’s recent purchase of FriendFeed is a multichannel marketing boon. Mashable detailed some threats Twitter may face with respect to the FriendFeed purchase while pointing out some threats to Google too. Regardless as to how the game (err war) plays out, as a marketer you’ve just been handed another delicious marketing tool to leverage. I’ve previously written about the potential power of Facebook and Twitter as multichannel marketing tools. The basic gist of the argument is illustrated by how Dell Computer leverages Facebook and Twitter.

A quick perusal of Dell’s Twitter and Facebook landing pages demonstrates multichannel marketing at it best: Dell has Facebook pages and Twitter handles for Dell Lounge, Dell Outlet, Dell Small Business, etc. The beauty of this from a multichannel marketing strategy is that a consumer “subscribes” to a particular channel (out of a choice of many) and self-selects which topic (i.e., channel) is most important to them knowing that Dell will centralize almost all of its communication to them about this particular topic via this channel. This works well for the real-time search features of Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s how this plays out on Facebook’s new real-time search feature for “dell lounge”:

Here’s how the same search plays out on search.Twitter.com:

Here’s a Facebook search result for “delloutlet“:

Here’s a Twitter search result for the same:

As a real estate marketer you could do something like Dell by setting up niche-specific Facebook Pages and separate, corresponding, Twitter handles (for example, focusing on foreclosure investment advice in your market niche). Anyone who fans your Facebook page or subscribes to the corresponding Twitter channel has an expectation of receiving targeted advice related to the topic you’ve identified. For example, in the case of foreclosure investment advice you could update/tweet about listings, market stats, your general thoughts, etc, while cross promoting both channels (for example, on Dell’s Twitter page you will notice they promote their Facebook pages). The synergies realized between both platforms will go a long way towards reinforcing your expertise and further position you as a trusted advisor.

Choreographing client experiences on your website

Art can inform business decisionmaking and processes in so many ways. And choreography is one artform that does.
Choreography is designing a series of movements to convey an expression of an idea. The best choreographers apply a scientific approach to their dance notation. These choreographers carefully map movement through time and space–in essence navigate time and space–and have their dancers execute complicated series of steps ending in a penultimate conclusion or outcome.

Your website is a mosaic, a stage where you showcase, display, and promote your content and expertise in myriad forms and elements. Your clients and potential clients must navigate your website, working through the mosaic.

Relating design to desired outcomes
You can help your website visitors navigate your website mosaic by mapping their movement through your website, choreographing their experience to end in a desired outcome. What’s your desired outcome of a visit to your listing detail page? Mortgage origination and, thus, mortgage prequalification? Driving inquiries directly to your agents in certain instances versus routing inquiries to your e-commerce team? Each desired outcome necessitates choices with respect to design, navigation, branding, calls to action, etc. If mortgage origination is more important than direct-to-agent inquiries, then your page design and architecture coupled with your calls to action will be different if direct-to-agent inquiries were the penultimate outcome.

Test, measure, refine, roll-out
Once you’ve settled on a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes), test which set of inputs (i.e., button placement, calls to action, etc) garners the highest and most qualified response rate. This is called A/B split testing. For example, let’s say in your marketing brainstorming and competitive analysis you’ve determined that these two mortgage origination calls to action may garner highly qualified inquiries: “Qualify for a first-time home loan? Find out here” versus “Prequalify for first-time home loans now!”. To determine which is the most effective, set up a testing array. Essentially, what you’re determining through such an array is which verbiage and button placement drives the highest response and conversion rates. Once you’ve applied an A/B split test methodology to each primary element that supports a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes) on each of your discreet website pages, and determined the optimal verbiage and placement of such, you’ve in essence created guideposts throughout your website mosaic, allowing visitors to dance through your content and data.

Photos:
ZUrigo
Ctd 2005

Niche marketing and passionate brand ambassadors

Deux Gros Nez, an eclectic, wonderful restaurant in Reno, Nevada, closed its doors a couple of years ago. It’s where I, as a dedicated employee of Tim Healion and Jon Jesse (then owners of Deux Gros Nez), learned about community, service, and the power of passionate brand ambassadors:

Flickr tribute

YouTube interview

A person’s thoughts on its closing

Deux Gros Nez opened its doors June 18, 1985 and began serving espresso, scones, focaccia, and frappes in a gambling town. It was open 24 hours a day, but where 99 cent breakfasts and watered down coffee were king, the Duex Gros Nez cuisine appealed not to the masses. Nevertheless, Deux Gros Nez cultivated a tribal following. This was my first lesson in niche marketing: don’t worry about the masses, worry about perfecting your niche brand and appealing to a niche audience.

This niche audience from the very beginning included lawyers, punks, doctors, architects, professional athletes, artists, etc. Each person had their own reason for frequenting Deux Gros Nez but the common unifying thread was the passion of the owners for delivering “honest” food and a dining experience that was outside the norm of a gambling town (frequent patrons were often met with a friendly greeting along with their type of coffee–brewed, espresso, cappuccino–waiting for them before they walked in because the owners knew what time they’d arrive and remembered what they liked). This was my second lesson in niche marketing: be passionate about what you do, focus on honesty, be passionate and concerned about your customers’ needs.

Part of my job was to train new hires to aspire to a high degree of customer service. The challenge was to inspire part-time employees–many of which were college students, snowboarders, and the like–to engage each customer on a one-to-one level. This was a tall order considering that only two or three employees on any one five-hour shift would have to take the orders, prepare the food, serve the food, bus the tables, ring-up orders, keep inventory, re-stock, and wear a bolo tie (purchased or homemade, the best homemade one being a hollowed-out egg run-through with a string). Sometimes we failed in our quest for customer service excellence. But many times we succeeded. And this success was embodied in creating “wow” events for Deux Gros Nez guests. For example, I would inspire our team to recognize the sound of a dropped utensil when it hit the floor. If you listen carefully, each utensil has a different tonality. This was useful when, on a crowded Friday night, a guest would invariably drop a spoon and the team member working the floor would replace the spoon before the customer asked. This created a great customer service “wow” event, marked the Deux Gros Nez brand in the mind of the guest, and created an incentive to come back. This was my third lesson in niche marketing, especially as it relates to a service industry: training and a appreciation for ensuring that your customers have the best experience goes a long way towards inspiring those customers to be your brand ambassadors.

This is not to say that Deux Gros Nez (which means “two big noses”) did not have a reputation with some people as being somewhat snobby, and that every person who dined there became a brand ambassador, but the restaurant cultivated passionate brand ambassadors worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that people flew-in from all over the world to be at the farewell party (see the Flickr tribute above). The Deux Gros Nez community continues on Facebook via The Fort group page. This was/is my fourth lesson in niche marketing: passion combined with a willingness to pursue excellence and honestly engage your customers inspires your customers to keep your brand flame alive, even when you’re gone.

Tim Healion (known as “The Chief” to all who frequented Duex Gros Nez), currently, has transferred his passion, honesty, and pursuit of excellence to one of this nation’s top professional cycling events, the Tour de Nez. Chief, thank you and keep it going.

Real estate multichannel marketing increasing ROI

Aligning website landing pages with targeted social media marketing channels will yield higher on-page conversions (as defined by increased showing appointments, chat requests, 1-800 number call-ins, etc). The challenge many real estate marketers face today is effectively managing the flow of social media traffic with an eye towards ROI. It’s a multichannel marketing issue, which starts with controlling user client and potential client expectations so to avoid the “mishmash syndrome”.

The mishmash syndrome occurs when all sources of traffic to your website converge without any clear indication from whence they’ve come combined with no clear indication as to what they’re to do once on the site. Confusion reigns, frustration mounts, bounces occur. In other words without controlling the expectations of the originating inbound users it’s very difficult to align on-page calls to action to users’ needs and expectations. In fact, your website may–at first glance–look something like this:

Confusing signage and message
Confusing signage and message

Controlling expectations could be as simple as clearly defining what types of information you’ll engage in on a specific social media platform. For example:

  • clearly indicate on your website to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for specific information
  • set up a LinkedIn professional group or Facebook Page where you’ll focus your information and interaction around a specific topic like real estate investment advice in the age of REO
  • begin slowly migrating your Twitter updates to centralize around a cloud of topics or invite current followers to “subscribe” to a new Twitter handle that will focus exclusively on this “topic cloud”
  • start using targeted Facebook ads to drive traffic

By doing something like the above you’ll let your sphere opt-in to specific channels which thus frees you to narrowly focus on the specific themes or topics you’ve identified. Once you’ve begun engaging new or migrated followers via these defined channels you can begin tracking flows to your website and testing and optimizing the website to meet these users’ expectations.

For example, let’s assume you have a call to action on your website home page something like this: “Join our new Facebook page for real estate investment and REO advice” (as opposed to simply saying “Join us on Facebook”). As you begin to gain fans to this specific page you have a fairly high degree of confidence they’re there for a specific purpose and you could initially provide studies, market stats, reports, essentially any base level research and information regarding real estate investment and REO and ask for comments and feedback regarding these posts. This builds authority and credibility.

Once you’ve developed a healthy degree of dialogue (i.e., engagement) you can begin driving people back to your site for targeted activities, for example: “Just listed a sweet foreclosure investment property” with a link back to a landing detail page specifically targeted at this Facebook fan base and their Facebook friends, perhaps even with a welcome message like “Thanks for visiting us from Facebook, glad you’re here” (a simple script that recognizes the originating URL should do the trick nicely). And then knowing that this fan visitor is likely comfortable with “tech” perhaps your primary “contact me” call to action is a prominently displayed and colored button that says “Click this button to text me if you want to set up an appointment”, with a thank you message after the click like “Thanks for texting me, I’ll text you back shortly and we can set up an appointment. Make it a great day.”

These types of tactics go a long way to realizing a 1-to-1 dialogue. These tactics allow you to focus on a specific niche, target an engaged clientele, position you as an expert to this clientele, and close the loop in a manner that’s satisfactory to this clientele.

Related posts:
Clients are not cows
Responsiveness drives differentiation

List of social Web resources 07-13-2009

O’Reilly on underlying Web 2.0 concepts and its future application
Excellent O’Reilly web 2.0 summary and whitepaper on Web 2.0; really good discussion on the nexus between collective intelligence and the real time web and managing the content/data flows therefrom.

[T]he Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an “information shadow,” an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications.

How Twitter can improve its real time search relevancy
Cogent argument as to how Twitter can improve its real time search results. Author argues for an algorithm that considers trust, authority, and relevancy, as well as hitting on some of the collective intelligence concepts discussed in the O’Reilly Web 2.0 article mentioned above.

Social network usage between Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter
Succinct analysis of a social network usage, showing cross-network usage and general demographic trends.

List of social Web resources 07-02-2009

Chris Brogan interview
Excellent interview with Chris Brogan on how he’d run an airline and implement some social web karma; great insights, well worth the 9:58 investment of your time. The interviewer, Shashank Nigam, CEO, SimpliFlying, asks some really good questions. My comment after listening to the interview: That was seriously cool.

Semantic Web
This post re-confirms to me that the semantic web (i.e., Web 3.0) is still a ways out from being widely deployed, yet absolutely filled with so much promise and visionary thinking.

Dunkin’ Donuts
Insightful post on how Dunkin’ Donuts uses the social web to extend its brand engagement. Dunkin’ Donuts’ recently released Dunkin’ Run app is a nice, simple deployment of a social app that has a built-in ROI component: buying doughnuts.

Vyoom
Interesting TechCrunch profile of Vyoom, which is a social networking site that gives you redeemable points for your participation. The more points you accumulate, the more stuff you can buy. Not sure whether this will work as a stand-alone application/concept, but could certainly see this applied in a rewards program under a major brand (e.g., Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program).

Twitter
Interesting ideas on why Gen Y may not “get” Twitter.

Interviews with innovative change artists

Data Visualization (32 minutes): Eric Rodenbeck, founder of Stamen, discusses how data visualization allows one to tease-out non-obvious yet meaningful observations from arcane data sets. The interview also includes a short discussion on how data visualization can enhance real estate search (around 16 minutes into the interview). Jon Udell’s series is awesome, which is where I found the Rodenbeck interview.

Clay Shirky on how social web platforms have the power to change history (~17 minutes): Shirky gave this speech in May 2009 and details how platforms like Twitter can enable social change, potentially even revolutionary change. Especially excellent points made regarding mass media asymmetry.

Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, interviews Trent Reznor (~45 minutes): Reznor gives some really great insights into the music industry and its nexus with “the Internet” while detailing his creative power struggles with record labels.

List of social Web resources 06-19-2009

Social media is social what?
A call for dropping the term “media” from the phrase “social media”. Compelling argument to drop the fascination with the platforms and concentrate on the quality of the content and product.

Public relations social web tactics
Long list of new products and services pitched to a Kentucky-based director of social media (two of the brands he reps: Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek bourbons). Very interesting list of social media “newness” and implicit insight into public relations 2.0 tactics.

Interviews with semantic search pioneers
Summary of interviews with key semantic web players from Google, Ask, Hakia, Microsoft, Yahoo, and True Knowledge. Some topics: shift from “popularity” based search results to “credibility” based search results.

Client attentiveness at Southwest Airlines

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Gate changes are a fairly routine occurrence in the airline industry and, arguably, it’s up to a passenger to ensure that he or she is aware of such occurrences. But in my opinion a company that cares about its clients would ensure that passengers are notified of a gate change. Once upon a time, I arrived at a gate, noted that my flight number was still listed, noted that there were not any delays listed, noted that I was 40 minutes early to boarding. I relaxed. Around boarding time I noticed that no one was boarding, yet my flight number was still listed. I checked my email and text alerts to see if a gate change had been sent to me. I waited another 10 minutes while the airline staff chatted amiably. I walked up to the counter. The airline staff chatted amiably. I stood there. They chatted. I stood there. They chatted. I interrupted. I received a stare and one word, “Yes?”. I asked if the flight was still boarding, and I was met with something like this: “We announced a gate change 30 minutes ago.” Amazed, I asked then why my flight number, route, and time of boarding were still listed behind them. There was no response. I then asked where the new gate was. Across the airport I was told with a hint, “You better run, or you may miss it.” Stunned, I turned to my fellow gate-waiters and announced that the flight we’d all been waiting for had a gate change and that we’d better run or we’ll miss it. I sprinted to the new gate, told the gate staff there that several other people were following me, luckily they held the plane until all the other passengers arrived. I was thanked by these passengers while I sat in my seat sweating. I was stunned. And even though I had accumulated enough “points” to achieve preferred boarding status, that was the day I decided to purge my airline miles from that company as soon as possible, stop using that airline as my preferred airline, and stop trusting that airline’s “CRM” messaging. That was the day I decided to “try” Southwest Airlines. And I have been a happy airline traveler ever since.

Accordingly, it was no surprise to me when Rob Hahn of 7DS told me that Southwest Airlines has the highest NetPromoter Score of any other airline. NetPromoter Score essentially answers one question: how likely are you to recommend me (or my service)? I recommend Southwest to everyone I meet who relates a poor airline traveling experience. I tell them my story. I have yet to experience a marginal flying experience with Southwest Airlines. Have I met individuals who’ve had an unpleasant experience with Southwest Airlines. Yes. But they are far less in number than compared to other airlines. An essential key to Southwest Airline’s success is client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Once upon a time, there was a gate change on a Southwest Airlines flight where a gate attendant announced the gate change via the public address system then walked to the boarding door area and announced it again and then invited us to approach the desk if we had additional questions or needed help (the physical act of stepping from behind the counter to the boarding area–breaking the client-attendant barrier if you will–got our attention). That’s client attentiveness in action. Simple but memorable. Here’s another experience: I just recently received an “anniversary” card from Southwest Airlines thanking me for being a Rapid Rewards member. The card included a coupon for a car rental discount. A minor “wow” I’ll give you that (a big “wow” would have been some additional rapid reward points <grin>). Nevertheless, the anniversary card is simple yet effective. Because when I received this card I remembered all the “wows” I’ve had with Southwest Airlines over the last year; thus, reinforcing my decision to stay with them again this year. What attentiveness have you given your clients recently?

Related reading: Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company. Why this book relates to this post: Southwest is designing its client relationship and service experience.

Photo credit: hiddedevries

List of social web resources 6-12-2009

Brand engagement

This presentation, The Audience is Always Right, by TBWA\ Berlin Media Arts team is one of the best I’ve seen explaining how brands need to reconstruct their core ethos pertaining to consumer communications. It delves deep into a situational analysis and then delivers some very meaningful aphorisms as guidelines:

  • Start with a simple truth
  • Create time, don’t try to buy time
  • Tell a story that makes peoples’ conversations more interesting
  • Leave room to think and ask questions by being imperfect, weird or contradictory
  • Make the idea easy to find (searchable) and easy to tell (spreadable)
  • Content isn’t king. Conversation is king

Online community lifecycle

This research article chronicles major research and studies on how online communities begin, mature, and evolve. The article focuses on a lifecycle analysis (inception, creation, growth, maturity, and death) and success metrics (for example, size and number of contributions and how willing any one member shares details about him or herself and how widely these details are shared). The article is very well researched and offers a compelling list of ideas marketers ought to consider when considering when, how, and why to engage consumers via social networks and other online communities.

Crowdsourcing with Rob Hahn

Crowdsourcing is an important concept in the viability, pertinence, and relevancy of the social web.

A recent crowdsourcing search odyssey of mine (really a two hour drop down the Google search rabbit hole) began with a fairly innocuous @robhahn tweet:

I read recently that a 2-person combat team is four times as effective as a single shooter… anyone have any references to study of this?

This tweet intrigued me, as I thought it likely had something to do with Mr. Hahn’s insurgent marketing in real estate series. @PatrickHealy immediately stepped up to the plate:

@robhahn this should give you what you need: http://bit.ly/15eqQ4

Shortly thereafter I weighed in with this research article. But alas, Mr. Hahn was not satisfied:

@PatrickHealy close… but i’m looking for research showing 2 man team vs. 1 man ops

@ericbryn actually, wanted to see just how much more effective a 2-man fireteam is vs. solo shooter; maybe applies to agents…

Thus, inspired, I began a more substantive series of searches, which yielded these tasty tidbits, but nothing directly on point:

Discussion of information needs assessment and power of teams in edge organizations – Relevant to the insurgency series because the article discusses the shift from top-down command and control decision making to empowering teams and individuals to make relevant decisions based on timely and accurate information. Edge organizations promote a structure comprised of agile distributed networked units, which favors insurgent marketers.

How the information age has affected command decisions in USAF from Desert Storm to 2005 – Relevant to the insurgency series because the author analyzes the USAF shift from centralized to decentralized decision making. Decentralized decision making is key to enabling insurgent marketers to exploit the command and control decision making process that’s sometimes endemic with larger competitors.

Theories about net centric warfare – Relevant to the insurgency series because the article discusses how shared information resources contribute to cohesive mental models of the battlefield that results in increase combat effectiveness. Shared knowledge shared quickly enables insurgent marketers to exploit weaknesses in larger competitors’ information flow.

Discussion of basis for combat operations going to a STRYKER protocol – Relevant to the insurgency series because the report discusses how STRYKER forces are geared to respond anywhere in the world within 96 hours, stressing tactical mobility, lethality, and survivability. Insurgent marketers must strike quickly and with precision to weaken their competitors.

Uses of misinformation in war gaming operations – Relevant to the insurgency series because this article touches on how too much information causes humans to focus on the technical aspects of how the information is delivered rather than the context of the information and how this phenomenon leads to misinformation. An insurgent marketer can exploit this nuance in the sense of releasing highly relevant, highly targeted communications that are in direct contrast to a competitor that focuses on broadcast messaging. Here’s a nice quote from this article:

The gold lies in human thought—assisted by modern communication and computers, not distracted by them.

The reason why I’ve detailed this search odyssey is because I think it’s an interesting exercise in crowdsourcing and thought leadership. Mr. Hahn is a thought-leader in the real estate industry (recently securing a columnist slot within the Inman tribe). But this, in and of itself, is not enough to motivate me to spend a couple of hours helping Mr. Hahn. So what did? Yes my motivation was driven partly out of friendship. But it also has to do with sharing in the learning experience. That is, I enjoy the way he thinks through issues, the cogent arguments he makes for whatever position into which he plows his sword. Part of the way to enrich this experience–a more personal experience with his thought-leadership–is to participate in the germination of an idea. And that, I think, is at the heart of crowdsourcing–the act of helping give birth to a knew idea. The core of crowdsourcing is, essentially, the core of the social web: willingly sharing knowledge, participating in the expansion and distribution of this knowledge, and taking leaps forward together as change agents and innovation artists. Rob, happy reading.

Photo credit: rp72

List of social web resources 6-5-2009

Semantic technology and artificial intelligence

There’s lots of discussion lately about the semantic web and well-deserved praise over applications like Wolfram Alpha that employ semantic web theories to deliver relevant search results. In 2002, a short article discussed the concept of the “wisdom web” and highlighted many of the innovative concepts we’re seeing applied today. Future applications will likely employ intelligent agents to accomplish much of the “secretarial” type functions manually input today by humans into search engines, social networks, and other Web applications and platforms (here’s a great summary of intelligent agents in the evolution of Web applications).

Real estate industry innovation…some considerations

What is innovation? How does one recognize it? Will I know it when I see it?

Wikipedia says:

The term innovation means a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. A distinction is typically made between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully.

Here’s a Booz, Allen & Hamilton book review of “The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation” (Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, authors) that offers an interesting perspective:

The authors disapprove, for example, of the widespread American practice of benchmarking, in which companies keep a scorecard on their competitors’ business practices to stay a step or two ahead of them. This, the Japanese would say, leads to incremental improvement, not to true creativity or knowledge creation. In a Japanese company, knowledge is thought to be internally generated from basic principles laid out by top management, then improved on by brainstorming from within the ranks and finally some amount of feedback from external sources.

A U.S. use-case example of the above is the development of the 3M Post-it note:

The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company…gives its researchers time to play around in the lab and then to “socialize” knowledge by using the office as a beta-testing site. Co-workers were skeptical when one researcher passed around his innovation, little pads of sticky-backed yellow paper. But the Post-it was the future, and it worked.

This line of reasoning resonates throughout Rob Hahn’s post insurgent marketing: as the main brand players in an industry focus on carpet bombing their competitors, insurgent type marketers exploit weaknesses. Similarly, Seth Godin touches on this concept when he references “heretical marketing.” Finally, Matthew Ferrara hits on this concept too.

Innovation cannot be trained, but it can be fostered in terms of firms encouraging the development of creative knowledge environments (the 3M example above is illustrative of this). What are you doing to foster innovation in your firm?

Photo credit: IH (40)

List of social web resources 5-21-2009

Metrics
Here is a great primer on RFM analysis, which I believe has applicability to social media marketing. The foundation of RFM is something that can drive the establishment of engagement metrics as well as allowing marketers to do a better job at managing the social media marketing channel.

Social media
Scoop44, an online “newspaper” founded by college students, received a two-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (nice to see the support of online journalism pure-plays; eventually we likely will not even make the distinction). This site is a nice blend between traditional reporting and new media functionality.

General coolness
Anyone interested in exploring and discussing graphic design issues should consider visiting this site. It’s an excellent compendium of thought-provoking topics and trends related to graphic design. Cutting through social media chatter will depend more and more on effective design to engage people once they’ve stepped past the social media veneer.

Consumer centric disruption

Thank you to Nic Brisbourne and his The Equity Kicker blog for (a) highlighting an intriguing video of UK journalists debating the veracity and viability of blogs and (b) pointing out an excellent presentation on the Customer Development Model. Both offer some tasty take-aways.

I find the debate curious. Universal McCann’s 2008 Wave 3 study points out (page 22) that 17.8 million people in the UK have read blogs; this 17.8 million represents 32.1% of the total 16-54 population (in comparison 60.3 million people in the US–33.2% of the total 16-54 population–have read blogs). It seems to me–based on the anecdotal comments of the UK journalists in the video–that UK traditional news media has metaphorically walled itself up and studies blog culture with a telescope, as opposed to latching on to the interesting facets of blogs that attract readers and then combining these facets with traditional journalistic norms and ethos (during the debate some very sound and rational points were made about the role “traditional” journalism has in terms of checks and balances, fact checking, etc). Nevertheless, some very powerful apps and news platforms could result by embracing social web norms. For example, why not take an EveryBlock approach (see Russian Hill) and combine that with traditional beat reporting on the more nuanced and interesting stories cited in the raw data feed. Indeed, one could use EveryBlock data to track patterns which could form the basis for an investigative reporting series.

A visit to slide number 27 of the Customer Development Model presentation offers a succinct and cogent illustration of a consumer-centric product/service development process. The key elements of the slide: Build, Measure, Learn integrated in the overall development life cycle. If I were able to question the UK journalist panel, I’d ask a couple of questions: Do you know of any UK news company to have empaneled a group of consumers that routinely gather their news from blog sites so as to find out why these consumers like these blogs and how they use the blog information in their daily lives? Do you know of any UK news company that has analyzed what apps or smart phone devices their consumers use on a daily basis and how they would like to have news integrated in similar ways on their devices? The answers to these questions begin the consumer-centric design journey.

Finally, this article makes a compelling case as to how certain facets of the Customer Development Model can be a disruptive factor in the real estate industry.

Reinvigorating MLS information

Let’s assume a situation where intellectual property and licensing issues are properly resolved and set with respect to granting outside developers access to MLS content and data.

If you’ve heard of an MLS (or a broker with a VOW) that has engaged a group of skilled programmers similar to what Washington D.C. did with its content and data, please let me know. Don’t you think something wonderful could happen with real estate search similar to what’s about to happen with bioinformatics?

Dialogue between bioinformaticists and semantic Web developers has been steadily increasing for a number of years now as widespread data integration problems have clearly begun to impede the progress of research.

This is not to say that challenges don’t exist,

[I]f you’re talking about traversing [information and data] computationally, then it’s much more challenging to make sure everything means the same thing and that the object that you’re getting to on the next path has the same persistence, quality, and structure that you’re expecting to operate on.

Nevertheless, the vision for a more collaborative and effective future is vibrant,

Ultimately, what the semantic Web community hopes to have are applications that will make the complexity of the technology as invisible as possible.

The real estate industry has an existing standardization body: RETS. It seems to me that an MLS (or broker VOW) could provide great value to its public and real estate industry stakeholders by adopting a RETS standard (thus, at some level, solving the data standardization issue raised above) while opening its data pantry to a group of developers, similar to what Washington D.C. did with its Apps for Democracy contest held last year (according to the Apps for Democracy website, the city realized a $2,300,000 value, not to mention the fact that the public now has some nifty tools),

The first-prize winner in the organization category was a site called D.C. Historic Tours, developed by Internet marketing company Boalt. The information about area attractions came from the city, but Boalt developers decided how to present it…The site uses Google Maps as the basis for enabling users to build their own walking tours of the city. It pulls information from Wikipedia, the Flickr photo-sharing service and a list of historic buildings.

Imagine a pool of widgets, desktop apps, apps for iPhone’s, Blackberries, etc, that slice and dice real estate content and data in novel ways. The public would obviously benefit by accessing real estate information in ways that are most meaningful to them. The content/data provider benefits by engaging the public at a deeper, more relevant, and effective manner. And real estate agents ultimately benefit because a more satisfied, more qualified, and more engaged buyer or seller equates to increased business opportunities.

Photo credits: ducks (SleepingBear), tightrope walker (tallkev)

List of social web resources 5-8-2009

Semantic coolness
I stumbled across the Semantic Interoperability of Metadata and Information in unLike Environments (SIMILE) program at MIT. Rather than try to summarize what they’re doing, here are some examples: Music Composer Research Database, click a composer’s name to see what happens; UK Traffic, click a blue dot on the map to see what happens.

Web 2.0 coolness
Excellent interviews of Tim O’Reilly by HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. Discusses baseline concepts of what it means to “be Web 2.0”; change in thinking and corporate ethos and individual creed.

Art
Wonderful missive on the nexus between art and Web 2.0. I especially enjoyed the author’s discussion of what “avant-garde” means–as originally put forth in this essay–in the 21st century. Both are meaningful reads because each author broaches core issues relating to a wide cultural shift in collaboration across different societal strata.

List of social web resources 5-1-2009

Social media coolness
Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities, has contributed to a seminal eight part series whitepaper on redefining theories underlying how information spreads across the globe. This series’ concepts are particularly important to brand management practices employing the social web as a strategic messaging tool.

This is an interesting research paper compiling a list of research about online communities. The article details the social, psychological, and emotional benefits people derive from online communities. The article relates these benefits to organizations and defines success metrics for online communities. This is one of the best research articles I’ve found in recent months concerning social web communities and organizations.

Here’s a short article describing how federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, is launching a new site, data.gov, which purportedly will allow for the development of more public-facing applications using raw data feeds from government sources. The article also discusses some very innovative uses of Washington D.C. government data that developers submitted for a contest called Applications For Democracy that Kundra directed while he was chief technology officer for Washington, D.C.

Responsiveness Drives Differentiation

Are your prospective clients having to act like abalone divers to interact with you? Abalone divers furbish themselves with an abalone iron to pry off abalones from submerged rocks. These divers are committed to their task, as abalone is considered a divine delicacy to some. But if prospective clients have to work like an abalone diver to communicate with and engage you, chances are they’ll dive elsewhere.

Concierge service is not a new topic, it still resonates. Let’s assume you have a robust lead acquisition strategy that runs the gamut from SEO, SEM, social media, targeted print ads, etc. Let’s assume too that this strategy yields a healthy inbound inquiry pipeline. Let’s also assume that–if you’re a brokerage–you have a decent eCommerce, relocation, and/or Internet lead management team that responds in a timely manner to these inquiries whether they’ve come in by email, telephone, or live chat. Finally, let’s assume that as an agent you get lead inquiries directly (from your blog, website, broker, etc) and/or leads are routed to you via a relocation or lead management team. What’s the average response time to these direct-to-agent or eCommerce-to-agent leads? If it’s over 15 minutes, I posit that is too long (for eCommerce-to-agent leads, I say response time should be under 5 minutes).

According to the 2008 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

  • 21% of home buyers say reputation is an important factor when choosing an agent, which is the second most important factor out of eight factors polled, the number one factor (at 29%) is agent honesty and trustworthiness
  • 93% of home buyers rate responsiveness as “very important” when considering agent skills
  • 84% of home buyers rate communication skills as “very important” when considering agents skills
  • 67% of all buyers interview only one agent in their search process

Do prospective clients visit the following types of sites more often than real estate websites: BassPro.com, Cabelas.com, Zappos.com, Craigslist.com, Geico.com? I’ll posit that your prospective clients are visiting these types of sites more often than any one real estate site. Thus, their customer service–their concierge service–expectations are being set by these entities. Where does your service level measure up related to these companies?

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer who goes to BassPro.com and contacts their customer support staff and gets a response within one minute or less (especially if he/she used live chat). Would you say this consumer has a higher likelihood of being satisfied and that BassPro likely created a good vibe for its brand in the mind of that consumer? I’d say yes. Now what would happen if that consumer had to wait for 48 or 72 hours for a response to his/her question that common sense tells him/her should take only a couple of minutes? I’d say a bad vibe is created. Granted, if the customer is committed enough, he/she may try to pry a response out of BassPro by recontacting them. But the more he/she has to try and pry the customer service abalone shell off the rock, the less likely this customer will remain with BassPro. And if prospective clients have to pry a response out of you, the less likely they are to engage with you.

Prospective clients expect responsiveness. And their expectation for this responsiveness is being set OUTSIDE the real estate industry. Thus, it’s incumbent upon real estate professionals to step up to the client concierge service plate and respond as quickly as possible to inbound lead inquiries.

Where do you want your trustworthiness and reputation factors to be slotted in a prospective client’s mind: as uncaring and lazy because you don’t typically respond in a timely manner, or that you’re concerned about prospective clients’ needs and desires? Thus, meet 93% of home buyers’ expectations and set a standard to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. If 84% of home buyers consider communication skills as very important, how are you demonstrating your communication skills–as ignoring a prospective client’s requests, or by addressing him/her with alacrity and professionalism?

Don’t make prospective clients pry a response out of you. Remember that 67% of prospective clients contact and interview only one agent during their search process. Increase your odds of gaining a client’s trust and business by quickly responding to their inquiries.

Photo attribution: Abalone divers, Queue

List of social web resources 4-24-2009

Blogging:

Here’s a good history of SEO since 1999, which is valuable to understand how things have changed over the last 10 years. Change is a constant with the Internet and SEO…what “worked” yesterday may not “work” today. Thus, focus on passionate, relevant, and niche content as a way to ground your SEO efforts on a solid foundation. My opinion: relevant, niche content will remain king for SEO.

Social networks:

According to comScore, Twitter gained the most visitor traction in March 2009 (9,313,000 unique visitors), a 131% growth over February 2009 (4,033,000 unique visitors).

Social media coolness:

UC Berkeley’s Opinion Space allows you to visualize your opinions relative to others. This article gives a good overview of the process.

Here’s a nifty resource on topics related to setting up Key Performance Indicators for your webiste. KPIs allow you to measure the success and effectiveness of your website.

Mashable has a Social Media Hub series and has compiled a list of the social media scene in New York City.

List of social web resources 4-17-2009

I’m starting something new this week. My goal is to compile a weekly short list of quality resources about blogging, social networks, and social media coolness.

Blogging:
The FutureBuzz is one of the finest blogs I’ve found discussing how to market your blog and blog posts. Adam Singer, really takes the time to dig deep into issues. His posts take some time to read and digest, but you’ll be a better blogger for taking that time.

This post on the Conversation Agent blog has 50 tips on content ideas that generate buzz. Similar to the FutureBuzz blog, I encourage you to peruse this blog, as it really challenges you to think through issues, like this post that digs into the future of the press and its historical role as the “Fourth Estate”.

Facebook:
This post discusses a new Facebook app that lets you choose which Twitter updates to sync to Facebook. TweetDeck also has a nifty feature that lets you do the same. Both are easy to use; the former app, however, requires you to add the hashtag “#fb” to any post you wanted synced to Facebook (useful if you want to add your posts to the “#fb stream” that’s searchable)

The Huffington Post has a page devoted to Facebook. It’s a nice compendium of Facebook-related information.

Twitter:
Sending photos to Twitter is fun. Currently, the leading app for this is TwitPic. A competitor to TwitPic is on the horizon. TwitGoo has quietly launched a competitive service. I have not tried this yet, but it seems well-positioned to give TwitPic some competition.

Random social media coolness:
One of the hottest topics in social web is “crowdsourcing“. The issue is meaty because if the concept plays out favorably, brands conceivably will begin releasing more engaging and consumer centric products and services. This article discusses the broader concept as to whether creativity itself can be crowdsourced. For a previous discussion of creativity and innovation see my earlier post.

Photo credit: .Martin.

Creativity Integrity and Brand Differentiation

Chris Brogan’s recent post challenges marketers to begin thinking of ways to use the social web to leverage traditional marketing expertise:

Marketers, are you paying attention to who’s spending how much and where when you read magazines, watch TV, or see billboards? Are you extrapolating out what it means to you, your business, etc?…If you’re in media, the stories are all around you. The model’s broken. Yep. The numbers are smaller. Yep. People aren’t as into paper. Yep. Ads online don’t make as much money as on paper. Sad, but yep.

Consider too this statement from Brian Solis:

While numbers indicate that Social Media Marketing may, for now, be recession proof, it is not idiot proof. Engaging in transparent conversations in social networks to build brand-centric communities is meaningless without intelligence, sincerity and a real world business acumen that can tie participation to important business metrics.

Assume a day in the not too distant future where 90% of your competitors have viable and cogent strategies for utilizing Facebook, Twitter, blogs, video, social CRM applications, etc. In this environment, where’s your edge? Where’s your competitive points of differentiation? How will your messages cut through the noise and fragmented media channels? I say it nets down to two main buckets: Creativity and Integrity.

Creativity

Calders 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery
Calder's 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery

@doverbey (aka Derek Overbey) is a creative person, a talented marketer and prolific–and effective–user of social media. This year he attended SXSW for the first time and knew he could meet people like @scobleizer, @gapingvoid, @guykawasaki (for those who’ve never attended a SXSW, that’s one of the hallmarks of the conference and its appeal…you can actually speak freely with many experts in a variety of disciplines…if you can get on their radar). @doverbey turned “could” into “did” by thinking creatively. Knowing that people like @guykawasaki would be hit from all sides and at any time of day for a chat-up, drinks, meeting requests, whatever, he knew that if he had any chance at wrangling a substantive and informative conversation from “stars” like @guykawasaki he’d have to have a “hook” and “angle”; in short, a creative and compelling reason to get these people to spend some time with him. His brainchild: “100interviews“. His methodology: a wordpress blog, some t-shirts, a flip video camera, and a targeted Twitter promotion prior to and during SXSW. His outcome? Visit his site. Here’s what Derek has to say about the experience:

When @morganb (Morgan Brown) and I decided to conduct some interviews at SXSW, I knew we had to have a hook. The thought on trying to do 100 interviews in 4 days had a nice ring to it and provided us with a platform to stand on as we went out and started to secure interview subjects. But I think the aspect that really pushed us over the top was using Twitter to promote and secure the interviewees. Once we secured a couple of bigger names like @guykawasaki, @chrisbrogan and @garyvee and started to tweet that info out, we had people literally coming to us asking if they could get involved. We leveraged the social aspect to do the work for us. Then when we were at the event, people felt like they were missing something if they were not involved because all their social media friends were participating. In closing, I would say this experience showed me the “true power” of social media outside of just connecting. It can really be leveraged as a additional marketing arm but must still have the good idea behind it.

Derek walked into a situation where many of the attendees were just as prolific users of social media as he is, and where many of these individuals perhaps had similar goals to his, but out of literally thousands of attendees he got substantive face-time with these thought-leaders, and captured telling interviews by using his marketing prowess and creative thinking to come-up with a compelling “hook” that was just different enough to make these thought-leaders stop, take notice, and contribute. And in the process he’s branded himself as a social media leader too.

The take-away: You can do the same with your brand by looking at what’s not been done in your vertical in terms of a promotional strategy and use social media to leverage this uniqueness. In a sea of banality what’s your concept that’s simple to execute, but has a “nice ring to it” that will create a buzz tsunami?

Integrity

Integrity
Integrity

Trent Reznor of NIN is a great artist. Whether you like or dislike his music, it’s unlikely you’d disagree that he’s been uncompromising in his art as well as his business acumen. Take 40 minutes out of your day and listen to this interview where Reznor’s answers to the DIGG community questions deliver keen insights into how he’s blended art and business into a strategy that not only propels his brands, but also keeps his core constituency front-and-center and conversant with these brands. What’s clear from the interview is that he’s confident in his own vision, and has been from the start. There’s a point in the interview where he describes how he strategically broke into the music business in the late 1980s by sitting back and really understanding what his unique value was to the music industry, aligning himself with the right label, and using then ground-breaking distribution models (e.g., MTV) to get his art heard. In essence, he looked at his core strengths and passions and leveraged such in the “alternative music” niche that existed at that time. Reznor focused on perfecting his art, stayed true to his vision, and created a truly unique sound which differentiated himself from the crowd of other bands. And once his audience “found” his music, he engaged this audience with ever-increasing diversity coupled with new technologies and distribution methods to increase this engagement (see his recently released iPhone app under his NIN brand for the most recent example of this.

The take-away: Understand your core values and define how you’ll make a difference and then have confidence in your brand, your vision. Keep an uncompromising adherence to these values as you deploy new services and utilize new technologies to spread your vision. And when a constituency embraces your brand, engage this constituency and demonstrate that you understand its core goals, wants, and needs by developing products and services that align with these core values while adhering to yours.

Photo credits: Creativity photo, Takomabibelot; Integrity photo, Jahat

Clients are not cows

Real estate marketing professionals interested in farming, cultivating, or harvesting customers should consider something new. Livestock management perhaps? How about genetic engineering of new hybrid corn? Better yet how about driving a combine or cultivator? It’s time to shed these agri-centric terms that are so often used in conjunction with traditional Customer (Client) Relationship Management (CRM) theories.

Potential and existing clients are neither livestock, corn, nor wheat. Clients are people who have families, passions, wants, desires, and needs. And they likely would not want to be managed, cultivated, harvested, or farmed. Instead they’d likely want a meaningful interaction with your brand where you treat them like a human rather than like an uninformed data element.

As a first step to embracing clients and potential clients as living and breathing HUMANS, rather than disembodied data nodes, firms ought to shed certain traditional labels of CRM as well as agri-centric terms in favor of human-centric labels. Use “client” rather than customer; clients seek professional advice, customers purchase products. As a real estate professional who’s positioning yourself as a trusted adviser and subject matter expert, aren’t you more interesting in engaging clients as opposed to just pushing products?  Similarly, use “engagement” and “conversation” rather than cultivate or nurture; engagement implies a recognition that your client has a role in the CRM process and conversation recognizes that you’re goal is to enlist the client in a dialogue, rather than having them passively remain rooted in your system like a seed and plant in a field until they’re harvested at maturation.

Words matter. And labels inform your conduct. If your CRM system focuses on the human touch, the people element, then your CRM operations become more focused and in tune with promoting engagement and brand partnership. Consumers want to trust your brand. Give them a reason to do so by acting like you trust them.

Photo credit zieak

Peering Under the Hood at Facebook

If one stops and ponders the amount of data and content users add to Facebook on a daily basis, it’s truly staggering. I’ve often wondered what the Facebook data team does with this data and content. Recently, I stumbled across two insightful articles and a video series that sheds some light on this.

The first article discusses how the Facebook data team uses statistical analysis to make informed product development decisions (the article also touches on Google’s use of data modeling and statistics).

Facebook’s Data Team used R in 2007 to answer two questions about new users: (i) which data points predict whether a user will stay? and (ii) if they stay, which data points predict how active they’ll be after three months?

For the first question, Itamar’s team used recursive partitioning (via the rpart package) to infer that just two data points are significantly predictive of whether a user remains on Facebook: (i) having more than one session as a new user, and (ii) entering basic profile information.

For the second question, they fit the data to a logistic model using a least angle regression approach (via the lars package), and found that activity at three months was predicted by variables related to three classes of behavior: (i) how often a user was reached out to by others, (ii) frequency of third party application use, and (iii) what Itamar termed “receptiveness” — related to how forthcoming a user was on the site.

The second article, posted by the Facebook data team in response to this Economist article, gives a very insightful description as to how the Facebook data team uses statistical analysis to answer an important question:

We were asked a simple question: is Facebook increasing the size of people’s personal networks? This is a particularly difficult question to answer, so as a first attempt we looked into the types of relationships people do maintain, and the relative size of these groups.

What the Facebook data team found was that a user’s passive network is 2 to 2.5 times larger than their active network (i.e., a reciprocal network where there is an active two-way communication happening), and that a passive network is just as important as a reciprocal network in building buzz.

The stark contrast between reciprocal and passive networks shows the effect of technologies such as News Feed. If these people were required to talk on the phone to each other, we might see something like the reciprocal network, where everyone is connected to a small number of individuals. Moving to an environment where everyone is passively engaged with each other, some event, such as a new baby or engagement can propagate very quickly through this highly connected network.

I’ll take a leap and say that these findings helped drive some of the reasoning behind the updated profile home page and business page “lifestreaming” functionality. Facebook’s focus on having people set up a profile–and updating this profile–and immediately engage with other people, coupled with an emphasis on increasing a user’s penetration within their passive network, is critical to Facebook’s continued growth. [Update: for an excellent three series analysis of the new Facebook pages go here, here, and here]. We can see an example of this passive network effect below where a Facebook user posted a short note that his twins are soon to be featured on CSI, the news spread quickly and opened up several channels of commentary:

passive network buzz using facebook newsfeed

Here’s an additional link to some interesting insights by Facebook’s former head of data and analytics, Jeff Hammerbacher, into Facebook’s approach to data analytics and lessons learned (these are fairly long videos, but really really fun to watch). Hammerbacher discusses how they analyze terabytes of data in near-real time to allow their various business units to make more informed decisions. My key take-away from the videos is that a graphical display of data that allows users to also “hack” the data to gain deeper insights yields great product development and customer relationship management gains.

Spreading Positive Brand Messages Using Social Media

Although many real estate brand managers have embraced social media and are pushing their executives and agents to start a blog, join Facebook and LinkedIn, etc, many are still reticent to step into the space. Questions like these are fairly common: “What if someone says something bad, or posts a rude comment, or is just really nasty on my public page?”, “How can I keep out the competition?”, and “How can I control what’s being said?”

These are relevant concerns and may stem in part from a generalized mistrust of consumers’ ability to “properly” “understand brand message”, or from feelings of insecurity in the worth and veracity of one’s brand. But sweating the minutia over message, taking a parens patriae like attitude towards the consumer, and adopting a defensive posturing towards one’s competition as a way to temporarily stave the social media tsunami actually play into the hands of any competitor who’s already joined the social media party.

Questions:

  • Do you believe in the transformative power of your brand?
  • Do you believe that your brand is better than your competition?
  • Do you believe in what you’ve built?

If the answers are no, then read these books as starting points to rejuvenate your brand: The Black Swan, Purple Cow, and The Art of the Start. If the answers are yes, then set your brand free with social media. Spreadabilty is the key, and one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this is via social media.

Spreading your message

If you believe in your brand, use the recently updated Facebook Page platform and Home page lifestreaming features to spread your message to your friends, core constituency, and clients. If you believe in your brand, use Twitter like Comcast does via its @comcastcares profile to engage customers and solve customer service related issues. If you believe in your brand, embrace the fact that maybe one of your competitors will “fan” your Facebook Page but then use this opportunity to overwhelm them with the greatness of your brand and use this platform as a subtle recruiting environment. If you believe in your brand, figure out creative and low cost buzz-worthy tactics to get a spotlight on your greatness (look at the buzz that @doverbey created at SXSW: he’s using a wordpress blog as a repository for 100 video interviews and promoting it via Twitter while attending SXSW…and now he’s in the SXSW buzz spotlight as a participant, rather than an attendee).

Social media is here to stay. And the longer you wait to begin using social media to spread your brand message, the the more opportunity your competitors have to spread theirs at the expense of yours.

Foreclosure Searches on the Rise

Hitwise and Google show that foreclosure searches are creeping up on “traditional” searches regarding properties for sale. UPDATE: RealtyTrac reports a 6% rise in foreclosures in February 2009 over January 2009, with a 30% increase over February 2008. On March 12, 2009, Hitwise reported that foreclosure searches are on the rise.

Hitwise: Forclosure Searches on the Rise
Hitwise: Forclosure Searches on the Rise

For fun I ran the top five Hitwise searches in Google Trends to see the differences between the search reporting engines. Google had slightly different data.

free foreclosure listings, foreclosure listings, foreclosure homes, foreclosure, foreclosure.com

Foreclosure searches: Google vs Hitwise

Next I compared the search term “foreclosures” against search terms “homes for sale” and “real estate for sale” over a 12 month period. Here’s what I found:

foreclosures, homes for sale, real estate for sale, US, Last 12 months
Google searches: foreclosure, homes for sale, real estate for saleThen I focused on Nevada for the same search phrases: forclosures, homes for sale, real estate for sale, NV, Last 12 months
Google searches: NV foreclosures, homes for sale, real estate for saleFinally, I narrowed the searches down to Las Vegas: foreclosures, homes for sale, real estate for sale, LAS VEGAS, NV, Last 12 months

Google searches: Las Vegas foreclosures, homes for sale, real estate for sale

New Facebook Home Page Useful for Real Estate Pros

Here’s an excellent article on the PR 2.0 blog about the new homepage design features Facebook will soon release. The article gives a reasoned analysis of the new Facebook feature-set as well as possible implications for brands, individuals, and services like Twitter and Friendfeed.

What could be considered the Wall 2.0 or quite simply, a personal or branded activity stream or timeline for people, public figures, and brands, the company is placing your in-network and external network activity at the front-and-center of your public profile for friends, associates, and followers to not only stay up to date with you[sic] aggregated Web activity, but also participate in the stream.

New Facebook Home Page
New Facebook Home Page

The new Facebook home page likely will have positive implications for real estate professionals. First, the new filter feature presumably allows you to separate your contacts into separate channels, monitor those channels, and more easily converse within those channels. This allows you to use Facebook as more of a social media multichannel marketing tool (i.e., by monitoring separate channels you can prioritize those channels and, thus, respond appropriately and in a timely manner as needed). Second, the real-time “stream” feature will give you an accurate pulse of your sphere’s goings on, which is useful in choosing which contact to engage immediately or at a later time (this feeds into the multichannel marketing nature of the filter feature). Finally, the “publisher” aspect of the new Facebook home page seems to give you a more useful–and engaging– way to update your sphere.

Real Estate Value in an Uncertain Market

The comments in this post offer an “in the trenches” snapshot of many issues framing the current real estate crisis. The dialogue between Scott and the listing agent is particularly fascinating and elucidates the inherent challenges agents face in a market where traditional and foundational norms have been so acutely destabilized.

Positive Authority and Digital Reputation

As a real estate brand, wouldn’t you like your customers to be this excited about their experience with you?

Powder Mountain Utah Best Day of Skiing

Powder Mountain Utah Skiing Fabulous Day

I shot these videos after an absolutely transcendent day of skiing at Powder Mountain, Utah. Yes, conditions have lots to do with having a good versus great day of skiing. And yes skill level and equipment affects these considerations too. But a great day of skiing begins with the actual resort (or in the case of Power Mountain the “un-resort”).

Powder Mountain is the absolute antithesis of “big brand” in that it has a minimal choice of groomed trails with tons of choices for “off piste” skiing. There is no lodge per se, no massive repetitive brand messaging throughout its 7,000 acres. Rather, the Powder Mountain skiing experience IS the message.

It’s an authentic experience where skiers choose their routes and create their own affinities, relationships, and partnerships with the Powder Mountain brand. And it’s clear that Powder Mountain’s owners are passionate about skiing, which further elicits emotional bonds with their customers. I (we) created our own skiing experience and carry that experience and promote that experience. I (we) are brand ambassadors for Powder Mountain.

These same attributes and creeds apply to real estate professionals too. Here’s authenticity and an experience that delivers a powerful brand message. My take-aways from Jim’s video: he’s passionate about honestly representing clients, he’s passionate about his chosen profession, he’s a professional, and he’s not afraid of a fight (a good attitude to have at the negotiation table). Through this video I get a sense of who he is and what he’s willing to do for me as a client. His reputation is his personal brand and his personal brand is his reputation. And by honestly and transparently allowing clients and potential clients to viscerally “experience” his personal ethos, he’s implicitly hitting on issues discussed in this excellent post about managing your digital reputation, which I too have discussed but missed some insightful angles discussed by the FutureBuzz .

Web 2.0 Multichannel Marketing Considerations

Digital Trends is a big topic and this post really goes through a substantive analysis of Edleman’s recent predictions.

The digital train is tearing down the tracks and has no signs of slowing. Every industry is being reshaped by the expectation that everything should be digitized. Add digital hungry consumers with web devices, NetPCs, Kindles and smart gaming consoles and you’ve got a multichannel marketing and distribution train wreck.

Multichannel marketing considerations will certainly be primary this year as fragmented consumer relations with brands accelerate. Thus, firms like SAP have begun tracking social media interactions. Despite the inherent trackability problem presented by fragmented brand interactions with consumers, firms are either “in” or “out” of the social media space. And it seems evident to me that firms should be “in”, as this report on how telecoms use social media demonstrates; given this, here is a list of great tips list for creating content that spreads.

Viral is Dead, Let it Spread Instead

Real estate firms that are thinking about implementing social media marketing strategies should pay attention to Charlene Li‘s predictions. Li’s series of five interviews paint a road map of the social media future firms ought to be considering today:

melded identities

 

social algorithms (see also my earlier post on trust indicators in social networks)

open platforms

privacy and permissions

organizational trust

Her thinking mirrors that of Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, who essentially argues in his white paper “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” that marketers need to shed the terms “viral” and “memes” and adopt “spreadability” as a benchmark.

What Jenkins points out, and Li implicitly endorses, is that humans are not passive hosts that propagate marketing messages. Rather, humans take an active roll in transferring and transforming marketing messages. Thus, marketers need to rethink their approaches to conceiving of, executing on, and managing marketing campaigns by migrating away from command and control modalities to adopting more of a marketing midwifery role.

I think that Li’s and Jenkins’ thoughts also pertain to CRM definitions. Let’s shed the agri-centric CRM labels like “cultivate,” “nurture,” and “harvest” for terms that recognize a consumer’s role in allowing themselves to become part of a CRM system, rather than passive victims of that system. Terms like “engagement,” “conversation,” and “partner” align with Li’s and Jenkins’ sentiments, seem more respectful of an individual’s role in a CRM system, and are reflective of the fact that consumers are active participants in a firm’s “relationship management” processes. And assuming that a firm’s client services division performs at high levels of consumer satisfaction, this ethos shift also has the potential to empower “engaged” consumers to spread the word of a firm’s client services successes (much like Li relates in her Comcast example in the above “organizational trust” interview).

Twitter Please Believe the Hype

Here’s an interview about Twitter with a friend of mine who owns a manufacturing plant in Northwest Chicago. Of course, I was evangelizing the incredible value, benefits, and just awesome coolness of Twitter, but he was a little skeptical…

I think Tom has good advice. It’s easy to get caught up in a Gartner hype cycle, becoming fascinated and enthralled with a technology and thinking it’s value resides simply in its sheer technical coolness. This said, I’m still convinced Twitter is one of the best applications a real estate firm and agent can use to build their personal brand as well as eventually drive transactions. UPDATE: Check out this NYTimes article on the power of Twitter.

In a similar vein I’m having much more meaningful conversations and interactions over Twitter than via telephone and email. I think it’s because Twitter forces you to think crisply and communicate with brevity, mirroring “live” conversations in a way. And in thinking again about ‘ol Notorious’ recent post, it’s this aspect of Twitter–and other social media applications in general–that make it (them) such huge brand-building tools.

Top down branding campaigns are typically forced on consumers like geese trapped in a foie gras factory, delivered in 15 second to 30 second snippets that really don’t change that much. Whereas social media relies on relationships that naturally evolve over time. And it’s this aspect of social media–its repartee–that allows a brand to develop a “personality” that a consumer can choose to befriend. Assuming a consumer remains engaged and interacting with a brand under these circumstances, it stands to reason that consumer affinity and loyalty with/to a brand would be higher than with/though traditional media campaigns.

Theatre of Cruelty in a Carnival of Real Estate

What’s the value of a real estate firm’s or agent’s service? What actions justify a firm’s or agent’s fees? I’m contemplating these questions as I re-read “The Theatre and Its Double” written by Antonin Artaud, and some of what he says in his writing has a certain philosophical resonance with respect to the current state of affairs in the real estate industry.

Artaud was an early 20th century French playwright. He challenged existing theatrical norms of his day to strip away historical groundings with respect to performance (which he generally thought were overproduced parodies of themselves) and show a more honest–transparent–personification of character, thought, or theme, where the actor is the ultimate provocateur of an honest dialogue with her audience, whilst producers and directors contentedly cling to the status quo. In Chapter 6, “No More Masterpieces”, Artaud states:

Far from blaming the public, we ought to blame the formal screen we interpose between ourselves and the public[.]

He continues at a more sublime level:

Enough of personal poems, benefitting those who create them much more than those who read them.

Theatre changed for the better after Artaud’s call to action. Similarly, it seems to me, the real estate industry is due for an Artaud-like challenge to existing norms with respect to representation, compensation, and professionalism. The run-up to 2009 was indeed a real spectacle, but the tent has fallen, the elephants have flattened the performance space, and the audience seems to have run away. Indeed, many have written about the current state of affairs.

But here are perhaps two of the the clearest calls to action to change the status quo–two honest evaluations of the state of affairs with respect to the relationship between real estate professional and consumer. Neither author engages in finger pointing, tries to push off responsibility, nor cringes from the challenge to ask hard questions and honestly answer these questions.

Rather, there is a recognition that the forum has changed, that same old lines fall on increasingly calloused consumer ears. Indeed, the authors’ challenges to the “old rules” of relationship and dialogue between real estate professional and consumer especially resonate when one of these authors had a consumer click through to his blog from the search “buyer’s real estate commission myth“. Clearly this consumer was seeking a different type of relationship with a real estate professional. And, with respect to the norm, this author’s blog post presented an honest–and transparent–alternative conversation. 

Thus begins a few hammer blows to the status quo.

Twittering away your digital legacy?

Here’s a story from DavidHenderson.com about a “Twevent” that happened to a senior level public relations employee. The case involved FedEx (the client) and the following Tweet:

True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here! citation

DavidHenderson.com summarized the ensuing events:

Someone inside FedEx was following…and that person shared the post among the top executives at the FedEx front office, and the company’s corporate communications staff. At that point, a person in the FedEx corporate communications staff apparently took umbrage to the post…and responded [to him].

The public relations executive posted the following Tweet as events ensued over the next couple of days:

This is hard to fit in 140 characters or less so please read here. All about my recent Twitter post citation

DavidHenderson.com has a take-away; his global thoughts on the matter.

The Scream by Edvard Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch

I found this FedEx story via this Sun Microsystems blog post which discusses issues surrounding one’s digital legacy. The key take-away, in my opinion, is to understand that crowdsourcing memes can possibly lead to unintended consequences and misinterpreted meanings.

Thus, when asked by real estate professionals about how they should approach social media generally, and Twitter specifically, I talk about defining digital personas and sticking to that persona in every post, Facebook or LinkedIn update, Tweet, etc.

Here are my thoughts regarding managing one’s digital legacy:

  1. Define the persona you want to convey to your known audience as well as your unknown audience; this will become your digital legacy over time
  2. Understand that Facebook differs from LinkedIn which differs from Twitter, etc, and that each social media space has a different environment–ecosystem or culture if you will–that you must first understand and then integrate with after you understand it (I say lurk heartedly to see how other people use a specific medium, read the FAQs and support sections, etc, then step into the playground when you have a general sense of the rules)
  3. You can have varied persona’s for each environment, but each such persona should roll-up to support the overall “personal brand” you’re trying to build (think of the different personalities you adopt during client presentations, while at the office, at cocktail parties, etc)
  4. Think 24 months out from now and ask yourself “What do I want people to see when they search me on Google”? Think about what “output” or “outcome” you want in this circumstance, and then work backwards at ensuring that your “inputs” (your blog posts, your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and the majority of your Tweets) meet your expected outcome

Perhaps I am over thinking this. However, when I read posts like the above, I cannot help but think that a managed approach like the simple process I’ve outlined is a viable approach for real estate professionals (especially agents new to the space) whose livelihood, value, reputation, and expertise will be run through a Google (or some new equivalent) sieve for the foreseeable future.

Creating a culture of creativity and innovation

Real estate firms need to realign, indeed rethink, their team culture and structure to keep abreast of rapidly evolving marketplace and competitive pressures. I touched on this topic last week on the “Content is King” panel I shared with Mr. Hahn at Inman Connect NYC. I certainly share his sentiments regarding developing a content strategy. But to execute on such a strategy, firms need to delve deeper and essentially conduct a cultural/structural 365 degree analysis, with an overall goal of fostering “innovation” as a cultural norm.

After the panel presentation, I engaged in many conversations about how firms need to “innovate” and how the real estate industry needs to push for more “innovation”. Conversations generally whipped from how to create more innovative products and services, to how to be seen as more innovative by one’s customers, to how to “out-innovate” one’s competition. In my opinion, innovation begins with a culture that fosters unbridled creativity tempered by a disciplined development process–a thesis meeting its antithesis, if you will, to produce a synthesis (i.e., an innovation); similar to Eisenstein’s film theories explored in his books The Film Sense and Film Form.

With respect to innovative culture, the authors in “Climates and Cultures for Innovation and Creativity at Work” define the following factors as hallmarks for innovative firms:

  • High levels of interaction, discussion, and debate
  • Interpersonal and intergroup relations defined by trust, cooperation, and a sense of safety
  • Senior management that’s open to new ideas and improved ways of working, and proves its openness by encouraging such actions and funding them when meritorious
  • The organization is under strong external pressure

Creativity can be defined as

the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination – creativity. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity (accessed: January 14, 2009).

Professor Jonathan Feinstein of Yale studies Creativity and has developed a great web-based resource on this topic.

I posit that fostering creativity is essential to competitive advantage. This thesis states that creativity is essential to the production of knowledge and its exploitation, and argues firms should create a creative knowledge environment (CKE). A CKE has the following salient attributes: clear objectives, positive group climate, active group participation, relatively flat hierarchical system, adequate resources, keen hiring decisions, engaged and visionary leadership; this definition aligns with the creative culture attributes outlined above. Both studies essentially conclude that such culture is essential to fostering innovation.

But once this culture produces an innovative thought, what framework induces it’s ultimate productization and monetization? It’s at this point where ultimate success or failure is determined. If such creative or innovative thoughts are always–or 80% of always–run through a control committee comprised of a “team” of senior managers, marketing types, IT types, and accounting types, chances are the innovative thought is squashed like an annoying bug as each “team member” sifts through respective intra-firm turf battles, alliances, resource jealousies, and personal fiefdom integrity and longevity issues. Countering this drying-like-cement-slow-death-approval-process, the set of authors above imply in their research that by hiring capable people who are naturally inclined to think through issues from all angles, management can relax a bit and “trust” their employee team to make the right decisions and manage the process themselves, which naturally leads to a culture of creativity and innovation. Peter Drucker touched on these themes and concepts. This is not to say that these “knowledge workers” should run amok, which is where disciplined development processes come into play.

There still needs to be strict adherence to processes that bring innovative products and services to market for the ultimate benefit of consumers. And in my opinion these processes are based on iterative design principles, or rapid application design principles, layered over agile stage-gate approval processes. Real estate firms that are hindered by stilted and overly obtuse ideation and development processes will suffer in the coming years; that is, firms that over analyze every move (or 80% of every move), allow poisonous turf battles between Marketing and IT to continue, and feel that nothing should be released to the public unless its “perfect” will suffer in the coming years. On the other hand, firms that realize that iterative design principles coupled with sound expected valuation analyses yielding rapid deployment and testing of prototype products (be they widgets, new website UI design, whatever) will benefit from the wisdom of crowds (see my earlier post on crowdsourcing) and release products and services that meet–and exceed–consumer needs and desires; which I’d say is innovative in its own right.

Engagement and consumer value propositions

Here’s another recent article on the changing consumer landscape regarding brand affinity and marketing. It parallels themes from my Crowds, Hives, Mobs, Swarms post.

The contemporary savvy consumer is seen as someone who combines areas of competency (particularly technological sophistication, network competency and marketing/advertising literacy) with empowerment (especially self-confidence and self-efficacy).

The paper points out that consumers are focused on value in their online interactions: value-for-time, value-for-attention, and value-for-access for their personal information. In searching for this value, consumers have become self confident in utilizing new technologies to filter and control brand-centric messaging. Additionally, consumers are by and large comfortable tinkering with new technologies on a trial and error basis as opposed to following a script or reading a manual, which has resulted in mega-brands like Google, iPhone, etc. As other brands attempt to match the success of these mega brands, ad spends are increasing in places like social networks as these brands go for consumer “engagement gold”. But there is a downside.

Organisations that serve consumers, employees and citizens in the world of person-centric commerce will be beneficiaries…but along the way there will be losers and casualties, including some businesses that over-estimate the desire of their consumers for engagement at the expense of offering basic value-for-money.

Accordingly, brands need to account for the differences among consumers and their attendant needs regarding value. These differences fall largely along generational lines, but even these lines are blurred as older consumers learn to adopt new technologies and adapt to novel ways of socializing and networking. In conclusion, the paper posits that despite a brand’s overt focus on highly customized, highly relevant, and highly emotional appeals, these efforts may not be enough to get these customers “involved” with the brand because the consumer landscape is too fragmentized and unstable.

Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms

Here is a great article discussing intriguing concepts in consumer innovation.

With the diffusion of networking technologies, collective consumer innovation is taking on new forms that are transforming the nature of consumption and work and, with it, society and marketing[.]

The authors argue that marketers should redefine “consumer” as an individual belonging to various creative/collaborative communities (Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms), where routine information consumption and disgorgement leads to unanticipated insights and innovations.

The authors define Crowds as large groups organized around a specific purpose or goal that disbands at the completion of the goal. The authors state that an example of Crowd innovation is the Frito-Lay Super Bowl Doritos advertising competition “Crash the Super Bowl”.

Crowds tend to emphasize a particular project, or bounded set of projects. They are organized, focused, and purposive. They are centered on the achievement of a particular objective, after which they usually disband.

The authors define Hives as groups formed to reach a specific goal; these groups are typically small in size but high in skill (e.g., the authors point to the open source community as an excellent example of a Hive, with its attendant focus on fostering innovation but creating a creative commons licensing struture to prevent corporations from gaining a hegemony over innovation within the community).

Usually Hive sites have many different forum topics including sections for expert talk, exhibiting creations, and/or providing downloads.

Mobs are defined by their singular focus on a specialist topic, providing targeted expertise solely to that topic. The authors point out single fathers, registered massage therapists, or nineteenth-century coin collectors as Mobs.

[The Mob’s] specific focus lends them particular value, especially to marketers who are able to capitalize on the value of segmentation, and the insights that come from understanding the unique needs of various segments.

Swarms involve communities engaging in mass behavior where individual contribution may be low but aggregate (output) value is high. The authors categorize Swarm behavior along four vectors: hyperlinking (think Google page rank), creating a “nation” of consumers so vast and complex it cannot be easily duplicated (eBay), ranking and rating (ala Amazon), and finally tagging (del.icio.us).

[H]ighly adaptive and complex solutions can emerge when large numbers of slightly diverse individuals with different expertise follow simple rules in pursuit of their objectives.

It is the convergence of childlike play, adult rules, passionate fandom, and serious work that make these communities so intriguing to marketers.

In an attempt to overcome the utilitarian notion of work and creativity, many of these [new types of consumers] reaestheticize their creations and re-enchant creative labor in a way that is not typically found in the many mundane jobs which the typical industrial and postindustrial information economy offers[.]

But therein lies the difficulty in trying to “study” or “tap into” or “utilize” these groups; that is, the authors point out that a Mob can spin off into a Crowd, which can turn into a Swarm, etc, a process the authors label as “Elicitation-Evaluation” (i.e., inducing a Mob to create something, like Frito-Lay’s Super Bowl ads, which then spins to a wider audience that rates, ranks, and tags submissions, which then distills a “winner”, but then disbands to go participate elsewhere). It’s more like trying to manipulate an amoeba rather than command nanotechnology.

Nevertheless, the end result, the authors argue, is a serious organizational network with roots in medieval craft guilds, art studios, and organized work networks with four implications for marketers: (1) marketers should address Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms differently, (2) marketing managers need to think of themselves and their brands as a thread in an ongoing communal tapestry, (3) these communities should be considered as fiscal partners in product/service innovation, and (4) companies need to understand that these communities operate as powerful counterbalances to corporations perceived to be acting unethically, irresponsibly, and abusively (e.g., see Google search steak and shake and look for “A Deaf Mom Shares Her World: Steak and Shake Denies Service” about position three).

Google personalized search

Ever wonder why anyone tries to “out-game” Google? I’ve always argued it’s futile to try and out-think hundreds of PhDs working in a university atmosphere where they have relatively free-reign to explore their research-oriented whims, and where they’re all pretty much singularly focused on studying one thing: us. Oh, and they likely get paid extremely well for what they do.

A question I have after watching the video below: How can anyone “out-game” this? Which likely also supports Google’s universal search platform. That is, it’s not a stretch to assume that Google employs insights derived from the user base that’s signed up for Google’s personalized search service to refine the primary algorithm(s) used by Google’s general audience to deliver more and more “relevant” results to this general audience.

Accordingly, when it comes to SEO I always advise taking the “high road” and write original content, update your site(s) frequently with this original content, build relevant in-bound links over time, create an easy to navigate (and spider) website, and focus on your niche expertise.

Real estate website technology and engagement

This post on real estate brokerage future and this one on hyper-local targeting are two excellent discussions about the strategic decisions real estate brokers will face over the next few years, especially with the technology side of the equation. I will focus on two salient points from these posts: (1) the ascendancy of broker power relative to agents and agent teams; and (2) the “Human Touch”.

In the first post, the author essentially argues that “Big Brokerage” along with a constellation of boutique firms will emerge dominate over the next few years. Not only is this argument valid in my opinion, but follows the power law principle, which has been proven in many other social, scientific, and natural systems. Interestingly, the author also skims the surface on some historical trends too. Having just finished reading the Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I’m seeing a correlation in the real estate industry to what existed in the late 1600s through early 1800s in Europe, which saw “old” powers atrophy and “new” powers emerge. Many national firms are under distress and, thus, weakened competitively when confronted by attempts at marketshare gains made by rivals (i.e., analogous to the Hapsburg’s loss of power). What may emerge in the near term is a balkanized set of real estate brokerage fiefdoms (all following the power law principle within their own market) but no one true national “winner”. Over time these fiefdoms (or principalities) will begin competing along their borders too, where the brokerages that strategically deploy technology gain advantage (just like the principalities and states that adopted new forms of weaponry won their military campaigns during the afore-mentioned time period).

Which brings me to my second issue the, “Human Touch“. I’ve always argued that real estate is a participation sport. And technology should serve one principal service: get an arms-length positioned consumer in front of an agent as quickly as possible…but it’s the manner by which this occurs that separates effectiveness from mere happenstance.

Many agents despise Internet leads, and sometimes with good reason. Too many “leads” an agent receives are really a waste of time from the agent’s perspective (too many questions, too many meetings, too many emails, not enough transaction); this tends to breed resentment, bitterness, and non-effectiveness. Thus, smart brokerages employ a lead qualification layer operating under a managed care rubric that works with potential clients prior to handing them off to an agent (in my opinion agents by and large are “closers” not “nurture-ers” and their talents are not deployed optimally when called upon to nurture consumers). And it’s in the managed care environment where firms can make the most gains.

Let’s assume an ideal state of technology circumstances for a brokerage principality that wants to gain consumer mindshare (and, thus, marketshare). This brokerage’s website would consist of the following primary entry points for potential (and existing) clients (all very consumer-facing, focusing on consumers’ needs and points-of-view):

  • Tag clouds that demonstrate inventory density demarcated along neighborhood, price, zip code, lifestyle, and home-type attributes
  • Search clouds that demonstrate what consumers have been most interested in within the site
  • Lifestyle-oriented search (which I’ve written about previously)
  • Targeted site elements driven by a Site +1 engine (I have not seen this product work, but will give the company the benefit of the doubt and assume that it works as advertised) that presents relevant imagery, content, property type suggestions, and calls to action that meet the potential client’s assumed demographic/psychographic profile in a predictive sense
  • Map display that presents data in compelling ways (like search cloud data overlaid on a Google map)

Deploying such site elements not only meets consumers expectations at a high level by presenting them with features they are “familiar” with by virtue of visiting other types of websites more frequently than a real estate website, namely sites like Amazon and blogs (my previous post references a Universal McCann study stating that blogs have just as much reach as traditional media). But more importantly a Utopian site like the one I’ve described is geared towards four primary things: not wasting the consumer’s time, presenting them with multiple ways to access information, speaking relevantly to them immediately, and incenting them to contact a “human” as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This type of a site uses engagement-oriented features that compellingly reward a consumer’s time spent on the site by giving them information in a manner that mirrors a “human touch” while actually cross-promoting a “human touch”, rather than penalizing or irritating them with worn, tired, slow, and stale elements. Thus, consumers establish emotional and brand-centric bonds with the brokerage via its website. And when a consumer decides to “reach out” and contact the company, this consumer does so in a more informed and qualified manner, which allows the managed care department to not only engage this consumer at a higher level but transfer a more informed and content consumer to the agent. What’s happened is that “technology” has allowed the consumer–at her leisure–to satiate her information gathering needs in a highly effective and efficient manner, making the site more relevant and trustworthy with respect to her quest, allowed the managed care department to spend less time educating her, and focuses agents’ core competencies on “closing” and transaction management issues; which in the end reinforces the power law principle and propels the marketshare gains the firm seeks.

Obama Web 2.0 meets database marketing

Here are two salient take-aways from this great article detailing how Obama eviscerated previous fund-raising records

1) Strategically embrace Web 2.0 and facilitate consumer control over certain elements of an overall marketing plan

Supporters’ blogs and You Tube postings were also brought inside the campaign through the website, where the online team could help consolidate the energy and contacts generated by them.

2) Test, measure, refine, roll-out; keep what works, ditch what tanks; no “sacred cows”

[The new media team], meanwhile, was constantly testing different versions of its call-to-action pages, including requests for donations and voter registration. Did more people respond if it included video or text? Should the sign-up prompts be on the right column or in the center? Should they have a “learn more” button or direct sign-up? Once they discovered the most effective version, they replaced all the others with it. Among their lessons: Video can sometimes be a distraction rather than a help.

Hyper-targeting enhanced listings

Trulia partnered with 1020 Placecast to provide targeted ad services.

Once users input a location they want to learn more about on Trulia, Placecast will access that data and apply it as a key component along with common demographic data points like psychographic information to provide more targeted ads.

This process makes sense especially at the zip code level (see previous posts on zip code optimization) because demo/psychographic differences exist between zip codes–even contiguous zip codes. Accordingly, if I’m looking in a zip code that trends more affluent, Trulia can now serve ads that appeal to an affluent consumer (Jaguar advertisement). Alternatively, if I’m searching in a zip code that trends more middle of the road, Trulia can now serve an ad that appeals to a bargain shopper (Toyota Corolla advertisement).

For real estate, I’d like to see a twist on this process: somehow also deduce from where a consumer searches so as to better deploy advertising resources with respect to select properties. For instance, let’s assume you’re a firm situated in a Utah ski resort community, and that you know based on previous dealings with out-of-market buyers that your to primary “feeder” markets are Chicago and Orlando, and that these primary markets are generally interested in purchasing luxury-oriented rental income properties.

It’d be a great service to be able choose which of your top properties to “enhance” that exist in a specific zip code and display the “enhanced” versions of these properties only when a consumer from either Chicago or Orlando conducts a search in the targeted zip code. Employing a scheme like this, one makes an ad buy based on a “known” marketing attribute (i.e., based on personal experience) along with hyper-targeting, which should translate into higher quality clicks to the “enhanced” properties and, thus, increase the potential ROI on those ad buys.

Social media and Obama victory

The New York Times has a great read on how Obama embraced social media to help win the election.

Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television…Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand.

Consider the following:

3,099,323 supporters and 527,783 wall messages on an Obama Facebook page.

136,083 subscribers on an Obama YouTube channel.

This user-generated Obama video has 11,696,725 views as of this posting (and is this a good, bad, or neutral brand impression? Does it matter?):

An interesting theory raised in the New York Times article is that by embracing and using social media’s power to organize and influence–and help raise $600 million–traditional party foundations have been irrevocably shaken, if not permanently altered. Similarly, it seems to me that many firms today are in a place where the political parties were pre-Obama: comfortably employing “tried and true” models to promote, build, sustain, and manage their brands.

Yes, entities like Trulia, Zillow, etc, injected much needed creativity and transparency into the historically balkanized and feudal-like operations of the real estate industry. But the industry has now largely absorbed the impact these entities had and is now challenging them in certain ways (e.g., by demanding accountability in terms of lead quality and conversion as opposed to just click volumes). However, it’s social media that will change the foundations of the real estate industry, just like it did in the recent presidential campaign.

Further, what’s brilliant about social media is that in and of itself it’s transparent. You want the inside scoop on Obama’s strategy? It’s no secret, really, because you can just see what his team put together. That is, you can model your own social media strategy on Obama’s (e.g., look at how the Obama team structured its Facebook page and YouTube channel) and deduce what strategic choices were made by studying the tactics employed. For more strategies, I encourage you to also visit Owyang’s blog.

Innovation considerations for real estate firms

Real estate professionals looking for sources of inspiration should consider the following quip from the book Chasing Cool:

The next time someone says they want to be the iPod of their industry, ask them this: before he came up with the iPod, did Steve Jobs walk around telling people he wanted to be the Sony Walkman of his industry?

The Chasing Cool book goes on to explain that innovators have a knack at assessing where a potential market “is” and what this potential market wants or needs, even though this potential market may be incognizant of such, because innovators employ various forms of focus groups (from the traditional, to the mostly non-traditional) along with intuitive insights.

Following this thread, in the paper Permanently Beta: Responsive Organization in the Internet Era, researchers point out that continual testing is a way to gauge user feedback and gain invaluable break-throughs in product innovation (the development of Linux is an example of this). Nevertheless, this article (abstract) looked at software company start-up success and found that prolonged beta phases and collaborations with universities delay product launch but that team tenure and experience favor faster product development and launch. This finding corroborates a premise in Chasing Cool that looking within rather than without (i.e., consultants) often drives true insight and innovation.

What does this mean for real estate firms striving for innovation? Perform a 365 degree analysis on your team and products and services. Analyze your company through the eyes of a competitor to better understand your weaknesses. Quit strategically as Seth Godin admonishes in the book The Dip.

Adding blog functionality to real estate websites

This Universal McCann study states that

  • Blogs are a mainstream media world-wide and as a collective rival any traditional media
  • The blogsphere is becoming increasingly participatory, now 184m bloggers world-wide

 

And as recently referred to in my previous post on the long tail, the New York Times discusses the power of blogs for real estate firms.

So why are many real estate brokerage web sites so un-blog-like? It seems to me that if consumers are familiar with blogs, frequently read and interact with blogs, brokerage sites ought to adopt “blog-like” functionality on their web sites so as to give consumers modes of “familiarity” when they visit (it’s probably safe to say that consumers interact with non-real estate sites on a much more frequent basis and, thus, their expectations for best-in-class web site experiences are set by these non-real estate sites).

For example, brokerages could create a popular search cloud. Similarly, firms could create a listings type cloud based on property type, location, lifestyle, time-on-market, foreclosure, and price. As demonstrated by Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” product recommendation success, consumers want to know what other consumers are doing and thinking. Thus, a search cloud lets consumers take a pulse of the market by quickly perusing the cloud. Second, a listings cloud quickly lets consumers see what type and how much inventory exists without having to perform a search to get this information.

One click into either cloud quickly sifts the database and returns a results set to the consumer, and from there he/she could further refine a search; thus, reinforcing that the firm’s website is functional, speedily returns results, and respects consumers’ time. Further, these two features would go a long way towards giving consumers something “familiar” while enhancing real estate website functionality and data accessibility. All of the above combines to increase marketing penetration and consumer loyalty.

Long tail search data

Despite the sentiments expressed by Google’s CEO about long tail search (see previous post), Bill Tancer of Hitwise presents an intriguing alternative view. Tancer shows that despite brand-centric search saturation in the head, the long tail presents a panoply of opportunities to online marketers willing to invest the strategic and tactical resources necessary to leverage such.

Top 100 Search Terms by Percentage of All Search Traffic

And, according to the New York Times real estate blogs offer consumers some of the best information available about real estate.

For brokers, blogs are, of course, a handy marketing tool: they’re economical, practical and easy to update. But for prospective buyers, a sophisticated blog — one with more than an agent’s plea, “check out my new listing” — can help potential buyers forge a connection to a faraway community, learn the landscape of an area and, ultimately, make informed purchasing decisions.

Since blogs are long tail feed machines, real estate professionals ought to embrace blogging as a viable online marketing channel.

Long-tail in a multi-channel strategy

McKinsey & Company Consulting interview of Google CEO discussing long-tail search viability.

This is a great video interview of Google’s CEO by McKinsey & Company Consulting. Read this definition of Zipf’s Law first, however, if you don’t know what Zipf’s law is. What’s especially intriguing is the interview segment that discusses the long-tail versus the head. Schmidt does not dismiss the long-tail as a search marketing strategy, but he does implicitly decry its value. My take-away from his comments, however, is that no single strategy is the marketing silver bullet; rather it’s a blending of marketing strategies that makes sense. Abandon the long-tail as a strategy? No. Augment your firm’s short-tail and primary brand promotion strategy with a concerted long-tail marketing strategy powered by blogs? Absolutely. This study leads credence to this augment, where it states that blogs have just as much reach as mainstream media.

Reality mining in real estate services

As always I am grateful to Owyang to lend his insight and foresight. Here’s another excellent missive on the “Intelligent Web”. In summary, he posits that machines will begin extrapolating relationships and driving recommendations for connections from the juxtapositions and nexus between “our behaviors, context, and preferences”. Sounds a bit like the semantic web. Spinning through the comments on this post brought me to the Innovation Insight blog where Guy Hagen explores MIT research related to “reality mining”, which you can find more about on the MIT Web site. And this research paper out of UC DAVIS demonstrates how the MIT Reality Mining data set was utilized in tracking behaviour via mobile phones.

Imagine an iPhone application overlayed on a real estate firm’s listing data set, where the iPhone reports back over time thousands of user’s mobile browsing habits (i.e., driving around looking at homes for sale or rent). Having such data would allow firms to target advertising, Web site promotions, and give predictive insight over their competitors with respect to fluctuating markets (e.g., patterns will emerge over time that will tell a firm which neighborhoods, etc, are capturing consumer interest, thus enabling a firm to deploy marketing and agent resources towards these locations ahead of their competition).

Measuring marketing influence

This research paper by Deloitte is an excellent summary of important considerations firms should make when re-valuing their marketing team’s contributions. The gist of the article is that it’s incumbent upon firms to set up a marketing measurement scorecard that accounts for the systemic impact marketing expenditures have on the bottom line.

The paper argues that the measurement system needs to go beyond typical CRM-system level reporting (i.e., moving beyond just measuring ROI as the primary indicator of marketing performance) and align with overall company strategy, account for competitive influences on a product or service’s marketplace success or failure, eliminate silos between separate business units, and measure across product development and roll-out lifecycles.

Facebook Engagement Advertising for Real Estate

Owyang delivers an excellent summary of Facebook’s new “Engagement Advertising” tool. This tool seems well-suited to real estate brands that want to showcase a particular niche or market they serve, particular the “Fan Style” ad targeting luxury verticals (it could also be interesting to allow the Facebook community to “gift” someone a $50,000,000 property to generate buzz on that property using the “Virtual Gifts Style” ad platform).