Take blogging, for example. By spending just a few hours a month finding and linking to interesting articles and information – and scribing a few themselves here and there…
Yeah, that’s about right – A few hours a month. Maybe write a post or two, here and there.
Once I picked myself up off the floor and wiped the spittle from my keyboard, I had to at least appreciate the fact that the California Association of Realtors is trying to promote Web 2.0-ish practices to its members. This pearl came from CAR’s quarterly magazine on real estate trends and technology.
We haven’t posted here in a week and, in blog years, that puts us in serious danger of being yesterday’s newspaper. Like our business, sometimes our blogging is necessarily cyclical. This is, after all, intended as a complement to our core business of representing buyers and sellers in the real estate transaction. The need to prioritize often rears its uncoiffed head and dictates that we redirect our attention, at least temporarily, to matters of greater import – like closing escrows. But, like tackling a pile of long-unattended, unwashed laundry, playing catch-up can be daunting. I have some catching up to do, and I will do it because my value to my clients and my success depends on it.
Just Trust Me
…REALTORS nationwide are using technology to feed information to clients who, in turn, have come to view those bloggers as experts in their fields.
I give our readers more credit than thinking that a couple of hours of linking to interesting articles is going to leave them with the impression that I am an expert in my field. If that is my approach, what am I really feeding them? Unfortunately, this is consistent with the habits we have adopted throughout the years. “Neighborhood Specialist,” “#1 Top Producer” and the like have become hollow phrases that we toss about with so much arrogance and superiority yet most often absent any substantiation.
The article my quotes came from was well-intended. Yes, agents need to keep up with technology. Yes, agents need to use all available tools to provide their visitors the most satisfying experience. I couldn’t agree more. It is the underlying theme that I object to in that it misses the mark entirely – The implication is that having a Web 2.0 presence is an event rather than a process. Nearly everything “taught” to the real estate agent is about lead generation (real estate buzz words for getting more business), and the lip service given to blogging is no different. When we stop referring to our potential clients as leads and start seeing them for who they are, our future employers, our efforts just might shift back to providing value and excellence. This is where our energies belong and have always belonged. Be exceptional and the rest will follow.
I understand that an honest expose on the commitment required to create and manage a contemporary online presence would not necessarily have the desired result; it would send the antiquated agent running straight to the foxhole from fear. But, to the agent who is determined to stay relevant and visible in a web world moving faster than a locomotive, presenting blogging in such a simplistic light is dishonest if not irresponsible. It is dishonest because, well, purporting that effective blogging can be accomplished in one’s spare time, between proofing the artwork for the bus bench ad and addressing the recipe card mailers, is just so much drivel. And, it is irresponsible for many reasons.
This same article described agents and brokers as “never ones to shy away from a new way to reach out to and work with clients.” I could argue that our collective is not the mascot for the Team of Forward Thinkers, but that would be too obvious. Instead, I’ll argue that there is much more to blogging than “reaching out.”
How about simply desiring to better ourselves as professionals? Seminars and fancy professional designations (GRI, CRS, ePro, AWOL, AARP) are encouraged by our brokers and our Associations until we are red in the checkbook, yet what about the knowledge that can be acquired through participating in the online discussion? I can read a two-page, large font article published on stuff of tree origin devoted to technology or ethics or transaction issues, or I can read and participate in the online discussion at hundreds of outstanding and thoughtful blogs.
There is so much information to be gained in the web world that can only make us better agents. As agents, we scream that we are a much-maligned class, yet we are not equally committed to improving our real credentials which come less from a bunch of fancy letters behind our names and more from our breadth of knowledge and experience. If our mentors spent a little less time promoting blogging as a form of lead generation and advertising, and a lot more time promoting blogging as a new and better form of continuing education, we might find ourselves capturing those leads. And they will have been earned.
Making it Look Easy
In the mid-’90s, the word was that everyone needed a website, and for those seeking instant gratification, it was oh-so easy. Buy one. Of course, as in all commerce, you get what you pay for. And, whether it be Web 1.0, Web 2.0 or some kind of future web involving scientific notation, the cost is not measured in dollars but in effort. Consumers will agree that while now virtually every agent has a website (well, almost), the canned, inferior ones can be spotted before the page loads. The agents who cared enough to learn to do it well and better, to invest the time to provide unique and meaningful content, were the ones that benefited.
Blogging is no different. To suggest that a couple of hours a month and an occasional “scribing” constitutes a blogging effort is pure lunchmeat. Each hour I spend reading or writing or conversing online results in my having a better understanding, a new point of view, or a new tool to make my services more effective and more valuable to my clients, and two hours a day, much less two hours a month, just scratches the surface. It can never be enough if betterment is your goal.
There is no magic to achieving success. Being remarkable in any endeavor is hard work. A canned blog with an occasional post may make you feel progressive, but it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and eventually the audience will figure out the trick. If you ever do attract eyes, they won’t stay long. Where’s the beef? Content has to be fresh, consistent and interesting. It takes discipline, devotion, an enormous amount of time, a love for the business and a passion for writing. If you don’t possess these qualities, you will have a difficult time at best creating a lasting online presence. You can buy your way out, pay for someone to create your blog and then pay for someone to write your content, but it won’t be your personality or your voice. So, in the end, you will have neither generated the coveted leads nor will you have contributed to elevating your image or the image of your profession by demonstrating excellence.
The Social Network
In the good old days, a large part of the agent’s value was his network, and this network was entirely of the terra firma variety; office meetings, broker pitch sessions and flesh-to-flesh encounters were how the relationships were built. An agent’s network still has value today, make no mistake, and these traditional ways of establishing professional relationships still apply, but our networking capability is virtually unlimited as we move online.
The MLS is no longer functionally proprietary, so we network for different reasons. No longer is it necessary for us to deal our listings from our secret deck to other agents in order to match our respective buyer and seller clients, and this is a good thing. It is forcing us to reconsider where our true value is, and actually has always been – in our intellectual property.
If you see blogging as purely a lead generation tool, then you will argue that a blog which attracts a large number of industry eyes and involves primarily discussion among agents is a self-absorbed waste of time. On the contrary, this is modern day networking at its finest. We share our unique philosophies, systems, business approaches, and our experiences. My knowledge base has become infinitely broader as a result of this shop talk, and consumers following the conversation not only learn along with me but gain insight into my qualifications and commitment to my work. They are not leads; they are potential employers, and this is my resume.
The idea of blogging is pop culture. The contemporary agent must sign up quickly, we are told, to stay competitive. Many of the very people telling us that we must do it, however, have no real concept of what “it” is. Many certainly haven’t thought through the real opportunity blogging provides; namely, the opportunity to refocus our efforts toward improving our skills and value to our clients and at the same time effectively demonstrating and communicating our credentials. These are things in which we have generally failed in the past.
I choose not to think of my site visitors as leads, but as people who might consider employing me some day. I must interview for the job and earn their confidence. My blog is my written exam, and it just happens to be open book. And I will continue to study.