“We are a nation of Google and Facebook.”  That particular phrase from the President’s State of the Union Address resonates strongly with real estate professionals.  There’s a great deal of pressure in our business of late to keep up with fast changing technology and with online social networking trends.


While the Internet has made our lives simpler, it has transformed the way we do business and has impacted our buyers and sellers.  Consumers are smarter, more informed and more demanding.  To be successful today, more intellect and greater marketing savvy are required of brokers.  We’ve evolved from gatekeepers of information to trusted advisors, and we are taking strides to learn all we can about social networking and blogging. 


To help sort out the overwhelming array of technological advances, and to present a very basic primer for agents, I consulted with tech guru Steven O. Goldschmidt, Warburg Senior Vice President, and my friend. 


What are the most relevant tools for today’s broker? 


SOG:  There’s a myriad of tools proliferating faster than we can understand how to use them to maximize our business. So it’s hard to rate any one “tool” or “tools” as being most relevant.  There are real estate search engines, CRM’s (customer relationship managers), analytical tools, online news and information sources and social networking sites, not to mention the evolving technology for smart phones and tablets and the thousands of “apps” available for free or at minimal cost.


Among the social media forces, Facebook dominates with more than 550 million users and growing.  Why is social networking so important?


SOG:  I don’t think a broker can prosper in today’s real estate world without understanding the power of social media.  Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn represent a paradigm shift. Newcomers to the business, when applying for their first real estate job, used to be asked about their personal network or “sphere of influence.”  Today, you can throw away your phone book and country club membership directory.  But before you do that, “friend” them all.  If you’ve resisted getting on Facebook, or felt that it compromises your privacy, get over it!  But do more than just sign on and friend your high school classmates. There’s a lot more to social networking than posting a status update or sending a tweet. Study social media, take a class or two and learn how to use it to your benefit. Even if you don’t want to tweet, you should understand how Twitter is being used by individuals and companies to market their products.  Knowledge is power and learning about this new medium is essential for today’s broker.


Increasingly social networks are breaking down the walls between our professional and personal lives.  What would you say to those brokers who consider it intrusive to talk about business on a social site?


SOG:  I would say that before brokers dismiss the possibility of using social networking sites for business, they should study the applications to see how others are using this medium. There is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to work social media.  Agents who want to promote their businesses on Facebook, for example, should create and use the “fan page” so that their personal page isn’t littered with business posts. On the other hand, your friends should still know about your business – they are a prime source for referrals and business.


Can you provide an example of how social media benefited your business? 


SOG:  That’s easy.  One of my Facebook friends was an old client with whom I had occasional contact over the years. She noticed my postings, comments, family and travel photos, and she happened to read one of my posts – I think it was an article on some political issue I found interesting enough to share – just after she and her husband discussed selling their apartment. Needless to say, the stars were in proper alignment: her real estate plans evolved as my posting came up on her radar screen. The result? A $1.3 million listing!


Where does a novice begin?


SOG:  Most social media sites are simply constructed, and it’s easy to get started and free. Once you sign up to Facebook, start “connecting” by looking up old and current friends, past and current colleagues and clients. “Like” and comment on some of their posts.  Upload an interesting neighborhood photo, or attach a link to an article.  While learning the many features that might benefit you personally and professionally, you’ll be building a fan base.  Don’t be embarrassed to take a course, buy Facebook for Dummies, or ask a teenager to help. LinkedIn is built on the same premise as Facebook but is mostly used for businesses, jobs and HR.


How much time does an agent need to invest in this? 


SOG:  I’ll answer your question with a question: how much time do you spend canvassing for clients, customers and listings?  The answer is probably “not enough.”  Spending an hour or so on social media sites at the end of the day, a few hours on the weekend, or during some down time during the workday, is one simple way to correct this. It’s not playtime; it’s serious business.


Serious business indeed.  And to Steven’s primer, I’ll add these 5 tips: 


1.         Be an observer first to get comfortable with the medium.


2.         Be natural and find your own voice.


3.         Take a stand and have an opinion, but be respectful and don’t offend.


4.         Don’t provide TMO—too much information.


5.         Engage with and give something to your network of friends.