Social networking around geography

Last week I was asked to speak on “Public Engagement Through Web2.0” at the annual conference of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA).

It started with a request from Eric Fredericks, the guy behind the Walkable Neighborhoods blog, who I’ve known (and liked!) for quite a while now. I’ll happily admit I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of the crowd of planners, but I was someone excited since I spent seven years employed as a transportation planner and only asked to speak AFTER I left the industry! LOL!

The theme of the talk that I gave was on trying to understand how social networks can be built up around the concept of geography because I see it being a unique item that links both city/transportation planners and the real estate community. While most social networks are organized around friends (think myspace) or a shared experience (think facebook), the idea behind the communities that are most relevant to planners and real estate agents are rooted in geography…

What surprised me the most was that the questions I was asked during the Q&A were almost exactly the same as I get asked during the seminars I give for agents. Questions like How do you moderate comments?, How do you attract an audience? and How much time does it take?

However, there was one question I’ve never heard from a real estate audience, but I think it is an interesting because it forced me to think a bit differently about access to the real estate website. Essentially, a planner from a local government agency asked: If we set up a blog to communicate to our constituents, how do we reach the 30% or so that do not have access to the internet? I didn’t have a good answer for her (and I still don’t), so I’m glad that I kept quiet and let Eric give an answer. Nonetheless, the idea of being concerned with “full access” is not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about since my initial angle with this site was much more geared toward hitting the tech-savvy few!

I ended the talk with the concept that we’re not far from a day when our online social networks could have a very useful geographic element to them that could be of use to both real estate professionals and city planners. And while I can’t claim to know what that social network will look like, I look to Google Earth effort to bring avatars akin to Second Life and companies who are bringing in real-world experiences in Second Life for clues… Maybe we’ll hit the sweat spot of “web3.0” when Google replaces our mobile network with gPhones… 🙂

How to Market Yourself on LinkedIn

This is a follow up to my recent endevor to immerse myself in some of the more popular social networks on the web. Now that I think we’ve exhausted the MyBlogLog discussion, I thought I’d turn to LinkedIn and some of the ways that agents can use this platform to market themselves and potential earn new clients.

How LinkedIn works

LinkedIn is a relatively “closed” social network in that you don’t really get much power out of the system unless you are actively involved. While it is possible to see a someone’s online resumes without being logged in (here’s mine), the service only becomes really useful when you can see their connections and references.

How LinkedIn Really works
For LinkedIn purists, you need to only like to people you know and trust. That way, when other contacts are looking to use the services or hire someone from your contact list, they know they can have a higher level of trust in that person. This sounds good in theory, but LinkedIn doesn’t work that way anymore. Too many people have muddied the true “trust” waters, so the “rules” have changed.

For many people using LinkedIn today, the “game” is to link up with as many people as possible. For someone trying to reach an audience of potential people to hire and/or give them work (i.e. real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lawyers, etc.), you want as many connections as you can get because each connection gets you that much closer to someone who may be looking for your services in the future.

Why should you be on LinkedIn?

Here are four good reasons:

  • Real estate professionals are still pretty novel on the site, so there is plenty of room to stick out.
  • It is really easy to stand out… Simply upload your address book and ask previous clients for recommendations.
  • The site is primarily made up of well-to-do, tech savvy people. In my office at Move, I would estimate something like 75 to 80% of the people have an active LinkedIn profile, including almost our entire executive staff.
  • It meets the “what’s the worst that could happen test?

Seven steps to make LinkedIn work for you
Step 1: Sign up for an account
Step 2: Fill in your profile
Step 3: Upload your address book and connect with everyone who is already a member of linked in (If I’m not in your address book, add my email:
note: They make it extremely easy to upload your online address book (like one through Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and/or Hotmail) by simply giving your username and password, although my advice is to always use extreme caution with giving up your password!
Step 4: Selectively invite people from your address book… My experience has been that unless I send a personal invitation to someone with a really good reason why they should join, I get a REALLY low response rate. Nonetheless, if you have some previous clients who are particularly tech-savvy (and would give you a good recommendation) then they would make a good invite candidate.
Step 5: Start recommending anyone and everyone you can. If you give a good enough review of someone, they are quite likely to return the favor! That’s a lot easier than begging for recommendations and definitely makes a good place to start
Step 6: Start begging for recommendations from all your previous clients who are on the network (and presumably have a good opinion of you!)
The cool part about these last couple of steps is that once you get even one recommendation, you’ll start showing up in their list of recommended service professionals.

Step 7: After a few weeks, I recommend returning to the site and re-uploading your address book. It’s easy and you might be surprised how many of your new contacts are already on the site!

Obviously, the more recommendations and the more connections the better.

To give you an idea of how this might work for you, my wife and I were recently interested in finding a financial adviser in our area. The first thing I did was clicked on the financial adviser link and then sorted by people who were only one degree of separation from me. One guy out of that list looked real promising and will probably get a call from us soon. Next, we went one more degree of separation and found a few more (some with a ton of recommendations). We’ll definitely give at least one or two of those people a call when were ready to start the process of actively finding a financial adviser. The parallels for reaching someone who is searching for a tech savvy real estate agent should be obvious!

There is lots more information about how to use LinkedIn all over the web, but I figured this primer was probably pretty good for the typical real estate agent… Nonetheless, if you want more, check out Guy Kawasaki’s 10 12 Ways to Use LinkedIn.

Social Networking at its finest

I wanted to try something a bit different. As we are all inundated with the new hot topic ‘Social Networking’ I thought I would show those of you who haven’t yet seen Fanpop, a great new network of “social portals”.

Fanpop calls these ‘spots’ and they are all created by their users. I love this idea because you get fanatic fans to rate their favorite videos, articles, sites, blogs, topics, etc.

Naturally, the current problem with the social sites is content. CONTENT IS KING and content takes time. In time, I assume if fanpop catches on, you will be able to search on ‘Seattle Mortgage’ and find happy customers who have recommended their favorite mortgage broker.

Take a look, it is pretty cool

Just because users can post doesn’t mean they will

In spite of all the hype for social websites, there have been a rash of noble attempts that come up short recently. No one has quite figured out the right way to start an open dialog about individual homes yet.

ShackYack, “the only real estate site where you can comment and rate the product, just like amazon, netflix, ebay etc.,” launched in late May. Apparently they have found that houses aren’t mass produced and sold by the millions like iPods and people really don’t have much to post about them. That said, part of the reluctance to comment on properties is probably the buggy interface and their newness on the market.

However! Propsmart’s interface isn’t buggy. In fact, it’s one of the best out there and they encourage comments too. But a random sampling of homes on the site shows no comments.

Why would you want to publicly comment on a house unless you’re the owner or an agent looking for leads? The house, along with your comments, is going to be off the market in a few weeks and, unless you’re an agent, you’re going to be out of the market in a short period of time too. And if you’re an agent, blogging seems like a more public and permanent way to go.

That said, Propsmart’s blogging service appears to be stillborn, with the last post being posted over 2 months ago. Even blogging systems aren’t always a hit.

I feel like I’m picking on PropSmart here, but I’m really not. Whenever you introduce new services, some will be hits and some won’t. Their search site and their interface in particular are great and they are definitely the most straight-talking real estate search company out there (possibly the only one?).

Real Estate Technology Events on Google Calendar

With Google’s recently released calendar feature, they’ve made social networking of events much easier. With this in mind I’ve pre-populated a public calendar with real estate technology events that can be shared (and managed) by a group.

So far, the events that I’ve added to the calendar include:

I’d REALLY like to get some other people interested in real estate technology involved and then we can all work together to keep updated on events no matter what part of the country they occur.

At this point, I’ve tested it out with Galen Ward and he was able to manage the calendar with me (i.e. add, edit and invite people to events). If you’re interested in helping us out with this calendar, just let me know and I’d be happy to add you as a manager as well. (You will need an invite-only gmail account, so let me know if you don’t have one and I can get you one!)

For everyone else, here is an RSS feed of the calendar which can be added to your feed reader so that you can be updated each time a new event is added.

If you want to learn more about Google Calendar, Stopdesign gives a bunch of very useful tips and tricks to get the most out of the tool.