Thanks to all of you that have been exploring the social web with me over the past few months via this blog and on Twitter. We’ve done a lot of thinking about what Twitter is, how to use it effectively, whether there’s a decent way to measure social media ROI, and debating the merits of this medium as a credible source for information at all. It’s time to take theory to practice.
My 2010 experiment is to do a 6 month case study to really see what measurable results can be gotten from utilizing online channels. I’m taking a three-prong approach: a blog, Ning & Twitter. I haven’t had time to really explore Facebook or Linkedin or other networks, so instead of spreading my effort too thin, I’m sticking with the 3.
- A blog serves as an anchor point for you to share your knowledge or expertise and establish your personal or professional brand
- Ning is a platform for building your own niche social network. (Someone has already done the work of building a Ning site for our city, so I’m just going to continue being active there.)
- Twitter is… well, I’ve reflected on what Twitter is here and here. Twitter is whatever you want it to be. From a business perspective, it’s a communications platform for developing relationships with colleagues and potential clients, and for distributing the content from your blog.
Problem being addressed:
A few years ago, I was getting ready to buy my first house, and decided to get a real estate license so I’d know what they know. What I found was an industry operating in an outdated model with virtually no means for public accountability, making it a breeding ground for greedy, dishonest shysters. (subprime mortgage crisis, anyone?) Fast forward a few years, and the real estate industry is still ripe for an overhaul.
My first attempt at real estate mostly ended in frustration and helplessness. Now, I’m more comfortable with blogging, connecting with people, and doing basic design work with Adobe tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc). I’ve also been intensely studying and researching social technology, and am convinced it offers an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate change.
Here’s the plan, a la John Fergurson’s ‘Marketing Strategy vs. Tactics‘ post on Brand Insight blog.
Goal: Ultimately, to disrupt the industry.
Strategy: To build a better model, built on accountability, trust, transparency, and equity.
Tactics: Change doesn’t happen overnight. As Clay Shirky put it in his book Here Comes Everybody: ‘Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.’ I think the tools are in place for building new models, but we need to collectively agree to do so.
- Step 1: Build the brand.
This is going to start with a blog. I spent a few hours thinking about domain names. At first I tried for something really obvious and location specific (www.beaconrealestate.com, http://www.beaconhomes.com) but those were all taken. Then I decided those are boring and unoriginal anyway, and was better off with a name a bit more scalable. I kept in mind that a logo would help establish the brand and make it memorable, so tried to think of names that also lent themselves well to logo development. I thought about names for animal homes, because animals are cute and fun to draw, so would work for a logo. After going through about 30 potential names that were all taken, I came up with www.roostchooser.com. I bought the domain and registered the Twitter handle @roostchooser. Then I sketched a few different ideas, and came up with this:
OK, I’m no professional graphic designer, but I asked my 4 year old niece what she saw and she said “An owl and a house.” Done. Owls are both cute and wise, so I liked the inference –> if you utilize the blog, you are too! 😉
- Step 2: Provide valuable and timely information.
I’m spending the next few days writing a few “pillar posts” – articles that are instructional, informative, and timeless. These are essential for positioning the blog as a resource, and laying a foundation for building trust and displaying transparency. I want the blog to be a combination of these types of posts:
- pillar posts
- local & industry news – market trends, average selling prices in the area, major commercial developments in the area that might affect home prices, etc
- home tips – practical money-saving tips for homeowners (switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, insulating the attic floor), where to find bargains on home renovation materials, available state tax credits, & any information that will make a home more efficient or beautiful
- Step 3: Be Human.
This pointer is ridiculed by some as “social media fluff,” but apparently it’s not an obvious component in a business model. Under the human umbrella you’ll find phrases like “engaging your audience,” “building relationships,” and “listening instead of broadcasting.” I’m a real person, and I’m doing this because of an idea: the current system is unfair. I’d like to help people by providing information that is usually hidden behind the curtain. In exchange, I’d hope people would choose to work with our team, and eventually to choose to participate in a new system altogether. The ‘human side’ will manifest from the tone of the posts, the discussions that form within the comments section of blog posts, the exchanges on Twitter, and one-on-one contact via email.
- Step 4: Expose liars, cheats, and frauds.
There are genuinely wonderful people in the industry who actually try to help others. Unfortunately, there are just as many scoundrels who ruin it for everyone else, and have gotten away with it for years because there hasn’t been a way to hold them accountable. This isn’t realtor specific – it’s an industry disease – real estate agents, attorneys, appraisers, mortgage brokers, inspectors, and anyone else who might be able to take a bite out of the commission pie are afflicted. If a forum was available for people to vent their frustrations and share their stories, perhaps industry business ethics would be a bit different.
And that’s it.
The idea is to highlight the problem and spark a conversation of how to change it. If a critical mass of people agree to sidestep the system, we can begin to construct something new. There are already companies emerging who offer alternate models, like Redfin. The “ideal” situation might be a fully automated system between buyer and seller where each walks away feeling good, and neither has their pocketbook gouged. In the meantime, knowledgeable agents guiding people through the process are necessary, and deserve to be paid for their services. At the same time, if industry standards and transparency were raised, many unethical players would be bumped out of the game, leaving honest people with integrity to reinvent the system so everyone wins.
Our Western culture is in transition, are we’re just on the front end of realizing that business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Perhaps my idea of transforming an industry is a lofty goal, but accomplishing it is more feasible than ever. We now have the social technology tools to communicate and connect outside of the established system; the next step is facilitating a new social agreement in how we choose to do business.
There are still limitations, foremost being digital media literacy – the ability to effectively navigate online spaces, filter information, and tap into the power of social networks. Those without internet access are at a disadvantage. Those fully immersed are still in the process of figuring it out.
So, the social web is still the Wild West. It’s polluted with marketing and spam, and clear examples of how it could be used to truly benefit humanity are murky at best. But I’m not discouraged. If we aim high and fall short, we’ll still be further along than if we accept the current norm. Let’s make 2010 the year of The Shakeup.