Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The transparent broker
I'm giving a talk about brokers and blogging at Corcoran's Harlem office today. Comitini.com has gotten the attention of the brokerage community, savvy new media channels like Curbed, SmartMoney.com, and a growing number of loyal fans. I stumbled upon blogging software a few years ago while looking for a more dynamic way to publish content to my then static Web site. From there, I discovered the blogsphere and things have not been quite the same in a good way. Blogging for business is a big topic, and my talk today is short, so I've decided to frame it as more of a "why do" than a "how to".
on designing and writing a blog
I hope that I write a blog which covers real estate in a way that is smart, in service to people, somewhat quirky, and personal. How things work and look is equally important to me too. I'm a visual designer by training and experience it informs the way I see the world, operate my real estate practice, and my blog. It is in fact, what my site communicates by design. In my years before entering real estate, I developed a unique set of skills which have synthesized into a pretty good mix for the kind of blog that I want to produce.
My resume before real estate includes being the Cover Art Director of Newsweek magazine, where I directed the group responsible for the domestic and overseas covers of Newsweek. I learned to quickly react to news and refined my Art Direction and rapid prototyping skills there. It was a serious training ground for the work that I'm doing today.I also ran a design office called LiveArea which did branding, Web development and print design. My Web site for oxo.com won many awards, and was widely published. I have work in the design collections of the Cooper-Hewett and Denver Art Museums. Comitini.com took over a year of development to get to today's iteration. Who designed it? I did. The feature sets and presentation of comitini.com developed out of a rigorous and personal design process. It represents a convergence of my experience in publishing, graphics, technology and real estate. It is also a demonstration of my practice's in-house marketing, project management, and design capabilities, which most businesses would outsource. The point is that this is not my first time designing media.
However, the good news is that it is not necessary for you to approach it in the same way to publish a great blog. Many sites like Matrix, Urban Diggs and Barbara Corcoran Ink are iterated from standard 'themes' or templates. That's perfectly okay too. Let me emphasize this:It is ultimately the quality of your ideas and writing which will bring you readership. Focus on issues that you are passionate about, where you can cite real world experience, and speak from authority. Also remember that the audience wants to hear about their interests, not yours. Keep the subject matter narrow. I'm a person with many interests, so I look for a way to tie those interests back to real estate in my writing. If it feels interesting, personal and quirky, chances are I'll publish it. If it feels like a square peg in a round hole I'll drop the post.
the visible broker
Blogging is a way to engage people and spread ideas, in a way that is powerful, conversational and happens almost in real time. For me, it is all about transparency and visibility, which have similar meanings when used in this context. It offers the chance to have a conversation with people in a much wider way them ever before. I believe that in the future this will be the norm. To not have an online presence may invoke the question, "Why are you hiding?"
I think that if you get to know me, you'll not want to work with anyone else. Blogs are social networks. Be visible, be yourself. What happens in an online, social network, reflects what happens in the real world, but happens in a public forum. All of the social relationships are made visible. You'll potentially find brokers cooperating, disgruntled customers, satisfied clients, clueless newbies, and people who are just dying to check your facts. Artifice and spin are pretty quickly revealed as such by the audience. In part, the idea is to let people have a 360° view of who you are. What's special about you and your point of view? What's unique about your knowledge? What are you passionate about? Are you willing to talk with us about yourself? These are the formative questions for bloggers.
As my colleague Doug Heddings writes about the brokerage business at True Gotham, "we are battling the image of the used car salesman everyday". Why is that so true? The barriers to entry in real estate are so low, that standards of conduct can be equally low from some agents. Blogging is revealing about people. That may be good or bad, depending on how you operate. Visibility and honesty work for the entire industry. It is also a basic opportunity to change some of the misinformation about how real estate brokerage works. Many people don't have a complete or even accurate understanding of the real estate brokerage process and the differences in quality that are possible. Why would you trust a complete stranger with your largest asset, when you virtually know me?
the transparent conversation
The marketplace as a conversation is a pillar of The Cluetrain Manefesto, the provocative business book which questions traditional marketing tactics, and lays out why the Internet and social networks hold powerful dominion over the future of business. If markets are conversations, as Doc Searls and David Weinberger make a passionate case for, then this one about real estate can be quite powerful.
"On the Internet, markets are getting more connected and more powerfully vocal every day. These markets want to talk, just as they did for the thousands of years that passed before market became a verb with us as its object."
The primary reason to blog, in my opinion, is to initiate a conversation with people. Not to market to consumers. Hear the difference? Blogging platforms have the built in capability of a two way conversation between the blogger and the visitors; between the media and the blogger, and between bloggers. Marketing is a top down feeding of information, that is largely tuned out by people, and trusted even less. It requires thousands of impressions to even begin to get on people's radar. Yet, independent films and breakthrough products like Google (what was the last Google ad you saw), catch on by "word of mouth". The power of blogging is in the network and the 'word of mouth'. The marketplace is driven by conversations. Want to know what your customers think? Why hold a focus group when you can speak to them directly?
I'm going to close with some thoughts from marketing guru Seth Godin. "Ideas that spread win" is one of the messages in this video from the 2003 TED conference. He says it is not good enough just to have a great product. It is critical to spread the idea and to market to the people who have the "otaku", a Japanese word which describes a person obsessed with a particular subject. In the real estate media world curbed.com and nytimes.com are destinations which have otaku, it is critical for bloggers to interact with these media. The major NYC brokerage listings sites like corcoran.com, elliman.com, halstead.com and brownharrisstevens.com in many ways have the ultimate otaku for the listing and property obsessed. Godin also talks about being "remarkable", or being worthy to have a remark made about you. In the blogsphere this is basic functionality, if you have the otaku.
The conversation is happening across the entire network, not just at one site. Even if you decide that publishing a blog is not for you, you can still participate in the myriad of conversations taking place out there by posting comments on other sites. On comitini.com, the thought bubble icon allows anyone to comment on a blog entry; in doing so they can also give their name and a link back to their home page either on their own or company site. I welcome this kind of content creating participation. In fact, writing insightful comments on other sites can be a great way of getting your own noticed too.
Many thanks to Sandy Wilson the Sr. Managing Director of Corcoran's Harlem office for inviting me to share some ideas with you today!
Seth Godin: Sliced bread and other marketing delights
suggested readingWhile by no means a comprehensive list, here are a few essential resources for further investigation.
blogging in the book shop at comitini.com: I've compiled a section which you may find helpful for further reading. The big ideas are covered in the Cluetrain Manifesto, Naked Conversations and Blog Marketing. Realty Blogging is specifically targeted to real estate, and written by a couple of guys who offer blog network services to agents. You'll also find some more technical books, and a couple of classic Jakob Neilsen Web usability books, with which I have a love/hate relationship. Please note that your purchases in the book shop will help to support Corcoran Cares.
on the web: Of course, you'll find a great deal of information on-line too. A google search on the topic will provide many more sites than I can list here, but here are a few to get started with.
- The Cluetrain Manefesto: This is an archived version of the original Web site that contains the complete text of the book (which I still find easier to read on the subway)
- Wikipedia has a good post which contains links to many resources around the Web about blogging and software tools.
- Pittsburg Home Daily's Robert Melton has edited a comprehensive list of real estate blogs from around the country.
- ActiveRain is a social network of agents.
- Sellsius is another professional online community
- Blogger is Google's free online blogging platform and a great resource for all kinds if information.
- SixApart offers personal, professional and enterprise level solutions; comitini.com is built on their Moveable Type publishing platform
- Word Press is another popular Web log software
- Blogging Systems is providing a solution targeted to real estate agents. It's a mash-up of several blogging technologies.
- Google Analytics is free statistical Web-ware, that will help you to understand your site traffic
- Feedburner is an RSS syndication and tracking solution which has just been quietly bought by Google.