Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

Editor’s note: The rise of social media has come to define the new Internet, or Web 2.0, and many in the real estate industry are embracing it with open arms. The age of Internet participation and instant and widespread communication is here. In this three-part report, Inman News dives into the social media craze and uncovers what’s working, what’s not working and what’s just plain fun. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

Multiple listing services might be counted among the earliest forms of online social networks. MLSs have provided a platform for real estate professionals to communicate property details, notes about showing homes, and compensation for agents who bring a buyer into the transaction.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that real estate professionals are among the early adopters of more modern forms of social networking tools.

It is no easy task to keep up with these new tools, though — the convergence of technologies has given rise to an increasingly diverse pool of social networking sites that mix and match mapping, blogging, video and mobile technologies. The fast-evolving entrepreneurial environment that is Web 2.0 can lead some of these Web sites and tools to jump from oblivion to immense popularity, while others dim to virtual obscurity in viral fashion — such is the fickle nature of the online audience.

Julie Jalone, a Realtor for Lyon Real Estate in Roseville, Calif., is experimenting with Twitter, a tool that allows people to send quick, short text messages to update the world on what they are up to at any given point in time, from a phone or from a computer. Of course, someone has already developed a Google Maps-based Twitter mashup, at Twittermaps.com, that maps the location of folks who sent recent messages to the Twitter site.

“Twitter is the newest thing we’re giving a whirl to,” said Michael Jalone, Jalone’s husband and marketing manager. ‘Anything we can do to create some interest in the site — anything we can do that makes working together and working with our team more efficient.” Jalone said he added a Twitter-related “widget,” or mini application, to Julie’s blog site. He has also tinkered with the MyBlogLog tool that is a networking tool for bloggers.

Experimenting with new technologies can be fun but it can also be time-consuming, he said. “I don’t know how a standalone agent in today’s environment can do everything and have a life. Some days I can spend three or four hours on our Web site doing updates. One thing leads to the next and you’ve got 18 windows open and four things that look kind of fun and interesting that you’d like to experiment with.”

There seems to be a trend in innovations for mobile devices, he noted, adding that “anything that will help us communicate” could be a boost to the business. High-tech communications can be a double-edge sword though, he said, as some agents seem to work mostly by e-mail and fax and it can be difficult to reach them by phone.

Niki Scevak, creator of RealEstateVoices.com, a real estate news and information site that allows its users to vote on real estate content, said that online real estate communities are still in their early stages, and he expects more interaction between real estate professionals and consumers as online communication progresses.

The Web site is used mostly by bloggers who are connecting with other bloggers, and a lot of the postings that are submitted and voted upon by the site’s users relate to the development of effective blogs, he said. “We’re in year zero of real estate blogging. Where we are now is talking about the actual medium. It naturally progresses from there as people find their voice.”

He added, “It is certainly characterized by industry (professionals) talking to others within the industry, rather than talking to homeowners.” Scevak said he expects the content posted at the site to become more consumer-focused.

The site is intended, he said, to give real estate bloggers “a free forum to promote their work and to help people interested in real estate news to discover more interesting sources than they might have known about.” In addition to blog content, site users can also submit news stories and industry announcements for other users to read. “The overall aim is to help undiscovered voices achieve an audience very quickly.”

Point2 Technologies, a company that offers online marketing tools for real estate professionals, last month announced the launch of RELiberation.com, a networking site for real estate professionals to share insight and information.

And Brendan King, chief operating officer of Point2 Technologies, said that aspects of the company’s online property marketing service, the Point2 National Listing Service, also feature social networking components as they allow agents to share information and build their own marketing networks with other agents.

A complex algorithm, the Point2 Performance Index, allows real estate professionals who register with the company to build up points based on a range of factors, such as the number of blog posts with numerous comments from other agents, the number of photos associated with property listings, and the response time to consumer inquiries, among others.

“Realtors are really social creatures and they love it,” King said. Social networking can be good for business. The interactions through the Point2 users’ blogs and peer-to-peer listings networks can lead to new referral business, King noted, and Point2 reported total membership at about 117,200 as of March 16, with more than 200 new members added on that day.

Another example of a real estate-focused social networking site is RealTown.com, a new Internet portal launched by Internet Crusade. RealTown features real estate-related content created by a thousands-strong community of real estate professionals.

The new site includes a consumer-facing collection of information from Internet discussion groups, industry articles and blogs. The goal, according to founders, is to empower consumers and real estate professionals alike with a centralized source of relevant real estate information

The site also features links to hundreds of multiple listing service-operated property-search Web sites, a database of properties maintained by real estate technology company Point2, and an agent-search tool.

Creating a social networking site is a minor challenge these days, as waves of new sites and tools are flooding the Web. A bigger challenge is attracting — and maintaining — a critical mass of users. Without sufficient users, the sites are irrelevant.

Ryan Hilario, a Century 21 real estate agent in Princeton, N.J., hopes to attract users to RealEstateNetworkers.com, a just-launched site that is a sort of MySpace for professionals working in real estate-related industries. The site is intended for a broad audience of professionals, including mortgage, title, escrow, sales agents and brokers.

Hilario said he designed the site to be easy to use, like MySpace. “It is professional, yet I made the design fun.” Hilario is rolling out mapping tools for the site, and users can search for other members by ZIP code, city, state, profession and company. The site also features forums and allows users to create their own discussion groups.

“There are so many sites out there. I just really think that … no one’s really dominating it right now,” he said. The site is similar in focus and design to WannaNetwork.com, a MySpace-like social networking site for professionals working in real estate and related industries.

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