NAR addresses ‘Big Brother’ fears as it gears up to centralize and crunch member data

Data-mining initiative aimed at improving promotion and delivery of services

The National Association of Realtors is not watching you.

That’s the message NAR’s chief technology officer, Mark Lesswing, wants to drive home to Realtors about the trade group’s new predictive analytics program.

The assurance, which he broadcast in a presentation at NAR’s recent midyear conference, underscores NAR’s desire to avoid unnerving Realtors as it begins to mine its trove of member data for insights that could help the trade group better promote and deliver services and initiatives.

NAR launched the effort last year, hiring industry veteran Todd Carpenter to head up a new predictive analytics group. The group’s work will be groundbreaking for a trade organization, Lesswing said. And it may soon underpin NAR’s marketing and advocacy campaigns, with its first round of analytics slated to launch later this year.

“We hope to share our knowledge with other trade associations,” Lesswing said. “It’s a little bit of a science project.”

Lesswing draws a line between snooping on Realtors through a virtual telescope and tailoring messages to different members based on their attributes and interactions with NAR and its affiliates. The trade group is not engaged in the first activity, he said.

“This is not Big Brother,” Lesswing said.

I pretty much have the data right now. It’s just not all in the same spot."

Members should also take comfort from the fact that, for now at least, NAR is not seeking to scoop up new data on members. It’s only exploiting data that it’s already collected — which is a lot.

Currently, NAR’s Master Member Profile System (MMPS) tracks members’ donations to the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), whether they respond to the trade group’s calls to action, and if they are registered to vote or running for political office.

But across its network of departments and affiliates, NAR collects quite a bit of other information about its members, including:

  • What NAR events they attend.
  • The education they pay for.
  • Their use of Realtors Property Resource (RPR).
  • The newsletters they open.
  • Calls they make to NAR’s 800 number.
  • Their logins and activity on NAR’s website,
  • Whether they use the member center app.
  • The NAR departments they contact.
  • Whether they volunteer for leadership (work groups, committees and leadership offices at the local, state and national level).
  • Whether they follow NAR on social media platforms.

In addition, NAR also has data on demographic characteristics, like ethnicity, age and marital status and members’ voting records.

The trade group buys that data from Experian, Lesswing said, and uses it for things like describing the composition of its membership to potential advertisers for its magazine, and determining what members are likely to vote at the state and federal level.

Currently, all of this data is sprinkled across NAR’s network, not stored in a central location. So a lot of it is going to waste, Lesswing said.

Say a member contacts NAR’s call center and then reaches out the next day to its Washington, D.C., office.

“That does not get attached to your member record,” Lesswing said. So NAR’s Washington, D.C., office has “no idea that you just called the call center yesterday.”

The goal of NAR’s analytics group will be to create “a central way to access all those touch points” and blend all of its member data into “holistic” MMPS profiles, Lesswing said.

Aggregating all of the data will take about two years, but the analytics group will launch its first round of analytics this fall. According to Lesswing, the round will be based on “whatever I can get organized on the data at that point” and will help guide a political advocacy effort.

“It’s not about peering into people’s private lives,” he said. “I pretty much have the data right now. It’s just not all in the same spot.”

Once it is in the same spot, then the fun begins.