SAN FRANCISCO — Finding a niche can be a helpful differentiator for industry professionals who are deciding how and where to start in joining any of the many social networks on the Web, said panelists during a Friday session at the Real Estate Connect conference.

"You have to know what the user wants … capitalists look at consumers as if they are born to buy. The human part of you can create a relationship with your clients," said Marc Canter, CEO for Broadband Mechanics, a company that offers PeopleAggregator, a white label social networking platform.

"It is better to have a niche group of people of 50,000 rather than 5 million."

Reaching out to millions isn’t a complex thing to do, especially with huge networking platforms such as Facebook and MySpace connecting people across the globe, though panelists said they aren’t convinced that this is the best way to pursue clients. Instead, they say that connecting with prospective clients on a more personal, local level is most effective.

"Consumers want to know who they’re doing business with. Information is published and matched. It’s like matchmaking and at the end of the day … people select who they want to do business with. The more you put in, the more you get back," said Perry Evans, CEO and founder of Local Matters, a Web site that enables customers to find local content.

"The concept of neighborhood guides can be started by Realtors and everyone can add to it. Hyper-local guides feed on information. You can weave in a Realtor’s value and let members of community participate," he said.

Evans described Web content as a pyramid, with authors and editors being on the top; subscribers, voters or participants in the middle; and onlookers as the majority who rarely return.

Kris Berg, broker associate for Prudential California Realty and an Inman News columnist, said that even though her blog has been a successful method of generating customers, she considers herself a "train wreck in social networking."

"I am just an average agent clinging to Velcro to try to stay in the game. It seems that in order to sell (homes) you must be everywhere, and you have to be known, or you would be pushing a cart down Market Street," Berg said.

Even though blogging is one of her fortes, Berg admits that she doesn’t know how much business she actually acquires from it, though it may add to her credibility.

"(Blogging) brings out your personality online and is your online resume that makes business connections. If you’re not making connections, then you’re just having a ‘bunko’ online experience," she said.

Ryan Slack, CEO of, a networking site for real estate professionals, and a former CEO of real estate data company, said the Web is a good way of creating referrals online, but he opposes the idea of blogging as a marketing technique.

"It is essential that people meet in person for big-ticket items. I feel that blogging is overrated," he said, as you can "spend all your time worrying about your online persona," Slack said.

Canter said that openness is increasingly an industry standard, and he predicts that the multiple listing service data will become more open with the growth of the social Web.


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