I recently read a great post by Ian Lurie of Conversation Marketing titled "9 Twitter Myths That Make Me Unfollow." It’s funny and it’s insightful. I recommend reading it all.

That post, in turn, got me thinking about some of the myths about social media I’ve heard bandied about in the real estate space, which has gone absolutely nuts about social media. Now, these three myths are more or less arbitrary, and entirely my personal opinion, which means I welcome spirited debate and even some light name-calling in response.

Myth No. 1: Social media is free.

Most of the tools used in social media are free. The dominant blogging platform is WordPress, which is free in both the hosted WordPress.com form and in the self-hosted WordPress.org form. Twitter is free. Facebook, LinkedIn, Blip, Ping.fm, Posterous … all these tools are free. Ergo, social media is free.

Except it’s not, unless the value of your time is zero, in which case I’d like to hire you for a variety of interesting projects like mowing my lawn and painting my house, and I’ll pay twice the value of your time in full.

The trouble with social media, in a way, is that it is so personal. You pretty much have to spend time doing it — whatever it is — yourself. Even an unemployed bum can spend his time in a variety of ways. Just dozing in front of the TV has its own rewards, after all, and the value of the unemployed couch potato’s time is exactly the amount of money it would require to get him off that couch and do something he doesn’t want to do. If you can spend your time in revenue-generating activities, then you can probably compute the value of your time yourself. That’s the cost of social media: your time. And time is money.

From this standpoint, social media is often the most expensive form of marketing you can do. Depending on what you want to accomplish, it may very well be that going the "traditional" route might be far, far more cost-effective. Want to announce a new listing to a whole bunch of potential buyers?

Maybe social media is the way to go, and maybe not. If every potential buyer in the world read your blog or followed you on Twitter, maybe social media is the cheapest: Take five minutes of your time, post it up, and off you go. But assuming for the moment that not every buyer is following you, the plain old postcard drop for a few hundred bucks might be more cost-effective.

Myth No. 2: Social Media will pay off quickly.

Some newcomers to social media sometimes bring up the complaint that they tried social media and it didn’t do squat for their business: "I’ve had my blog for four months now, and I haven’t seen a single lead from it!"

If I were to pick the theme song for social media marketing — and it couldn’t be Brad Paisley’s "Online" — I would pick "You Can’t Hurry Love" by Diana Ross and "The Supremes":

"You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said love don’t come easy
It’s a game of give and take

"How long must I wait?
How much more can I take
Before loneliness will cause my heart
Heart to break?"

Truer words have not been spoken when it comes to social media. When you hear about agents and brokers who have thousands of followers, thousands of Facebook friends, who are leveraging social media for amazing feats of real estate strength, and then you look at all the free tools to get started, you may be tempted to believe that social media will have an immediate impact on your business. …CONTINUED

Nothing could be further from the truth, except perhaps the idea that the Mets are going to make the playoffs. It will take years, not months, for social media to "pay off." The Realtors you hear about have been at this for years. The companies that you read about in the media nowadays have been at it for years, having made a lot of mistakes in the early days, and having learned from them.

Have patience. You can’t hurry love, and social media at its core is about love — about authentic engagement between human beings. It don’t come easy and it’s a game of give and take.

Myth No. 3: If you use social media, you’re a good Realtor.

At many an RE BarCamp, or in conversations or in e-mails, I’ll hear a sentiment like this: "So-and-so is a great real estate agent, because she really ‘gets it.’ She’s on Twitter and Facebook and has a great blog."

Social media is just tools plus time. There is no ethical component to social media per se. Nor is there some magical transformation that happens when a mediocre professional sets up a Facebook Fan page.

Setting up a Twitter account doesn’t make you into a local expert, any more than putting up a blog post magically gives you the ability to negotiate more effectively.

The basic skills of representing a buyer or seller, the skills of pricing a house, of negotiation, of project management, of lead generation, of lead management, of psychological counseling, of paperwork, of knowledge of laws and regulations — and any of the other dozens of things that experienced Realtors have told me are at the core of the profession — are all completely unrelated to social media.

If you’re a great Realtor, and you get on Twitter, then you’ll be a great Realtor on Twitter. If you suck at the game, and you get on Twitter, then you’ll be a crappy agent on Twitter. There’s nothing magical about social media. It is not a silver bullet, nor is it a magic potion. It’s just a set of tools plus time.

People have been sold a bill of goods about social media, as evidenced by one of Ian Lurie’s myths about Twitter: "If you set up a Twitter account, it means your brand/company/organization is cool. Yeaaaaah, sorry. If you set up a Twitter account and send me cool information, or help fix my problem with your product, then you’re cool."

Using social media doesn’t make you a good Realtor; being a good Realtor makes you a good Realtor.

I still ‘heart’ social media

Don’t get me wrong: I still think social media is an incredibly powerful, game-changing tool. It has the potential to be transformative. And yes, I do think Realtors and brokers should be looking very carefully at social media and implementing as much of it as they can.

They should do it, however, with their eyes wide open to the possibilities and the pitfalls, the benefits and the costs. So go to it. Just know that it will take patience, it will take time (which is money), and it will not solve any deficiencies in your core business practices.

Robert Hahn is managing partner of 7DS Associates, a marketing, technology and strategy consultancy focusing on the real estate industry. He is also founder of The Notorious R.O.B. blog.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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