A mashup of real estate takeaways

Letters From the Home Front

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Oh, what to write? Having spent the better part of last week tossing my few remaining brain cells carelessly about the halls of the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, I feel like a horse that has run her race.

I mentioned to some of the heartier souls remaining on the final day, as we were discussing our big takeaways, that this was a repeat of past events for me, except on steroids. Here is how it goes:

Each semester, I swagger off the plane feeling a little too smug. Technology? I’ve got me some of that. Social networking? I’m down. Laughing defiantly in the face of my age (let’s call it 30-ish), I waltz in feeling a little more hip and relevant than the rings on my tree would suggest.

Then, reality quickly takes hold. The result is that I get back on that plane feeling less like "awe-inspiring cyber-girl" and a lot more like Fred Flintstone.

Back in Bedrock now, I haven’t had sufficient time to amass fresh, amusing anecdotes about the wacky life of a working girl. Otherwise, you would have been the first to hear. Blame those takeaways.

I’ve got pockets full of little slips of paper, an impressive arsenal of "notes to self," things I must accomplish Godspeed upon my return lest I get trampled by the oncoming thundering herd of much smarter and progressive agents. Only, I can’t make sense out of most of them.

Just for fun, I’ll try. After all, I must have thought these random scrawlings contained the secrets to catapulting my business to the realm of intergalactic dominance at the time. Plus, it’s nice to share.

"Be interested rather than interesting." These words were uttered by Dustin Luther in his Blogger’s Connect presentation on optimizing your social media plan. Harnessing the power of social media, in fact, was an ongoing mantra at the conference.

I have been more than a little schizophrenic on this topic, both publically in my opinion of the return on investment and privately in my deployment of the tools. I’m now, at least for the moment, a convert.

Craig Donato, Oodle chief executive officer and co-founder, gave me the inspirational sound bite: "Social discovery is replacing search." The idea is that the consumer is looking to their social network rather than their search bar for wisdom, advice and direction.

They trust their friends far more than your Google placement or my static testimonial pages, and we need to continue moving away from the mindset of talking to them. The key is to get them talking about us.

How to successfully accomplish this is the $64 question. I can’t spend all day everyday being everywhere. Sometimes our silly clients want to buy and sell homes, which can really cut into the old free time.

But, I can start by focusing on nailing one or two channels and by abandoning my shock-and-awe method of engagement — one in which I show up only occasionally trying to be interesting instead of nurturing relationships because I am truly interested.

"We live in a mashup world." That was me talking to myself. A big theme of this year’s conference was the integration of video into our marketing and our message. Consumers are looking for a complete experience.

To date, I have spent most of my efforts in this area averting my eyes. It’s not that I don’t get the importance of the medium. Rather, it scares the socks off of me. Do I set up a tripod and start spewing wisdom? I learned long ago that not only is Steven Spielberg’s job safe, but I’m better in small crowds. …CONTINUED

The camera represents a really big crowd, and the minute the bright light comes on, I risk sounding like an over-caffeinated Elmer Fudd after having just scarfed a peanut butter sandwich. It’s not enough to use video; I need to use it in a way that actually won’t drive people away.

No, I need professional intervention for the "look at me" video, and that costs money — a lot of it. But video doesn’t have to be of the "agent as talking head" variety. So, I think I’ll take baby steps: Webinars and screenshot "how to" productions are just two ways, I was reminded, that can deliver the visual experience without breaking the budget or my spirit (not to mention my fragile little ego).

In any event, continuing to turn my back on video integration is like being back at the cave trying to make fire with only one stick.

"Get a virtual assistant, stupid!" That was me again. The best takeaways are always collected in the halls, and this time was no exception. I am not just a managing broker, I am a working broker.

I don’t have a team of 20 to which I can delegate the more mundane tasks, freeing up more of my time to tweet or collect Facebook fans — or blog about my dog (and sometimes real estate).

But I do need to get a few of the many monkeys off my back, and the concept of a virtual assistant was one that I heard repeated. It intrigued me. I’m stapling that note to my forehead.

"People may not remember what you did or what you said, but how you made them feel." Zappos heavyweight Alfred Lin reminded us in the keynote speech about the importance of first establishing the right culture.

As I sparred with Rob Hahn in a "Big vs. small broker" debate, and again while Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate President and CEO Sherry Chris presented her philosophy on the brokerage of the future, the idea of culture being the all-important cornerstone of success was reinforced.

Without the correct mindset, we will accomplish nothing new, nothing better. Seth Godin wrote recently about tactics vs. strategy: "’Building a permission asset so we can grow our influence with our best customers over time’ is a strategy.

"Using e-mail, Twitter or RSS along with newsletters, contests and a human voice are all tactics. In my experience, people get obsessed about tactical detail before they embrace a strategy … and as a result, when a tactic fails, they begin to question the strategy that they never really embraced in the first place."

I’ll draw my own loose nexus here and suggest that the challenge for real estate professionals is in refocusing not just our efforts but, first, our mindset — our strategy. When we start thinking more about for whom we are doing this (the correct answer is "A. The customer") — and when we direct more of our energy toward demanding of ourselves and those with whom we associate that we embrace this customer-centric culture — the tactics themselves will be a little less daunting.

Public perception of our profession will not — cannot — change until we change the way we see ourselves, our own roles and for what we stand. It’s a lofty undertaking for an army of our ranks, to be sure.

But, as I roamed the halls of the conference "connecting," I was reminded that there are so many among us who are bright, passionate about their work, caring about their clients, and committed to raising the bar. Maybe it was just the nature of the event, and we are a minority. Or maybe we aren’t. Either way, there are enough of us that I think we might be able to make our message viral.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.

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