I am not writing a review of the 2009 BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas.

First, such a task would require several books containing details that likely may lead to lawsuits in several jurisdictions.

Second, others have already done an excellent job: I’d recommend Morgan Brown’s excellent (and brief) recap of BlogWorld as a starter, and David Thomas’s recap of Chris Brogan’s closing keynote hits pretty much all of the themes from this year’s BlogWorld event.

I am not writing a review of the 2009 BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas.

First, such a task would require several books containing details that likely may lead to lawsuits in several jurisdictions.

Second, others have already done an excellent job: I’d recommend Morgan Brown’s excellent (and brief) recap of BlogWorld as a starter, and David Thomas’s recap of Chris Brogan’s closing keynote hits pretty much all of the themes from this year’s BlogWorld event.

I prefer to discuss Eric Stegemann’s comment from Sin City that the real estate industry is among the leaders on this whole social media thingamajig: "Real estate is way out ahead on social media than other industries … seriously."

There’s a lot of truth to Stegemann’s Twitter post. Sometimes, it takes going over to the neighbor’s house to see that the grass ain’t greener over here.

We have much to learn from thinkers and innovators from outside of real estate, but when it comes to how to adopt the new toolsets of social media to the business of making money, I submit that the outside world ought to swing by the RE.net for a lesson or two.

To take just one example, it seemed to me that a major topic of conversation at BlogWorld was how to generate a return on your investment in social media. Meanwhile, within REBlogWorld (the real estate-focused partner track, of which I played a small part in), I participated in a panel discussion on what the return on investment (ROI) is, how to measure it, and what to track.

We take it for granted that blogging and social media generates ROI, and that both are valuable business activities, at least when done properly, because "realestistas" (real estate practitioners) have been doing it for years now.

The real estate industry’s conversations are at the next level, while the major corporations are still trying to figure out what we already know.

Hearing people like Jeff Turner and Todd Carpenter on the same panel with widely recognized thinkers like David Armano and Ian Lurie makes one realize that while Armano and Lurie may have greater recognition in the wider world, Turner and Carpenter are perhaps far older hands at the game itself. Certainly, they know of which they speak — in spades.

The reason for our advantage

Now that we have strained our elbows patting ourselves on the back, let us take a moment to consider just why it is that real estate is ahead of the curve. It isn’t because we’re such geniuses. It isn’t even because we have natural strengths (though I think we do, as discussed below). …CONTINUED

Mostly, I think real estate is ahead of the curve because we lacked many of the advantages that the other industries have had all along.

Most of today’s major industries — consumer goods, automobiles, travel, etc. — grew up during the "Second Wave": the era of mass production driven by mass communication and advertising. They have excelled at, and have profited from, the one-to-many marketing methods that such a system enables.

Most of what professional marketers know about marketing — the four P’s (product, price, promotion and place), managing channels, audience targeting, etc. — have been perfected by these companies.

Marketing budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, are not uncommon in other industries populated by dominant players.

Companies like Ford and Comcast have enormous marketing departments populated by brilliant marketers, working with some of the most creative people in the world at top advertising agencies in the world, to seduce consumers to buy their products and services.

In contrast, real estate has never comfortably adapted to the Second Wave model. Part of it is the basic service offering: helping consumers through an intensely personal and enormously expensive transaction.

Another reason is (to use a well-worn phrase) that all real estate is — and has always been — local: this house in this neighborhood with that school system and so on.

Mass production and mass communication — while they work to some extent, as evidenced by the success of major brands like Coldwell Banker for real estate brokerage and Pulte for homebuilders — were never all that effective for such highly localized and highly personal "product" and services.

As a result, real estate companies — even some of our best and largest — have never been all that successful leveraging the Second Wave platforms. I think even the heads of marketing at some of our top brands would concede that they don’t necessarily have all of the tools, people, and budgets that their counterparts in the consumer packaged goods or travel or finance industries have.

The good news is that those who lack, innovate. Necessity is the mother of invention, and real estate was unique in having the need to connect with small groups of consumers over a long period of time without the resources to command the media-industrial complex.

In some respects, real estate agents and real estate companies were practicing "Cluetrain" principles of human-to-human connection through offline networks long before Doc Searles and company wrote the book on it.

Social media simply works better when the practitioners of the craft are social people to begin with. And as a general rule, real estate agents are far more social than software engineers or even advertising executives. …CONTINUED

What is novel to technologists and professional marketers, like the admonition to "listen," is more or less second nature to real estate agents. What makes other industries uncomfortable — like the blurring of lines between the personal and the professional — is something Realtors have been living with for 100 years.

I think this explains the explosion of blogs and social networking within real estate: Realtors take to social media like fish to water.

Throw the laurels in the trash

There is no reason to rest on our laurels, of course, as chants of "We’re No. 1!" rarely mean anything come game time (as professional football’s New York Giants learned this past Sunday). So we’re ahead of the curve as it comes to social media. Great, congratulations, kudos, good job — let’s get back to work.

I believe that if the people and companies within real estate start to learn and implement some of the best lessons from other industries, we will start to see something special indeed.

Conversations are ongoing within real estate about making and keeping brand promises, about customer relationship management, about lead management, about customer segmentation, about hyperlocal media, and hundreds of other topics.

Many of these conversations involve crossbreeding the lessons from other industries with the unique realities of the real estate trade. A few of those discussions will result in real innovation that bridges the gap between consumers and the producers, between providers and their customers, and between our world and the world outside.

It’s an exciting time to be in real estate, despite the worst market since the sack of Rome.

A final thought: If you’re not in real estate, but are in fact in other industries struggling with issues of social media, it might be a good idea to pay attention to what’s going on here.

Because those who lack, innovate. And real estate has been lacking for a long time. Outsiders might learn a thing or two from the real estate industry’s innovations.

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.

***

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