Yesterday I was having one of those rare moments in which I was having a real conversation with Daughter No. 1. It’s not that we rarely chat, but rather that we rarely use the voice delivery feature of our respective "smart" phones to accomplish the task. Some things just require more than 140 characters.
She has a blog. And, it seems in her youthful exuberance last year to start her project (and in mine to deliver the domain name unto her) she stepped on some copyright toes. A very nice lawyer representing some people who are, by all appearances, also very nice gave her a month to change the name of her blog, recognizing that the contributors were in the middle of midterms and all. Now our time was running out.
So as we discussed our options for the new site ("We could use a new hosting service or just make it an add — on with a redirect, but we will need a new FeedBurner account — and don’t forget to update your favicon!"), I was compelled to point out the obvious.
"You realize that we know just enough to hurt ourselves," I warned.
That’s because we are "tweeners." We live in a world of tweeners, people stuck in the middle of knowing too much but not quite enough. That’s what happens during revolution.
I wrote a few years ago about an example of the terrible tweens. Daughter No. 2, the other one, had proudly informed me that she would be taking European History the following semester. "We will be learning about Louis Vuitton and the French Revolution!" she exclaimed. My daughter was obviously stuck in the middle of high fashion and higher learning, and I used it as a segue into the revolution that was taking place at the time to squash print media dead in our industry.
Three years later, that battle between print and online persists. Granted, print media is losing, but as agents, we are stuck in a sort of transitional marketing purgatory. We must do both, because our very local clients continue to be drawn to the brochures and the postcards as well as our Web sites. We attempt to use one to drive eyes to the other, but for the time being our marketing channels have doubled, compounding our efforts and our investments.
Our marketing is necessarily designed to address a broad audience, in "no client left behind" fashion, because of this transitional space we occupy, making it that much harder to do what we do. Our clients bang on their PDAs while we are seeing homes, looking for details we might have missed and for a reason not to trust. They are search machines, feeding us a perpetual ticker tape of "listings," in a kind of defiant "Do I have to do your job for you?" taunt.
Then there are the others who want daily phone calls and hard copies delivered to their kitchen table — like the woman I spoke with yesterday who was disappointed with her current agent because her agent sends her daily e-mail updates but never calls or comes by.
We know we must be adaptive and walk the walk of each particular client. So often, though, these competing expectations come from the same customer. They are the tweeners.
Agents are largely tweeners as well. So many of us grew up in a world where replacing the typewriter ribbon was second nature, while our children, the next generation homebuyers and sellers, can write inspired HTML while simultaneously producing a YouTube video, redesigning their Facebook page and texting about it. I had carbon paper and Wite-Out, they have apps. …CONTINUED
While agents exist at both ends of the spectrum, mostly we are tweeners trying to make the migration from old business practices to new without getting slaughtered by the incoming missile of technology.
The middle ground remains a big, crowded space. That’s where most of our customers are, but they are evolving quickly. Which means, as agents, resting on our laurels is not an option — unless, of course, our wish is to transition quietly into retirement. So often, though, I see agents unwilling to learn — to evolve. And this has been my biggest frustration as a broker.
At our brokerage, we don’t actively recruit — which is not to say that we wouldn’t like to grow. Rather, we don’t attempt to woo every person with a license and a hankering to move it. Our approach to hiring is the more traditional one — it’s more traditional, that is, in every industry except real estate. We interview agents, not the other way around, and our problem has been in identifying agents who either possess today’s relevant competencies or have a strong willingness to learn new tricks.
There has been a lot of talk about retooling the real estate brokerage, but very little about the more central issue of retooling the real estate agent. Today’s successful agent is the one who can speak multiple languages and do business across platforms, utilizing a ballpoint pen or electronic signatures, communicating across the table or in a chat box.
Where our younger or more technologically engaged clients are concerned, it’s not enough to simply throw money at the problem, be it a Web site or a social media strategy, so that we may remain steadfastly in our comfort zone. We don’t need translators; we need to speak the language.
It was not long ago that I suggested that you don’t need to know how to embed a video or code a hyperlink to be successful. Today, I’m not so sure. Sure, you can pay someone to know these things for you and do these things for you. And I could have just paid somebody to come feed the carbon paper into my Smith Corona for me, but that would have been silly, not to mention it would have bankrupted me over time.
Twitter is stupid, except I converse almost daily with several clients there. Cloud computing is goofy — that’s what a hard drive is for — except that our clients’ expectations now require that we respond nearly instantaneously, and our "stuff" had better be accessible to us when they come calling. Facebook is for kids, and yet all my clients have a page or several. As for the few who aren’t quite so wired? That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate that we are. They hire us, in part, to know these things — to be available to speak that other language with the agents, the buyers and the sellers, on their behalf.
Daughter No. 1 learned new skills and competencies through tackling a blog (not to mention a little about copyright laws). I offered to do it for her, and initially I did. But she and her entire generation are do-it-yourselfers, and for her birthday, she got the hosting account she asked for. Meanwhile, Daughter No. 2 has thankfully learned that the only thing Louis Vuitton and the French Revolution share in common is the French part.
Agents can learn too, but there has to be a desire to learn new skills. I can teach agents how to set up a Twitter account or a blog, but I can’t teach them the desire to learn. And while stuck in the middle may be a comfortable place to be for now, one day you may wake up to find that the middle has moved and left you behind.
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