This weekend, temptation paid me a visit again. As my daughter and I marched purposely through the mall, our battalion having been deployed and Operation Prom Dress in full force, we encountered a small roadblock.

Somewhere between the car and the store of gaudy evening attire, some stupid leasing agent put a pet store in our path. And there she was — a too-adorable rescue puppy who only had eyes for us. So, before either of us — the power-shopping Berg girls — could engage our brains, we were sending pictures home to the General.

"Can we have her? Puleeease!" my daughter texted, all thumbs. Fortunately, the man known as "Dad" was able to talk us off the cliff from his safe harbor, 15 miles away from the furry little bundle of fun with the metronome tail. And I say "fortunately," because in my heart I knew this was a bad idea.

First, there is the little issue of already having a dog. While our dog is 10 years beyond cute, having morphed years ago into a high-maintenance, 95-pound drooling machine, we still enjoy many hours of pleasure watching him sleep when he returns from the vet.

Of greater issue are the implications of taking on a new responsibility. A quick glance at the paws on the devilish little bundle of joy told me that she would someday outweigh Minnesota, and some simple math suggested to my one remaining brain cell devoted to rational thought that I would still be buying Milk Bones when I am 160 years old.

Instant gratification of the new plaything aside, puppies are a project. They require years of attention, care, nurturing, and a commercial-grade wet vac. It’s one thing to start something; it’s another thing to stay committed for the duration, and someday I would like to take a vacation or choose a color of carpeting because I like it, and not because it matches the dog.

All of this, of course, got me thinking about social media. My industry magazines have become a single-track playlist belting out praises for the agent who uses social media to build business and achieve enormous success. My e-mail inbox is singing the same tune, as are the large brokerages, many of whom have shifted their training focus away from contract, negotiating and transactional competencies, away from building people skills, and toward ensuring that their agents know how to pimp a listing in 140 characters or fewer.

As a girl who has user accounts in more places than I can remember, I am not suggesting that social media is without value. Rather, my concern is that the value is being misrepresented, the goals confused, and the investment of time required to achieve any meaningful results understated.

Social media presence tends to be touted these days as a proficiency that must be conquered in order to compete for and generate business. If that were true, it would be called "commercial" media. Rather, social media is simply our way of communicating, redefined. It is another way to interact, and the rules for social interaction are no different online than off; the venue is just different.

More valuable than a three-day seminar in building a Facebook fan page for fun and profit would be a one-hour crash course in managing expectations, with a primer in common sense.

This is my reality. Sites like Twitter allow me to be social with family, colleagues and clients. They allow me to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. My involvement on these sites is not essential to my professional success, despite the rhetoric, any more than it is essential to my social success.

What is essential is that I understand the medium enough to understand my world and communicate on multiple platforms when called to do so by my clients. What is important is that, in my people business, I can continue to relate to a world of people with evolving interests. You like shuffleboard? So do I. And I get Foursquare, even though I don’t play as much as I would like.

The sad reality is that, because of the prescriptive, must-do-or-die, bandwagon mentality, so many of these channels have become nothing more than a blaring, disingenuous bus bench ad for services, with the human factor being thrown under the bus in the process.

There was a big brouhaha recently on what is often called the "real estate net" about someone who decided to suddenly "unfollow" 2,000 people on Twitter. I was intrigued by the opposing viewpoints. On the one hand, the person who scrubbed their social circle argued that the volume had become too much, with the incessant conversation about trivialities lacking meaning or value. …CONTINUED

Another argued that delivering the sudden dial tone was a social faux pas akin to walking into a party and asking everyone with whom you don’t want to interact to leave. I see both sides.

That’s what "social media" in the real estate community has become: two sides, two approaches, and two agendas. I get the noise part, but sharing your thoughts or your favorite song is inarguably social, much like I might recommend a favorite movie or talk to you about the weather if we meet on the street.

The brokers and emerging thundering herd of professional trainers on the subject will tell you this is wrong. You are there to build business, dang it! Which brings us to the flip side.

People don’t like to be sold, and nearly everyone in my online sphere is selling me something. They have advertising opportunities and technology solutions. They offer video and photography services, and they "heart" referrals. Some days, I feel like there is a big old price tag on my friendship, and when this happens, social media has failed.

The reality is that I enjoy very little business as a direct result of my online social involvement, and this includes a blog I have raised for nearly four years now. Social engagement is not the meal but rather the pretty little centerpiece. I could eat without it. Or, put another way, it’s not the puppy but only the cute bow I dress him up with.

I have yet to get a listing appointment or "sell" a home because of my Twitter stream, although I might someday. But that is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed professional benefit. When my client needed a property manager in another state, I queried my social network and had two outstanding recommendations within an hour. I knew when a past client landed a job, when another successfully ran a half marathon, and another saw her son turn 3, and I was able to share in their delight. That’s what friends do.

Because of Twitter and a pretty lame Facebook page, I have been able to stay connected with colleagues who have known how to fix my blog when I blew it up (Tuesday), who I have trusted enough to refer my clients to, and who have trusted me with their referrals. And through these same relationships, I have been exposed to news articles that I would have missed that have changed my perspective, enhanced my knowledge or helped my business.

If we need a class on how to be a friend, maybe we have bigger problems than the platform itself. We have classes and seminars and accreditations for mastering the social media frontier — all from the perspective of generating commerce. It’s pretty silly when you think about it. Why not have an accreditation for engaging the customer to capture leads and generate business at a dinner party? It’s no different, really. You meet people, you strike up a conversation and you share commonalities.

As a broker, I, too, talk about social media with our agents, but the conversations are very brief. I care a lot less about where their conversations are taking place and only that they remember that online, like in any very crowded, public venue, they are always dressed for work.

To show up in the quad on Back to School night, waving my property brochures or screaming my political affiliations, would not win me any friends or business. If I opened every real-life interaction with, "Thank you for following me! I look forward to networking in the future!" or closed it with "Writing four offers tomorrow. Very, very busy!" I’d be sent to social detention.

Social media is not about hawking your listings or your awesomeness as an agent; it’s simply about talking to people — whatever may be on your mind — whether it be the state of the real estate market or the soup of the day. When we start treating our social engagements strictly as business mining operations is when we fail.

And, when someone tells you that you need to blog or tweet or update your status 18 times a day in order to have a viable real estate career, they are selling you that puppy. What you are really buying into is a commitment to feed and nurture a long-term relationship.

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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