The National Association of Realtors is not watching you.
That’s the message NAR’s chief technology officer, Mark Lesswing, wants to drive home to Realtors about the trade group’s new predictive analytics program.
The assurance, which he broadcast in a presentation at NAR’s recent midyear conference, underscores NAR’s desire to avoid unnerving Realtors as it begins to mine its trove of member data for insights that could help the trade group better promote and deliver services and initiatives.
NAR launched the effort last year, hiring industry veteran Todd Carpenter to head up a new predictive analytics group. The group’s work will be groundbreaking for a trade organization, Lesswing said. And it may soon underpin NAR’s marketing and advocacy campaigns, with its first round of analytics slated to launch later this year.
“We hope to share our knowledge with other trade associations,” Lesswing said. “It’s a little bit of a science project.”
Lesswing draws a line between snooping on Realtors through a virtual telescope and tailoring messages to different members based on their attributes and interactions with NAR and its affiliates. The trade group is not engaged in the first activity, he said.
“This is not Big Brother,” Lesswing said.
Members should also take comfort from the fact that, for now at least, NAR is not seeking to scoop up new data on members. It’s only exploiting data that it’s already collected — which is a lot.
Currently, NAR’s Master Member Profile System (MMPS) tracks members’ donations to the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), whether they respond to the trade group’s calls to action, and if they are registered to vote or running for political office.
But across its network of departments and affiliates, NAR collects quite a bit of other information about its members, including:
- What NAR events they attend.
- The education they pay for.
- Their use of Realtors Property Resource (RPR).
- The newsletters they open.
- Calls they make to NAR’s 800 number.
- Their logins and activity on NAR’s website, realtor.org.
- Whether they use the member center app.
- The NAR departments they contact.
- Whether they volunteer for leadership (work groups, committees and leadership offices at the local, state and national level).
- Whether they follow NAR on social media platforms.
In addition, NAR also has data on demographic characteristics, like ethnicity, age and marital status and members’ voting records.
The trade group buys that data from Experian, Lesswing said, and uses it for things like describing the composition of its membership to potential advertisers for its magazine, and determining what members are likely to vote at the state and federal level.
Currently, all of this data is sprinkled across NAR’s network, not stored in a central location. So a lot of it is going to waste, Lesswing said.
Say a member contacts NAR’s call center and then reaches out the next day to its Washington, D.C., office.
“That does not get attached to your member record,” Lesswing said. So NAR’s Washington, D.C., office has “no idea that you just called the call center yesterday.”
The goal of NAR’s analytics group will be to create “a central way to access all those touch points” and blend all of its member data into “holistic” MMPS profiles, Lesswing said.
Aggregating all of the data will take about two years, but the analytics group will launch its first round of analytics this fall. According to Lesswing, the round will be based on “whatever I can get organized on the data at that point” and will help guide a political advocacy effort.
“It’s not about peering into people’s private lives,” he said. “I pretty much have the data right now. It’s just not all in the same spot.”
Once it is in the same spot, then the fun begins.
Slicing and dicing the data on the cutting board of MMPS will allow NAR to get a bead on what makes members participate in advocacy efforts, donate to RPAC, and become leaders, among other things.
For example, the trade group might use analytics to pinpoint nine common characteristics of members who donate more than $25 to RPAC. Those characteristics might include experience on local, state and national committees, and participation in an RPAC-funded community activity.
The trade group could then isolate members who have just two or three of those characteristics, and nudge them towards acquiring more.
If a member has served on one local committee and participated in a community activity, for example, NAR could send emails encouraging that person to join state and national committees.
The theory is that if a member acquires more of the experiences and attributes that characterize donors, they are more likely to become donors themselves.
NAR could use a similar strategy to shepherd some members into leadership positions.
“We’re not going to make a leader in one year,” Lesswing said.
But, he added, NAR could push a segment of members who show statistical promise as leaders to acquire two additional attributes associated with leaders every year.
To effectively act on its findings, NAR will also use analytics to help “align the messaging we do to match up with the values that the members have.”
Members appreciate NAR for different reasons, Lesswing said. For example, one member might value NAR for the educational opportunities it offers, while another appreciate its political advocacy work more. Others might see member discounts as the most valuable service NAR provides
NAR could use this knowledge to tailor emails to individual members.
“I put my lead stories upfront that play right to that person’s interest and then at the bottom, below the fold, I might have other news,” he said.
Tracking how agents use NAR services is yet another aspect of analytics that could bear fruit, acccording to Carpenter, who reports to Lesswing.
Rather than just noting who uses RPR or NAR’s member center app, NAR could also track users’ activity.
NAR could identify local experts by pinpointing RPR users who conducted a lot of research about homes in a particular ZIP code. It could also customize the interface of its website for users based on their previous activity.
“A government affairs director for a local association uses the site differently than a broker-owner would,” Carpenter said. “Google customizes a user’s search results based on past search history, and the search history of similar searchers. We hope to eventually present information on Realtor.org in a similar way.”
Some members have reacted negatively to the program, voicing complaints that run along the lines of, “There’s NAR again, peeking into my privacy,” Lesswing said.
But the analytics that NAR is pursuing are a “far cry” from snooping, he said, and criticism of the initiative is mostly a result of misinformation.
“People don’t understand what we’re doing; therefore, they create stories around what’s false,” he said. “It’s about the data point, not the judgment of the value of the data.”
The trade group has no plans to hand member data over to outside organizations. NAR policy continues to prohibit that, he said.
But he said it’s possible that NAR’s data strategies committee might have to “tweak” privacy policies if its analytics team “encounters” new information.
While NAR won’t initially collect new data on members, its analytics team sees opportunities in obtaining some content that members post on social media, which some state and local associations are already collecting.
A combination of NAR committees would have to sign off on such an initiative, he said.
“Would they be willing to share some of that information?” Lesswing asked about state and local associations handing over social media content to NAR. “Well, not until we figure out what the rules are about sharing.”