Note: I’ve asked several people to share their thoughts and experiences about what Real Estate Connect has meant to them with our FOREM readers. Look for these special “Connect Stories” here on FOREM leading up to Real Estate Connect San Francisco, July 27-29, 2011. Our first Connect guest post is from our friend Matthew Shadbolt, Director of Interactive Product & Marketing from The Corcoran Group @corcoran_group. Thank you Matthew! – Katie

I don’t attend conferences.

I’ve never been to ReTechSouth, NAR’s annual gathering, or any kind of BarCamp, BeerCamp, or BeerBootBar camp.

They appeal to me, but I’m often simply too occupied by the projects we’re working on at Corcoran to attend. With great interest, I ‘attend’ virtually and follow along with the conversations and hashtags on Twitter. It’s great fun, and the perfect virtual substitute for nonattendance.

As part of Real Estate Connect 2009, I was invited by 1000Watt Consulting’s Brian Boero to participate on a panel about what makes a brokerage’s site successful. I had never attended the New York event, but was honored to be invited. I was curious about what might be asked, but welcomed the discussion. It was so much fun.

I attended some of the main sessions, most of which I was confused by. I didn’t know anyone there. We don’t have an MLS in New York, and many of the speakers were discussing the intricacies of this in great depth. I was confused and wondered how it all applied to Corcoran. There was a lot of talk about blogging and video, neither of which we did at Corcoran at the time. There were no sessions about social media that year.

By accident, I walked into Gary Vaynerchuk‘s keynote presentation. I had never heard of Gary, and wondered who on earth this guy was, using colorful language and advising everyone that digital marketing inaction was a serious, business impacting mistake. Gary’s call to action was for everyone in that room to get up off their collective behinds and in his words ‘start crushing it immediately’.

I had no idea what this meant, but it resonated with me. His message was heard loud and clear… and I knew he was right.

My head was spinning after attending Real Estate Connect 2009. There was a massive world of real estate conversations out there that we were simply not part of. It was scary. We had to change this. I’m not a note-taker, but I filled a book in 2 days. Most importantly, we didn’t know who was doing the most interesting work outside of our immediate, isolated, island-driven environment of Manhattan. I took Gary’s challenge and resolved to address this.

We joined Twitter and began chatting with many of the presenters I recognized from the 2009 Connect schedule. I got to virtually know Marc Davison, Rob Hahn, Jay Thompson, Derek Overbey and many others doing incredible work in the real estate space. In time, we learned so much from them, and began to move those relationships offline. We began to grow our social media presence, and our brand began to grow with it.

We returned to Connect New York in 2010, where Christina Lowris-Panos, Corcoran’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Advertising presented on brokerage branding strategy. We made it a point to meet as many people as possible and attend as many sessions as we could. We wanted to be exhausted.

Energized by the previous year, we had returned hungry for connection, information and inspiration. To say that Connect delivered, is a massive understatement. After the first day, we had notebooks filled with not only thoughts from the sessions, but also concrete action items we planned to implement when we returned to our office.

Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley gave the keynote presentation that year, and I turned to my team and said “there’s something in here for us… I don’t know what it is yet, but this is a great fit for Corcoran”. A year later, we are now one of the biggest brands on Foursquare, and the biggest real estate brand using it worldwide, with over 8,600 followers and an internationally recognized marketing strategy centered around insightful venue tips.

Earlier this year, in the midst of Snowpocalypse ’11, we attended Connect 2011, where I presented as part of 2 sessions, one on social media strategy for brokerages, and one on mobile marketing. We still considered ourselves rookies in both areas, but understood that one of the key things at Connect is that you get to hear from people actually working on these platforms themselves. Our social media presence had become significantly larger since the 2010 event, and we were excited to meet many of our ‘old friends for the first time’.

As a last minute addition to the social media panel, I was seated next to Michael McClure. We had never met before, or even chatted online, but as the session developed it was apparent that there was much in common. Now we are firm friends and have done many projects together. We met on stage at Connect.

Many will tell you that the real conference happens in the lobby, and that you shouldn’t buy a ticket. That’s nonsense. While the ability to connect in person with people you chat with online at these kinds of events is fantastic, having your brain fed by the sessions themselves is a critical part of attending. And it’s fed with high-quality, grass-fed steak

I would never have been inspired to action by Gary Vaynerchuk or Dennis Crowley if we’d been in the lobby.

I’d have never understood how to work smarter by Chris Smith, or seen the future from Steve Rubel, or understood from Rob Hahn and Bob Hale how fragile the brokerage model really is.

I wouldn’t be thinking about e-mail differently thanks to Joel Burslem, or see the future of our industry from all the great start-up pitches, or even had my hair blown back by Curbed’s Lockhart Steele ‘s incredible presentation on New York’s startup scene – one of the best 10 minutes of any conference ever, and worth the admission price alone

Connect is different. There’s a community of real estate professionals exploring and solving problems there. Outsiders from other industries are invited to provide fresh perspective. You’ll hear what works. People disagree. You’re invited to ask questions. You’ll come away smarter, energized, and with concrete perspective on what is exciting and working.

It is an essential event for taking digital relationships offline, and I’m looking forward to attending my first ever San Francisco event later this summer. This year I’m both moderating and presenting, and I’m curious to understand how what we do here in New York will be received on the West Coast.

I’m excited to meet more old friends for the first time. I’m even more excited to meet new friends for the first time.

I’m looking forward to being challenged, inspired and exhausted.

I’m going to learn a lot about what works.

I’m there.

(Here is a video of Matthew we filmed at this past Connect NYC.)

Do you have a Connect Story you’d like to share? Did coming to Connect profoundly change you, your outlook, your team or your business? All of the above? If so, I want to hear from you and possibly feature you here on FOREM. Leave me a comment below or email me katie (at) inman (dot) com.

Katie Lance, Social Media Director, Inman News, @katielance

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