I am endorsing Todd Carpenter of Lenderama for the Social Media Manager position for the National Association of REALTORS. His plan is a solid one, and his experience with the RE.net makes him an invaluable resource.
However, I am rather concerned for Todd, and I make the endorsement with a good deal of reluctance and hesitation.
The concern and hesitation have nothing to do with Todd — he’s the ideal, perfect candidate in so many ways. Rather, what gives me pause is NAR itself. I don’t know how serious they are about embracing the fundamental changes necessary to make social media meaningful.
Reason #1: The Position
By rights, this should be at least a VP position in NAR, perhaps reporting to Frank Sibley, SVP of Communications, or to Bob Goldberg, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Business Development & Commercial Services, & President & COO, REALTORS® Information Network. Actually, if I were running NAR, this would be a Senior Vice President position on par with Frank and Bob, because it encompasses so much more that simple communications, more than marketing, more than business development.
“Social Media” as a phrase gets thrown around quite a bit, and I rather think most people either have no idea what it actually means, or use it as a convenient shorthand for “blogs, Twitter, and all that web stuff”.
What they don’t understand perhaps is that “Social Media” is media first and foremost. It arose out of the infancy of the blogosphere when individual bloggers were pounding the mainstream media (“MSM”) into the ground with their analyses, factchecking, and highlighting of little-reported stories. It has since evolved into an actual newsgathering operation on many fronts (see, e.g., Michael Yon).
If I take NAR at face value, creating a Social Media strategy means that it wants to supplant the MSM as the source of information on all things real estate to the American consumer. I do not believe this is NAR’s goal, and if it were, I do not believe that NAR is well-suited to running such an operation for a variety of factors. (Least of which is the inherent bias of real estate agents in reporting on real estate.)
So I have to take NAR not at face value, but at some code phrase value, thinking that what NAR really wants to do is come up with a strategy for helping REALTORS market more effectively to consumers by using the Web. Let us, then, instead use the term “Social Marketing”.
Because what NAR is really looking for is a “Social Marketing” strategy, I do not believe that the position has enough power within the organization to be truly effective. I could be dead wrong on that, of course, especially if the senior leadership from Dale Stinton on down are completely, 100% behind the effort, and are willing to listen to the Social Marketing Manager (“SMM”) and implement his/her plans.
My experience with large organizations, however, suggests to me that unless a position has (a) significant budget control, and (b) significant staff, it lacks power. The job description is silent on either point. Further, given that there are titles such as “Managing Director” at NAR, it leads me to believe that this position is at best a mid-level worker-bee position, rather than a strategic leadership position.
Todd can be the SVP of Social Marketing for NAR; he has the experience, the insight, the knowledge, and the connections. He’s almost too qualified for this role. So I endorse him, but with concern that he’ll spend most of his tenure banging his head against a brick wall… and silenced because he’s now part of the Establishment, instead of being a voice from outside the walls.
Reason #2: Fundamental Shift
So why does this position need to go from being a Social Media Manager to SVP of Social Marketing?
Because a social marketing strategy, in order to be effective, has to be disruptive to all of the existing marketing of NAR, most of its infrastructure, and vast parts of the membership.
I just don’t know if the people at NAR understand just how fundamental a shift it represents to go from the traditional marketing/communications model to a social marketing model. I fear that they see this as more or less a “hey, we need to teach agents how to blog” distraction, rather than the kind of seismic change that will impact everything from membership to government relations. And if NAR doesn’t see that, then it is far more likely that the needed initiatives will be stifled at birth within the organization, rather than given the juice and the horsepower to proceed.
To pick just one example, is NAR willing to completely suspend their idiotic advertising campaigns because the Social Media Manager insists that those ads are ruining the basis of social marketing: TRUST?
Again, I could be wrong, and I hope to be wrong — but the signs are not good.
Reason #3: Social Marketing Is Unproven
Finally, the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that social marketing in real estate is still unproven. Anecdotes are not the plural of evidence. That some blogger-agents are able to do enormous business does not establish in and of itself that social marketing is what is responsible for their success. For all we know, it’s all of the other things that the blogging agents do that makes them a success, such as getting local knowledge, having professional ethics, and a rock-solid understanding of real estate fundamentals.
There has never been, to date, a systematic study of the ROI from blogging and other social marketing activites. None.
The ‘good anecdotes’ are counter-balanced by the ‘bad anecdotes’ that show that some agents who are major RE.net figures, with top-notch SEO leading to excellent Google rankings, and are elite Twiterati nonetheless sell a fraction of the houses that the non-techie agent down the street sells.
No major (say Top 20) real estate brokerage has a track record showing the impact of social marketing on their revenues, on their profitability, on their efficiency, on customer retention, etc. etc.
Even if Todd is the greatest social media guru who has ever lived, and NAR is completely and 100% behind his efforts… it simply may be the case that social marketing does not have a dramatic impact in real estate.
After all, we are still talking about seven year cycles in between purchases. How much blog reading about houses is the consumer going to do once he’s bought the damn house? This is a market fundamental that no amount of Twittering can change.
I have faith in the transformative power of the web and the connectivity between humans it enables. I believe that social marketing does have a positive impact on brokerage, done correctly. I have faith; what I don’t have are facts.
Todd is the Right Man; Is this the Right Job?
So I am left with endorsing Todd as being the right guy with the right plan and the right skills. He’s a leader, an inspiration, and a mentor to so many of us in RE.net.
Question is… is Social Media Manager the right job?