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You Don’t Know What You Have Until You Lose It

December 1, 2008

Ines asks a fantastic question:

What would happen to your business if your blog or favorite Social Media Site were to disappear tomorrow?

Her entire post is worth reading, as it relates quite a bit to disaster recovery, data security, and copyright maintenance.  All worthwhile things to think about.

My followup question is:

What if nothing happens?

Ines herself opens up with a testimonial to the effectiveness of social media for real estate:

Web2.0 and Social Media Works – I don’t care what the skeptics have to say, but we have proven it and keep coming up with new ideas to implement on a regular basis.  Sometimes I feel like I am preaching to the choir here on Agent Genius because if you are taking the time to read here, it means that you get it and don’t need reinforcing.

As one of the skeptics, allow me to ask, “what do you mean by proof?”  Anecdotes are not the plural of evidence, as scientists are fond of saying.  Because I work in the hazy discipline of marketing — which too often can seem like voodoo — I have to turn to my inner geek and ask what he would want to see.

I want metrics.  I really want metrics.  I’d love for some consultancy in the to do a statistically valid A/B testing to show that realtors who have blogs and social media operations have XX% higher return on assets, or higher profit margins, or something.  I’d love to be able to show that a realtor website that adds a blog updated a minimum of three times a week results in an additional 35 transactions a year, holding all other factors equal (i.e., no new hiring of top agents, no new branding campaign, the same number of yard signs deployed, and so on).  That sort of quantifiable metrics is the closest thing we marketers have to “proof”.

Because I believe that there is significant confusion in the industry between the message and the medium.  And Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding, I maintain that there is a difference in most professional services, and particularly in real estate.

The message — that a particular realtor is a professional, who is knowledgeable, friendly, competent, and so forth — could be conveyed (and should be conveyed) in every medium from telephone to web to personal interactions.

Does it really matter that the medium — in this case, the Internet and all of its myriad flowerings — is one thing or another?

Would a quality agent or quality broker really be unable to get the message out if the social medium she is using disappears?  Somehow, I doubt it.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2008 4:05 pm

    I’m sure that those you work so diligently to convince that Onboard is necessary within their marketplace have very much the same attitude as yours at first, especially when they realize it costs money.

    Having said that, I’d like to point out that the emphasis within the quotes is *yours,* as if to spiral your own slant to the deep breathers in the real estate space in need of populace indulgence for their very survival.

    There are over 37 writers on Ag, some of which use no new media whatsoever, in fact, one of them spends nearly $500k a year on television and radio. Not every agent can afford such a reach, but what is seen in new media is a wedge disintermediating the need for such large marketing budgets.

    If you truly believe that new media makes no difference in the future to an agent’s (not a brokerage’s) bottom line, then so be it- I’m happy to have that debate; however, if your goal is to garner attention by being a naysayer for the sake of nay saying, then I’ll pass.

    The fact that I am commenting on your post, on a blog (and that because of this blog and social media I know what Onboard is), it has given you (a non-real estate practitioner) a reach into a larger conversation fundamentally proving that social media is a very powerful tool, otherwise, I would never have even known you in order to have this conversation over the phone.

  2. December 1, 2008 4:34 pm

    Here’s some non-quantifiable metrics for you. In the beginning of a down real estate market, many of us were spending thousands of dollars in print media and getting no results. The Internet has allowed to keep the overhead low while still making a living.

    A year and 1/2 after the start of my blog, about 75%-80% of our business is a result to new media (whether blog or some kind of social media outlet).

    The question comes to this: Would I still have a successful business without new media? would I have survived the down market? – can’t answer because it would be hearsay. The fact is that many are taking advantage of the Internet to direct our marketing efforts to something that works for us.

    Does that answer your question?

  3. Dave permalink
    December 1, 2008 5:48 pm

    I think there are great points being made in the post as well as the comments. First, I don’t believe that RSH is attacking social media and it’s relevancy to the business of today. I do believe that regardless of the medium used one should be able to apply real metrics to the return. As Rob points out there should be a measurement applied to the social medium being used that would give the user a tool by which to determine it’s effectiveness.

    The real estate industry in general has historically not been very good at this regardless of the medium used. Just ask a random broker what the actual ROI is on their annualized spend in classified advertising or print. Everyone is saying print costs too much and all of the consumers are going on-line. Great, but what was the return on print prior to that migration to the on-line world? The real issue at hand here is getting a good read into the cost of marketing, including the cost of time to blog etc., against the true return. We can continue down the path of using the most current and popular mediums to spread the word and bring business to our doors and frankly it may be very profitable, but shouldn’t we know?

    Benn—your points about knowing who Onboard is because of blogs and social media is a great one. In that example it has been proven that the medium works for brand equity. Brand equity is worth something, but to Rob’s point there is a need to know what it is worth. As an example–the writer you mention that spends in excess of $500k in offline media should absolutely know their return on that. In order to do that they have to know exactly how many leads or inquiries came from that spend. They need to know the conversion rate, the average value per lead and the total revenue. They should be able to calculate the future expected value of that spend on a per lead basis. If not, it would be horrendous to find out at the end of the year that they spent $500k, from that they received 1000 inquiries into their service ($500 cost per lead) and then find out that on a per lead basis they are only making $200. That’s $300 per every lead that that go into the hole. Obviously the inverse would be great. The same applies to social media and blogging. There is real anecdotal evidence that it is working, but how much time should be spent to get positive roi?

    Ines—great metrics. that is the kind of thing that needs to be measured to ensure success. If you look at the amount of money you make per hour, then look at the time you spent blogging or using some other social media that should give you your overall spend (added to any real hard money spend you have to be up and running) divide that by the number of leads you get and you have your cost per lead. If you have 80% of your closed business coming from there, what is your conversion rate and what is your average revenue per closed customer. Divide that by the number of leads. If that number is higher than the cost then you need to do more blogging! Especially at the reduction of the offline media spend that could be unprofitable.

    I really think the issue at hand is one that has followed us through the history of the business. Everyone is doing it so it must work. With the challenges we all face in the market it is critical that we are not spending money or time in anything that is unprofitable. All of the mediums have their place and all are beneficial in their own way. Just make sure it is beneficial to you.

  4. December 1, 2008 6:14 pm

    @Benn –

    First, the emphasis in the quote is in the original. Check the post. It is my standard practice to say the emphasis is mine if I add it.

    Second, I try pretty hard not to mix business (Onboard stuff) with pleasure (this here blog). When I blog at the official Onboard blog, that’s when I think alot about business and convincing people that Onboard is necessary. That those opinions happen to be genuine helps, but I know that blogging at OnBlog is business blogging. But here at Notorious, these are just my personal opinions (and my employer freely disavows them).

    Third, when you say “what is seen in new media is a wedge disintermediating the need for such large marketing budgets”… do you mean that as a statement of fact or as a statement of an opinion? You see, Benn, my point is not to poo-poo new media or social media or web or web 2.0. My point is to drive discipline in the conversation.

    You read my question as denial — in fact, it is a real question. When I talk about wanting real metrics, that isn’t to denigrate social media; it is a real request, because that would really help me do my job, and help all of you do yours.

    I am a skeptic of the whole “web 2.0” thing since day one of “web 2.0” not because I hate the technology or think Facebook is bunk. I use Twitter; I’m on Facebook; I blog; I do all the Web 2.0 things…. At the same time, as a marketer, I am a skeptic because so much of the rhetoric over “Web 2.0” was pure hype without any foundation, any metrics, or any measurable results. Instead, we got anecdotes and storytelling.

    Facebook changes the face of marketing? Really? For whom? Do we have any measurable lift over control? I personally haven’t seen any real studies of the impact of social media marketing on ANY industry that didn’t involve teens. Seriously.

    So what I want: I want a study of the impact of social media on the practice of real estate. If my job were the VP of Marketing for some big brokerage, that is the study I would commission. Not to prove a point, or disprove a point, but to find out the truth. It continues to amaze me that not one of the companies who are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions of dollars, into social media and “web 2.0” marketing has done this.

    For folks like me who like to comment, like to debate, like to discuss issues for the sake of discussion, social media is a wonderful hobby. Like you’re commenting on my little blog — I am reaching into a larger conversation. That is true. But all that proves is that social media is a very powerful tool… for conversation, which is its original purpose.

    Anecdotally, social media is a very powerful marketing tool — for Onboard. But I do keep track of lift over control. So far, the actual data for Onboard shows the lift to be negligible to the point of non-existent. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work; simply means I don’t have any data to show that it does or does not. Maybe time will give me that data.

    I love that Ines is providing a data point: 75-80% of her business is the result of new media. That’s wonderful data. I’ve heard the same from other agents, like Mariana Wagner.

    Okay — now let’s multiply that by some large enough sample size, control for agent quality, so that we’re comparing two groups of agents of relatively equal experience and knowledge, and show that indeed, those agents who do social media achieve either (a) X% increase in revenues, or (b) Y% decrease in costs, or (c) both.

    That’s proof, at least in the reduced standards of marketing (as compared to say, physics, which has a rather higher standard of proof).

    Is that too much to ask? Am I just being a curmudgeon yellin’ “get off my lawn”? 🙂


  5. December 1, 2008 7:02 pm

    I’d love to see more data-based metrics, but I think they are virtually impossible to collect, particularly comparative metrics — deciding that “Agent A” does better than “Agent B” due to Agent A’s use of social/new media.

    We do almost zero “traditional” marketing. No cold-calling, no door knocking, no print advertising, no TV, no radio. We do mail a hard copy newsletter to a very small segment of our business.

    I always ask new clients how they found us. Invariably, the answer is, “On the Internet”. Sometimes I can get it down to a specific site, or even a specific post. The vast majority of time I can not.

    I could speculate and make assumptions. Since my blog gets 4x the unique visits of my “Web 1.0” site, is it safe to assume it generates 4 times the clients? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s safe to make that assumption as they tend to target and reach different audiences (with a great deal of overlap to boot).

    But I do know that virtually every client we have (and have ever had) originates from “the Internet”. So I can pretty well quantify my return on my internet “spend” (though I struggle with valuing my time).

    The real problem I see in gathering comparative analytics is this. So I get my clients via the internet. But the internet isn’t why people stay with me, or come back to me, or send their friends to me. I like to think it’s my expertise that does that, or the customer delight we provide. Maybe it’s my personality. Or my stunning good looks. (No, it’s certainly not the latter, but you get my point.)

    Are there other ways I could be getting clients? Of course. Do it enough, do it well, and door knocking still works. Is getting clients via social media easier, or “better”? I don’t know. For me using new media is easier and better then traditional methods. Mostly (I think) because I enjoy it. I like sitting at a keyboard and writing. I hate the thought of door knocking — partly because I don’t like people knocking on my door and mostly because I suck at it. Some people would rather slit their wrists than write a blog post.

    We’re all too different, and there are too many variables that can not be controlled to really understand if Method A is superior to Method B. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

  6. December 1, 2008 9:32 pm


    Did you just bust out a Marshall McLuhan reference? Wow, that takes me back to my 1989 Mass Comm class. Given that McLuhan did his most important work in the 50’s and 60’s, it certainly says something that he is being recognized 60+ years later by a desciple of the social media commenting on the real estate industry.

    So, how to apply McLuhan’s theory to today’s world and the real estate industry in particular? In my experience how a broker uses social media sends a clear message to both intended and unintended audiences.

    By leveraging sites like Linkedin and Facebook to establish networks for business, recruiting and social engagement (in real estate all social engagement is business…who are we kidding) real estate professionals are engaged in targeting indtended audiences. However, simply by participating in the conversation, Realtors are unintentionally reaching a vast audience.

    Recently, I challenged social media guru, David Meerman Scott, to come up with the top ten ideas that could help the CENTURY 21 brand reach its audiences (see post: A few days later another reader responded that just by engaging in the conversation online the post had reached #6 in organic search on Google. Evidence that social media does have an impact on search.

    In my humble opinion, the medium does send a message, but ultimately it is the message that drives readership, participation, conversation and relationships. Granted, as a professional communicator I feel confident that I could gin up the conversation level, but it takes the skills of a professional Realtor to take it from the blog post to the closing table. I think its great that so many people are turning on to basic communication principles and attempting to leverage them for business, but at the same time not everyone has the skill set to be an engaging writer.

    My advice to professional Realtors is to use social media to promote and market, but don’t get hung up creating buzz for an online persona. Drive business by focusing on proving value-added information. Tell consumers what the First time homebuyer tax credit could mean to them or explore what financing options are available in today’s market? Engaging consumers with information they want is the key regardless of the medium.

    Sender – Message – Channel – Receiver
    Same as it ever was.

    Matt Gentile, PR Director
    Century 21 Real Estate

  7. December 1, 2008 10:36 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Great to see you here again. 🙂

    I think for the most part, I can agree with what you’re saying. And I’m finding David’s post fascinating — surely a topic for more discussion in a separate thread.

    But let’s take his suggestion for “brand journalism” at face value. My point is simply that in order for you (or anyone) to convince Tom Kunz that he should divert $20m from TV advertising to “brand journalism”, he’s going to need more than a blog post. Or anecdotal evidence. Or super-sweet “what-if” scenarios.

    Tom’s going to want to see some evidence that “brand journalism” works. Whether that’s a study by McKinsey about the utility of such a thing for a different company, or A/B testing involving different C21 franchises, he’s going to need to see some evidence that it works — usually with some sort of increase in revenues, decrease in costs, or both.

    One of my personal pet proejcts, it appears, is to be the party pooper of the, running around telling folks to calm down the rhetoric a touch. 🙂 I’m skeptical about the claims of superiority of Web 2.0 marketing or social media or what-have-you. But I’m not decided either. I am, if you will, entirely pragmatic: if it works for YOU, then by all means, do it.

    But let’s not go claiming that social media will solve all our problems, when there is scant evidence of such a thing.

    Furthermore, you in your role as the PR Director for C21 have a very different mission, I feel, than some of the participants in the My experience is frankly closer to yours — I was on the brand side, and all of our efforts went more or less towards branding. And branding being such an inexact science, experimentation is often the order of the day.

    Those folks in the who are in brokerage are looking to social media as lead generation, and I feel that’s a different animal altogether. There, you have to make choices between alternatives, and making the wrong one means reduced income, loss of market share, and possible financial ruin.

    So I just want to encourage the other respected voices — like Ines, whose success speaks for itself — to be a bit more circumspect about what they claim as the power of social media. I think it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know, but…” I think demanding things like “lift over control” actually gives us more credibility as we seek to educate the entire industry about what works and what doesn’t.

    As Dave pointed out above, this sort of focus on metrics is something that the industry as a whole generally has not been good on historically. I don’t know a whole heck of a lot, but I do know this: the company that first figures out what its lifetime customer value is, and what the consequent cost of acquisition should be, will have an enormous advantage over its competitors.

    I do like your advice — it’s solid. Experts will be found out, and people flock to them. Value-added information is, IMHO, the key to a branding operation for a real estate agent. But of course, I don’t have the data to backup that statement. 🙂

    One day… one day, my friends….


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