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Realtors vs. Lawyers: Social Media

December 16, 2008

While I managed to escape the fate of practicing law (except for a summer experience, which is to actual legal practice as Barbados is to Mogadishu), I still have a great deal of affection for, and interest in, the business of law practice. In fact, I wrote an entire series musing on whether real estate firms should become more like law firms.

And one of the blogs I find most interesting is Real Lawyers Have Blogs (which is shortly getting added to my blogroll). The author, Kevin O’Keefe, is a recovering attorney who writes on social media, interactive marketing, technology, and overall observations on lawyers and law firms. His blog is really worth a read.

His most recent post was on lawyers and social media, and given how much we’ve been talking about social media in, I found his observations fascinating.

For starters, Kevin believes that for lawyers, social media boils down to three tools: Blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Now, the blog thing, I get — completely. Especially for a lawyer. Realtors deal in houses and human beings; lawyers deal in words. If you can’t blog as a lawyer, you probably should be thinking about finding a different profession, simply because churning out 1,500 words or so for an informal blog post should be just about the easiest thing in the world. (ED: Yeah, look at your inability to use fewer than forty-eight words to say, Hello. ME: Shut it!)

As Kevin so wisely points out, the blog is the cornerstone of any social media effort:

Blogs? Got to have one. How else can you develop a central place where clients, prospective clients, and the influencers (bloggers, media, and social media hounds) pick up on your passion, philosophy, reasoning, and skill? How do you get seen when people search for info? You think I’m picking a pig in the poke by reading a lawyer profile on a website or Martindale? That’s nuts.

I think that entire paragraph applies directly to realtors as well.

At the same time, I know that I’ve been known to urge realtors to stop blogging altogether. But as I explained in that original post, my point is that a bad blog is worse, far worse, than having no blog. Yes, every realtor should have a blog, but it should be a good one. And if a realtor isn’t a good writer, then he should do video blogging or podcasting or some other way of showcasing his passion, philosophy, reasoning, and skill.

A lawyer, who trades in words, has no such excuse. If you can’t write, and you’re an attorney, you need to get out of the business.

LinkedIn makes sense for an attorney as well. As Kevin observes:

LinkedIn? LinkedIn has won the professional social networking/directory space. The race is over. I get invites from professionals inviting me to join their network elsewhere. Other than LinkedIn and Facebook I ignore them.

For attorneys who tend to focus far more on businesses and professionals, I can see how LinkedIn is the ideal network.

In contrast, I’m thinking that for realtors, who want to connect with consumers, Facebook is probably the superior platform. There are other platforms out there, of course, such as Trulia Voices and now Zillow Advice but neither have (as yet) the reach of Facebook. And frankly, neither is likely to ever achieve the reach of Facebook.

The big one is Twitter. This is a tool that some folks in the have more or less given up on, while others are extremely skeptical of its value. In contrast, Kevin could not be a bigger fan:

Twitter? Single biggest learning, brand building, network expanding, and reputation enhancing tool for me this year. Twitter’s influence is what took me off this blog so much in the last couple months. Twitter is no longer an experiment for me. Like Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble, I’d rather go without my cell phone for a week than Twitter.

Some people will tell you Twitter is a waste of time. Ignore them. Twitter, like everything I’ve discovered on the Internet in this crazy last 13 years, was confusing as all get out when I first tried it. You get less confused by playing with something. Playing for a lot of people is called a waste of time. But you don’t grow by not goofing around. Ask Google.

If you haven’t watched the brief Scoble video interviewing Kawasaki, do so. Guy talks about other things, but Twitter is what amazes him. ‘I think Twitter is, arguably, the most powerful branding mechanism since television.’ Guy says that Alltop would be nothing without Twitter. [Emphasis added.]

Those are… some extraordinary words. The most powerful branding mechanism since TV? Okay, those are Guy Kawasaki’s words, but still. The single biggest learning, brand building, network expanding, reputation enhancing tool?


And Kevin’s commenters — lawyers all of them — also express skepticism.  A commenter named Max Kennerly (a litigator, it appears) writes:

I just don’t know about Twitter. I’m sure it works wonders for Guy and Scoble — the primary business for both of them is to exert influence over the most wired 0.1% of the country, all of whom are on twitter. The perception that they are always on top, always on the bleeding edge, is very important to their business.

Not so important to my business nor, I believe, to most lawyers. They need (1) a good reputation among clients and lawyers and (2) to be noticed by potential clients.

I don’t see how Twitter provides any paradigm-shifting benefits to either. It helps you connect in a near-real-time, highly personable manner to maybe a couple dozen people. For most people, it’s microblogging, which is like blogging except without the benefit of showing any sort of expertise or ability, just endlessly links and pithy comments.

What’s interesting about this exchange for me is how different this observation is from the observation that Marc Davison and the commenters made about Twitter in real estate.  Here’s Davison:

But that great promise has yet to pan out. Instead of using this tool as a means to leverage valuable insights, real estate has turned Twitter into restroom wall where anyone with their fly down and a Magic Marker in hand can leave behind whatever childish brain fart comes to mind.

And here are some of the comments:

However, I’m going to respectfully disagree about Twitter. If you want to post market data, and give tips etc, that’s appropriate in a blog or other similar forum, even facebook etc.

Twitter is a medium that people don’t want to see fact, market update, real estate info, etc. It’s a medium to connect with people on a more personal level. Lots of people can post market data on their website, but what person shares similar life experiences?

Twitter has helped make friends within the industry as well as find people from my area that now subscribe to my market info. They didn’t find me on Twitter from my market data posts, they found me because they searched for words like Mac, iPhone, St. Louis, Football info, etc. (I will agree there is a lot of drivel on Twitter)

– Eric Stegemann

As the owner of one of the mentioned “taboos” (maybe 2 or 3?) I stand by all of my tweets. Twitter is a social gathering place and I have met wonderful local people that have become friends who at some point in life will need real estate service. I’ve been told by several that when that need arises I’ll be called on. Some of them I’ve met initially due to similar musical styles (thank you blip), some due to similar love of great television (thank you Denny Crane). All of this to say, we tend to be attracted to people who relate to us on our most common levels. Some of these levels aren’t a constant barrage of real estate facts and figures. It is the real life relationships that sometimes start in the most innocuous ways.

– Dale Chumbley

Twitter is a way to connect with people on a very basic level. It’s amazing just how much you can learn about someone — good and bad — in a medium like this.

Flood the Twitterverse with real estate updates, listings, and self-promotion and you’ll swiftly find yourself talking in a vacuum.

– Jay Thompson

So, naturally, the question is: why such a difference in approach between Lawyer Twitter and Realtor Twitter?  See for yourself by looking at these two legal twitterati: Kevin O’Keefe, and Doug Cornelius.

Is it that lawyers are naturally more reserved, naturally more concerned about ‘gravitas’ and ‘brand enhancement’ via Twitter, while realtors are more concerned about making ‘real connections’ and not flooding the Twitterverse with real estate updates, as Jay Thompson says?

Is it the difference between the two professions?  Is it the difference in the audience?

I have no answers, just questions.  But then… that isn’t unusual, right? 🙂


2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2008 4:53 pm

    Thanks for the link. I don’t necessarily disagree with the realtor comments you wrote up there — twitter’s a great way to connect to people. Just today I twittered [tweeted?] a response to a comment by a blogger who I’ve read for some time but never communicated with. They wrote back quickly. A human connection was made!

    All well and good and please don’t think I’m opposed to establishing solid personal connections, which provide the best business. But, as a marketing tool, what’s the return on investment for the time expended? Twitter is very time consuming, even for people good at firewalling off attention, and if you want to be personable then, obviously, you have to stay connected.

    The interface is horrendous and there’s a custom and culture of following lots and lots of people, including most people following you. That means you’ll spend a lot of time reading tweets providing you real-time updates about someone’s cat or plans for dinner. Even products like Tweetdeck don’t cure the firehose problem of Twitter, they just help you sort it. Scoble himself noted he had several thousand direct messages, which mean he effectively has zero, since he never reads them.

    Given the firehose problem, you’ll probably be lucky to develop more than, say, twenty real relationships, and extremely lucky to get over 100. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just not sure about the overall return for the time spent.

    I sure could be wrong — in fact, I’m hoping I am wrong, since I have a Twitter feed and so far enjoy it. I’m particularly hoping it’s a way to connect to local people outside of my normal sphere. But I just want to make sure we’re not all fooling ourselves.

  2. December 16, 2008 11:26 pm

    Thanks for referencing my post. Lots of different mediums work for people, including facebook. But I’d take twitter over facebook to 1) develop a brand and 2) to network with local business people. Monitor your hometown name in a twitter search on tweetdeck and you’ll be amazed who you meet.

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