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Be the Virus, Todd (Three Thoughts on NAR Social Media Manager)

February 25, 2009

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

– Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charge of the Light Brigade

Todd Carpenter (@tcar on Twitter) has been named as the first ever Social Media Manager for the National Association of Realtors.

After an extensive search, we hired Todd Carpenter, a founder of RE Blogworld and of, a network of real estate and mortgage web sites including lenderama, REMBEX, and Denver Modern Homes. Many qualified candidates, both inside and outside of the real estate industry, applied for the position, and I asked a small set of finalists to prepare assignments detailing what they would do during their first 90 days in the role and how they would handle a challenging issue leveraging the power of the and the blogosphere.

We loved Todd’s ideas, his easygoing manner, his reputation and how knowledgeable he is about social media. We also really valued his relationships with so many REALTORS® who are using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media channels to connect effectively with one another and with potential clients and customers.

As I have recommended Todd for this job way back when — albeit layered with concerns — I am of course thrilled for Todd, and wish him the best of luck.  I have also been privileged to be invited to converse with NAR leadership about their social media strategy, with an emphasis on what the NAR Social Media Manager’s role ought to be, and have given them further thoughts on that.

Here, I want to expand with three further thoughts.

1.  Yours Not to Do and Die / Yours But to Reason Why

With due apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, I’d like to stress what this role cannot become: the voice of NAR for “social media”.

Becoming the “voice of NAR for social media” does two disservices: one to NAR, and one to you.

For NAR, it ghettoizes social media as “just another marketing channel” just like print, TV, radio, or email.  What is needed is not another “marketing channel” but a wholesale change in approach to how NAR connects with its members, with the public, and with policymakers.

For you, the disservice is that rather than becoming a change agent able to drive cultural change from within NAR, you become yet another communication channel — of which NAR has plenty.  I likened the proper role of the Social Media Manager to be something like a “cluetrain conductor“.  And I think that remains the case.

Yours is to reason why NAR does or does not speak to its constituents and the public on a particular topic, in a particular way.  And to force the organization itself to ask “Why?” or “Why not?”

2.  It is the Valley of Death

Well, perhaps “Valley of Death” is a bit dramatic — but it fit with the whole poetry theme!  Let’s rather call it the “Valley of Slowly Getting Co-Opted”.

What you know already is that the people at NAR are delightful.  They’re smart, dedicated, professional, and truly cares about the industry, about their members, about consumers.  Contrary to some of the portrayals of NAR in the media and, I have found that everyone I’ve met at NAR is just wonderful.  There isn’t a person who works at NAR that I’ve met personally who I wouldn’t want to go have a beer with, or talk policy with, or even just talk about our favorite movies with.

This is a danger to you.

Because it is far too easy to become “one of them”.  JeffX’s twitter joke is actually profound:

@JeffX: Hey TNar, i mean @tcar will the NAR allow you to maintain your Ninja rights?

It isn’t simply NAR allowing you to be the person they hired; it is also you staying the person they hired, instead of slowly transforming into “one of them”.  You can’t stop the blipstreams, now that you have this “important position” in the real estate world.  You can’t stop blogging, can’t stop Twittering as @tcar, and can’t suddenly become “respectable”.

Of course, NAR can’t try to stop you — that plainly defeats the purpose of bringing you inside the fold.

3.  Be the Virus

The remedy, then, is to internalize that one of the biggest values you are bringing to NAR is to be the “virus from without”.  Your task is to make NAR more like you: open, authentic, honest, and constantly in touch.

Just as you have been transparent to the RE community over the years, so you must “infect” the rest of NAR to become transparent.  Just as you have always been one of the most authentic human beings on over the years, so you must infect the rest of NAR, the state associations, the member organizations, and indeed the NAR members themselves to be more authentic, be more human, and be more connected.

Through those efforts, I know you can bring in the fresh voices, the new perspectives from the and realestistas everywhere to the mainstream of the industry.  And you know that you have friends and allies who support you in those efforts.

So once again, congratulations to both you and to NAR.  You have my best wishes, and my pledge to support your efforts to become the Cluetrain conductor we so desperately need.


(PS: I posted this publicly because many of the thoughts here are applicable to any large organization that is starting up social media initiatives, and to anyone working at those organizations.  And because some of these things are worth discussing.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2009 3:34 pm

    Rob, great thoughts. I would suggest we ditch “infect” and “virus” metaphors and go with the concept of “spreadability”, as articulated by Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program articulates.

  2. February 25, 2009 4:26 pm

    Another insightful post Rob! It will be QUITE interesting to see how Todd manages to adjust to an archaic industry 🙂

  3. February 25, 2009 5:32 pm

    I hate to tell you this Rob, but I’ve already been “changed”. I haven’t dropped the F-bomb on twitter in weeks.

    • February 25, 2009 5:40 pm


      Call the police! Todd’s been kidnapped! Save the Ninja!


  4. March 1, 2009 11:23 pm

    I saw Todd’s tweet today – I do hope it is a joke, and not “The Valley of Death”: “Tomorrow is my first official day working for NAR. I’m curious if anyone has an over/under line on how long my ninja masks lasts? :p”


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