Social Media Matters

Social media is having a big impact on the real estate industry.

July 1, 2007

I recently visited a Web site called Club Penguin that lets children live as virtual penguins in a digital world where they can socialize, play games or work at jobs, and earn money that lets them outfit their penguin selves with clothing, a well-decorated igloo, and cool gadgets.

This virtual world is aimed at “tweens” (children aged 8–14), and there are others like it. Children have been using the Internet for some time now, but this kind of “social media” application using virtual worlds takes their online sophistication to another level.

As I toured penguin land, I found myself wondering what expectations these young people will have of the real estate transaction when they’re adults.

Will they even need to meet with you “in person” as part of a real estate sale or lease, or might your avatar and theirs be able to take a transaction to closing in a completely virtual world?

Clearly, social media are already having an impact on the real estate business, particularly as members of Generation Y (born between 1978 and 2000 and about 80 million strong) have moved into their home buying and selling years — and into the real estate business as practitioners. Many practitioners today use blogs as marketing tools, and some are already experimenting with business in a virtual world. In our April issue, we introduced you to a practitioner who’s using Second Life, one of the fastest growing online environments in the world, to sell virtual and actual real estate.

One of the nation’s largest real estate companies, Coldwell Banker, has also set up shop there.

“We believe that social networking sites and virtual reality platforms are important places for us to be experimenting in and learning about,” says the company’s senior vice president of marketing, Charlie Young. “We’re there to send a message to new consumers that we’re committed to innovation.” Coldwell’s message to its associates, Young says: “Run toward the light, not away from it.

For now, the company sees its presence in SL primarily as a traffic driver to its Web site. From March through May, more than 85,000 of SL’s 6 million registered account holders visited the office, and 1,326 of those clicked through to the company’s Web site, Young says, much better than the average click-through rate for banners on typical Web sites.

If SL represents a version of how we’ll all eventually interact on the Internet, as some futurists believe it does, says Young, “then we need to be learning all we can about it so we’re ready for that.”

At REALTOR® Magazine, we’re committed to helping you be ready for whatever the future holds for your business. In our September issue, you’ll hear more from Young and other tech-savvy marketers as part of a roundtable discussion we conducted this summer about cutting-edge marketing techniques, including how to leverage the growing wave of social media in your business.

We’ve also put together a collection of links on social media and marketing to help you learn more about Second Life, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, and blogging — and move toward the light.

Pamela Geurds Kabati is the former publisher of REALTOR® Magazine and senior vice president of communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.