Let's Twitter

An ingenious marketing and communications tool, or a mindless waste of time? In the end, Twitter is all about what you decide to make of it.

September 1, 2008

In the real estate business, where networking and marketing are key to survival, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of every new technology that promises to quickly spread the word about you and your services.

But before you spend your precious time trying to master every new online tool, you’ve got to evaluate whether it’s really worth it. And in the case of Twitter, I think the vote is still out.

If you haven’t heard about Twitter yet, here’s a quick rundown: Twitter is a free, Web-based “micro-blogging” service that allows you to send short (140-character maximum) text messages to everyone on your subscriber list (who are known in the Twitter world as your “followers”).

You can send your brief Twitter updates (called “tweets”) from your mobile phone or your Twitter Web page, among other mediums. If you’re a “follower” of someone else, you can choose to receive “tweets” in any format you choose—on your phone, e-mail, RSS aggregator. Here’s a quick how-to video from the Twitter Web site.

Is this a cool tool? Well, from a purely social networking perspective, it is easy, fast, and very convenient, given all the means to send and receive your short tweets. It’s also very addictive and completely free, not counting text-messaging fees if you use Twitter to send or receive on your mobile phone. 

But as a serious business communications or real estate marketing tool, I still have my doubts. First of all, the 140 character message limitation puts a severe constraint on any kind of meaningful communication in a business context. You also have to build your base of “followers” in order for them to receive your tweets. 

And while one-to-one private messaging is possible, Twitter was really designed for one-to-many communications, which makes private discussions about properties or offers somewhat problematic.

This isn’t to say that some real estate practitioners haven't found good uses for Twitter. Some insist it’s a great way to keep agents within a brokerage or members of a team up to date on the status of a transaction. For example, you can send everyone in your group a message that says “Johnson deal is set to close on Tuesday at 2 p.m.” Each person would just have to set up their mobile phone to receive your Twitter messages.

But before doing this, find out if everyone on your team really wants frequent text messages. Sometimes, a simple e-mail might suffice. If people have to pay for receiving individual text messages, there may even be a cost factor to consider.

To provide some balance to my skeptical point of view, I interviewed Andy Kaufman of Williams Realty in Berkeley, Calif., who is arguably the Twitter “Guru” of real estate agents. 

Over the past year and a half he has amassed nearly 2,800 followers (he refers to this group as his “online village”) and says social networking aspects of Twitter are invaluable. He’s even working with one prospect he met through Twitter.  However, he feels the biggest business benefit is meeting other practitioners who use the new medium and want to develop referral relationships.

While Twitter may be the next great Web application that’s out of this world (NASA recently used Twitter to keep fans of the new Mars Lander up to date on its adventures), its use as an effective earth-bound business tool has yet to be proven. 

What do you think? Visit the YPN Lounge blog to share your opinion.

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Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.