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Social Media – Disintermediating Aggregators?

 the writing is on the wall for aggregators


I believe it to be true.  Meeting buyers and sellers before buying and selling was even a need.  It is happening all over the country in locations like Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Myspace, and others where the consumer has met the agent before any idea of a transaction has taken place. Take as an example this Twitter case study from the point of view of a consumer:

How it happened

We kidded around online for a year about everything but real estate, but I as the consumer watched as he updated readers on market conditions via his blog feed, as well as told it like it was about the new city council proposals- I (the consumer) like his style and he’s pretty down to earth too. I added him to my Twitter on the advice of a collegue, not thinking much at the time, but Doug has turned out to be a pretty great guy- I even met him twice at Twitter meet-ups.

The innocent question I asked

What do you think of that new subdivison off of Parmer and hwy 1431?  “It’s really nice, why don’t you check out this blog post about it?” he asked.  I said sure, and asked what else will be going on in that area over the next couple of years because I’ve noticed a lot of land clearing…

The conversation turns to action

I’ve been talking to my wife and you know, our lease is up in August, is it too soon to think about looking?

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You get the point…

This is happening every day everywhere online- that personal connection.  A friend is a client I want everytime.

Disintermediation

Why am I asking questions into the wind when I can just ask Doug?  Welcome to Social Media.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. JoshK

    May 21, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    So, you are suggesting that through social media, every person will be able to have a friend that is a real estate agent in the market that they will ultimately move to? It’s an interesting thought, though I’m not sure it’s realistic since agents operate locally, and the real estate market is global. Am I getting stuck in your case study and not seeing some bigger picture?

  2. Benn Rosales

    May 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    Josh, I’m not sure which direction you’re looking, grand or narrow because I think yours is the reply I hear the most. But I assure you, micro blogging nationally using twitter is like any vehicle used to reach a target, you must refine. We refine by attending locally social clubs, groups, our previous and current clients, church, and anyone else we’re friends or acquaintences with and invite them in, and in most cases, they’re inviting us. When you think about it, any business/small business may want to reach from local to national creating an equal opportunity for both. By expanding your network from professional into a personal, you’re (as an agent) allowing the consumer locally to see into your mind, thoughts, and yes, your personality. Twitter will weed out the salesmen, and encourage the sincere. I love when my clients are coming to me with this knowledge, it allows us to communicate on a level that is friendly, honest, sincere, to a point that I’m getting honest input from them to better help them- for example i may know about the 2 month old pregnancy even the family isn’t yet privy too.

  3. G. Dewald

    May 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I’m going to hold back my wit re: “i may know about the 2 month old pregnancy even the family isn’t yet privy to.” 😉

    Love the angle on using social media as a tool to keep the aggregators on their toes. You could go a long way with that one.

    Is the study based on a real or hypothetical example (not that it matters much to me, I think your direction is on target regardless)?

  4. Benn Rosales

    May 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    It’s based on clients I am currently working with, how we’ve constructed my personal/professional network, and I work with some of the most brilliant minds in smm on enduser realities as we continue to seek out value and roi.

    I appreciate your wit, I got a giggle on that one reading it from your perspective.

    I warn (in general) that when we signed on to smm to really invest our time was after we really established that we would do sm regardless of the roi- because we love the interation. I really do believe that a sm approach must come from a sincere place.

  5. JoshK

    May 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Ok, now I’m looking at it from a bit of a broader perspective than I originally was. If I understand correctly, what you’re basically trying to say is that through social media, you can make a personal connection with people that aggregators can’t achieve? And if you can solidify this relationship, the people won’t go looking at the aggregators but will only come to you, a “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” sort of argument? Not that agents are devils 😉

    Benn, it sounds to me like what you’re talking about is making contacts that would enable you to reach the market of “locals moving locally”. If I’m in another state and I want to move to your market, how are you going to reach me with Twitter or other social media before I go looking at aggregators? I guess if you have a blog that was competitive with the aggregators on rankings in your market, then the personal relationship provided by the social media approach could reach people before they get to an aggregator, thus disintermediating them. From an SEO perspective, that could be a tough task.

  6. G. Dewald

    May 21, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Josh, I’m not going to answer for Benn obviously, but the following analogy might be useful.

    Meeting someone via an aggregator is like communicating with a newspaper classifieds listing.

    Meeting someone via SMM (twitter, blogging or anything else that has room for depth/sincerity/two-way-communication) is like meeting them at a cocktail party.

    Both interactions are valuable but you’re going to place varying degrees of trust in your sources. The classifieds/aggregator trust level will likely be more static while the trust via SMM will be more dependent on the nature of the interaction and how the marketer carries him or herself. Just like a cocktail party.

  7. Benn Rosales

    May 21, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Josh, I can absolutely see where you’re coming from, and I agree that folks will make their way to the feeders- no doubt about that.

    But… ( you knew it was coming 😉 ) Consumers go with what they know and who they trust. Socially driven media is by its very meaning a crowd, and inside that crowd is a consumer looking for wisdom. As that wisdom is inserted innocently into the crowd (in this case the agent) he or she already has the endorsement of the collective (and probably a few options too) allowing you to make that local to local connection- but here’s one even better for you on relocation- I have families coming from Taiwan and Alaska- you don’t have to guess how they met me. Both have unique needs that must be addressed before they can even select a property. By using me each of these clients has eyes and ears on the ground- locally, to really give them a perspective, and you know what? I use aggrigation in both of these cases as a tool to supliment that perspective.

    To affirm your point, aggrigation is not going away, nor do I think it is the end of aggrigation. what I truly believe is we are really in the infancy of both. What an aggrigator will always lack is not a fancy offering or appeal- it will lack the affirmation needed in decisions that come with making so many life altering decisions that are often very time sensitive. Having a relationship with Doug as I described above is invaluable.

    We’re just babies, I’m just pointing out that in this infancy, it will be up to aggrigators to realize that even they have no ownership of the conversation- it seems to now be a new moving target.

  8. JoshK

    May 21, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    @G. Dewald: I agree with you, in a lot of cases. My skepticism is with the original premises of this article that “the writing is on the wall” for aggregators. I also see many, many cases where it will be difficult to form that personal connection (i.e. reach someone with social media) before they get to an aggregator. Additionally, not every buyer is the same, and many consumers enjoy comparison shopping or approaching things on their own without the personal connection (even with an agent I knew, I would probably do some searching on my own to weed out any of the agent’s bias or verify his/her info).

    Both have their place. And in some cases, both have the same place; that is, a conversation on Trulia Voices is an example of agents using social media under the umbrella of an aggregator.

  9. JoshK

    May 21, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    @Benn: Very well put. That conversation is a moving target, you are right, and many different players are trying to bring that “crowd” to their forum, including the aggregators with things like Trulia Voices as I mentioned in my last comment.

    Thanks for the insight on the value of building a customer base even before they are ready to be paying customers. This is advice that certainly transcends real estate.

  10. Benn Rosales

    May 21, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Josh, this is the writing on the wall:
    “We’re just babies, I’m just pointing out that in this infancy, it will be up to aggrigators to realize that even they have no ownership of the conversation- it seems to now be a new moving target.”

    It isn’t meant as the end of the world, it is meant as a challenge to answer that need. But I don’t think it is just real estate related, I think it is generally inventory related.

  11. Frank Jewett

    May 21, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    The question is not whether you can get one lead by using Twitter, but whether you can get more leads by using Twitter than you could using a more traditional approach. I’m not talking about carpet bombing the neighborhood with flyers or taking out a HELOC to buy full page ads in the local fishwrap. I appreciate that new technology allows agents to market at a lower price point, but it still takes time and that must be the agent’s most precious commodity because the top producers in my area are still employing assistants to leverage their time. I don’t think many of them would start tweeting to see what RE.net celebrities are up to, yet most of what we hear about Twitter is the early adoption scene celebrating itself.

    In another thread, Jim Duncan wrote “I’d like to think those of us here and there are better than the ‘average’ agent!” That is a big part of the attraction. It also explains the volume of affirmation we’re seeing as members of the group celebrate the scene by name dropping each other to demonstrate that they are part of the in-crowd.

    In another thread, Mark Eckenrode wrote “…people still came from across the country to attend. that is testament to the influence of social media.” If people coming from around the country to attend a gathering was proof of concept, we’d have to tip our hats to VMDirect, the Amway of real estate video. They draw from all over too, by the thousands, yet I suspect most of us here don’t take them seriously.

    The same is true of the RE.net outside their own twittering circle. When twitters are top producers, the industry will stand up and take notice. Until then, their doubts are reasonable, scattered success stories by those who are heavily invested (emotions and time) in the RE.net social media scene notwithstanding.

  12. Jonathan Dalton

    May 21, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I recall one tale I heard yesterday of someone who logged on to Twitter, decided to follow a few folks without ever sending a Tweet, and got a listing from one of the people he elected to follow.

    While I’m not doubting the veracity of the story, it does seem incredibly felicitous (as lunchtime beer during the Champions League final fuels $100 words) … it’s akin to wearing a logo shirt to the gas station and get a listing from the pump next to you. It’s conceivable but it’s not necessarily likely.

    More likely is if Twitter and these other tools are leveraged to increase your sphere of influence, and then the additional business comes from that enlarged sphere. That I can see happening.

    Much as some have argued that agents will be disintermediated (hello, Barry!) but it hasn’t happened as of yet (and to my mind won’t) I don’t see the aggregators disappearing either. They may reappear in different forms (hello, Rudy!) but they’ll still exist.

    (And yes, I know Trulia’s not an aggregator but I haven’t picked on Rudy today.)

  13. Vicki Moore

    May 21, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Frank – Geeze – I don’t know where to start. Twitter, specifically, is so new, I’m not sure if anyone knows what they can “get out of it.” Some things I do because I want to, not because I think I’m going to get something out of it. How did you come to the conclusion that top producers are not on Twitter?

    The fact is that Realtors as a whole are getting older while the consumer employing them is getting younger. We have to take a chance on new technology. That’s where the consumers are – the future home buyers and sellers – our future clients.

    Relating to Jim Duncan’s quote, I’m not sure if you’re referencing the quote I’m thinking of, but I believe Jim was referring to the fact that we here reading and writing at AG and other similar sites are staying current with our peers and learning from each other on a daily basis, thus possibly making us better than the average agent.

    We’re here sharing ideas, thoughts and results. I find it interesting that there has been some result from Twitter.

    Celebrities? That just seems funny to me. Who’s a celebrity around here?

  14. Jim Duncan

    May 21, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Here’s the context of my quote. What I meant was that those agents who read AG, go to Inman, BHBU, etc. By reading more, by being involved in the change that is happening, by conversing with others and learning on a daily basis, I’ll stand by the statement that those who read more and do more are better agents.

    RE celebrities? I’d be curious how much that job pays.

    … yet most of what we hear about Twitter is the early adoption scene celebrating itself.

    Really?

  15. Andy Kaufman

    May 21, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Hey JD, I think you hit the nail on the head with your ‘leveraging Twitter to increase your sphere’ comment. If you’re using Twitter to solely generate leads, that’s exactly where I’d be focusing. Use the tool to connect and then organize off line meet-ups so that you can connect in real life. However, if this is the only reason you’re using it, you might have a problem gaining a large following because it’s easy to spot a phony marketer from a mile away.

    Let’s assume that you have skills & personality and figure out how to build a following. Gary Keller talks about touching your sphere 33 times throughout the year to achieve top of mind share. With Twitter I can touch them 1000+ times and if I’m providing value they’ll thank me for it and come up to ME to introduce themselves rather than thinking, “Oh great, there’s that D-bag realtor who keeps sending us those postcards.” when they see me. Now THAT is a great feeling.

  16. Susan Hilton - Texas Aggie Realtor

    May 21, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    There are so many wants to find and work with clients. We just hav eto be willing to try new things and embrace they way buyers and sellers want to communicate.

  17. Benn Rosales

    May 22, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Mr. Jewett,

    I appreciate your comment, and I certainly can understand your position, you’re absolutely entitled to your opinions on sm and even our writers. I sir, have no desire to drag unwillingly those that are steadfast in their beliefs. I would not want any top producer to feel pressured to adopt sm.

  18. Ken Smith

    May 22, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I can’t get my mind around what type of information you would send out via Twitter to engage potential clients. Information that the masses would be interested in that will bring in future business. The only feeds I have ever signed up for I deleted within days as it was all annoying crap that I could care less about. Would love some examples of what is working for others, preferably from agents that have actually brought in real business from using twitter.

    Sorry off topic comment coming:
    Jonathan said “(And yes, I know Trulia’s not an aggregator but I haven’t picked on Rudy today.)”

    How is Trulia not an aggregator? They use other peoples information (listings, many via feeds) to fill out their website with content. Without others information there is no website, they are about the purest form of an aggregator there is IMO.

  19. G. Dewald

    May 22, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Ken, re: Twitter there’s a few good links on the “Twitter for Real Estate and Business” page at my company’s blog. I think you might find something useful there.

  20. Frank Jewett

    May 22, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Vicki, I know the top producers in my market. They aren’t using twitter. I’m not saying that is proof that twitter is a bad concept, but being able to know where Jeff Turner ate lunch today is not proof that twitter is a good concept. That’s what I mean by celebrity. I constantly see name dropping associated with the hipness of new technology and technology seminars. This mutual appreciation doesn’t prove that anyone is actually gaining a meaningful advantage. It’s basically like national, statewide, and local AOR Director bragging rights being applied to the field of real estate technology.

    Jonathan wrote: “Those are the reasons I don’t believe my meager press clippings on success here in the real estate blogging world. Success here doesn’t necessarily translate to being an 800-lb. gorilla in the real world of real estate.”

    I found Jonathan’s candor a refreshing departure from the usual RE.net puffery.

  21. Frank Jewett

    May 22, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Benn, my comments are not meant as a judgement on “your” writers, only on those writers to whom they are applicable. If Seth Godin had a dollar for every time his name was dropped, he could retire today. I focus on top producers because theoretically they have the ability most agents would like to achieve, even if they choose not to hire assistants and build a large team. Selling technology on the basis of looking cool is 2004-2005 thinking. These days technology has to actually bring in the business or you’ll end up not having time to blog or tweet because you’ll be working two jobs to try to cover your mortgage. I know people who are already in that situation, and not for lack of knowledge or failure to embrace new technology. If anything, they invested too much time on blogging when they should have been out walking the neighborhood. Now they don’t have enough time left to do either.

  22. David G from Zillow.com

    May 23, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Benn; those sites are aggregators; they’re people aggregators. This argument can be (and has been) used to also predict the demise of SEO; i.e. why search for a Realtor when you’re following one on twitter? In reality, however, RE online is and will continue to be a highly fragmented market and home buyers will use a cross-section of services to find a home and a professional.

  23. Jonathan Dalton

    May 23, 2008 at 10:20 am

    When I said Trulia wasn’t aggregator, I meant a lead aggregator … they’re not trying to sell our own leads back to us for a referral fee.

    Ought to have been more clear on that score.

  24. Ken Smith

    May 23, 2008 at 11:05 am

    @Jonathan – That makes more sense thanks for clarifying.

  25. Jeremy Hart

    May 23, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I love these conversations! Perhaps this adds nothing to the conversation, but I’m going to jump in anyhow; I realize I’m in the minority with this, but there were two examples in the comments above that I wanted to focus on.

    Jonathan, I picked up a buyer by wearing my REALTOR pin. Gave him directions at a gas station, we struck up a conversation, and he mentioned that he and his wife were thinking about buying a home. They became great clients, and still refer business. I know it’s unlikely, but it happens 🙂

    I’ve also received two pieces of business off of Twitter, and I don’t think either of them had anything to do with whether or not I had a great lunch, or what my cat is doing (which, if anyone’s wondering, she’s probably laying around). I didn’t see a real value in Twitter at all when it was first introduced to me. In fact, I thought it a waste of time, it was just a big group chat. The proof? My first Tweet was October 16 2007, and said “I guess I just don’t quite understand the power of Twitter yet. Why do people care what I’m doing?” What I failed to see was that I was putting my willingness to adopt new strategies on display, and I was demonstrating my approach to my business relationships, my personal relationships, everything. People respond to that kind of openness, I think, and once I saw that they did I started opening up more.

    Since then, it’s turned into a listing and a buyer, and I anticipate more. I’ve seen a return already, and so I’ll continue to make it a part of my business plan. Yes, SM is part of my business plan, and it will continue to be. It’s hard to fit it all in sometimes, it’s already proven it’s worth and so I’ll find a way to continue it. The consumer will always be changing how their methods of doing business, and SM seems to be constantly providing new tools of changing with them. If it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t do it. I’m sure everyone else would say the same.

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