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Take Orientations Online

October 31, 2012

Like it or not, there are members who don’t want to meet you or set foot in your office. It’s not personal. Like many young people today, they just prefer to do everything online.

Although your association’s new member orientation is a cherished opportunity to connect in person and distill the value of membership, in the interest of accommodating members’ needs, you may want to consider establishing a virtual orientation, at least as an option to a live, face-to-face presentation. 

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it”

So when did good old-fashioned meet ’n greets become, well, old-fashioned? Colleges and universities first flocked to the use of virtual new student orientations to accommodate their Web-savvy students’ preferred learning style. Membership organizations soon followed suit.

The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants boasts an informative and interactive webinar orientation that members can take from their office or at home. The American Society for Testing and Materials’ new member orientation and training consists of a downloadable PowerPoint tour of online electronic tools that facilitate member participation “from any place, at any time.” The society also offers 12 to 15 live online webinar orientations a year with online registration, and an accompanying downloadable PDF kit.

Among REALTOR® associations, entirely virtual new member orientations aren’t common, but many incorporate virtual elements into their orientations. For instance, many associations direct new members to view the 18-minute NAR new member orientation video online, which covers member benefits and resources, advocacy, and more from the national perspective. NAR materials are also available on the CD inside the New Member Orientation Toolkit that’s mailed to all associations every year. And associations can direct members to NAR’s online ethics course for that part of the new member training requirement.

Several associations are following NAR’s lead. The Wisconsin Association of REALTORS®, for example, has produced and posted its own online membership benefit videos that are used not only to attract members and orient new members, but also to promote membership value to existing members.

Supplementing, not supplanting

It’s not just about replacing in-person services with virtual ones. Online technology lends itself perfectly to enhancing live interactions.

Marc Lebowitz, CEO of the Ada County Association of REALTORS®, Utah, supplements his live monthly new member session with a Skype call to the NAR Information Central.

“Basically, Marc tells us when he is holding a new member orientation and we await the video call from him on Skype,” says Mary Martinez-Garcia, NAR’s library manager. “He turns his webcam toward the audience so we can see each other and I, or one of the other librarians, do a 10-minute show about the library, Information Central, REALTOR.org resources, and member benefits through NAR, then we leave a few minutes for questions.”

“Virtual” can also mean “flexible”

When a new member simply can’t make it into the office for orientation, AEs strive to be accommodating.

“I’ve completed two orientations by conference and webinar,” says Carol Platt, AE of the Osceola County Association of REALTORS®, Fla. “I’ve used Skype to communicate, plus the online videos on the NAR Web site for all of the segments of a new member orientation. We can’t see the member watch the videos, so we allot time and then ask a few questions that they would only know if they watched it.”

Platt’s association has members from 54 countries who are often traveling or living much of the year out of the country, she says, so a fully virtual orientation curriculum is on her to-do list.

No doubt when she does get to creating that curriculum, Platt will look to the trail-blazing 20,000-member Long Island Board of REALTORS®, with its entirely online new agent orientation, for inspiration. Launched in 2007, the course offers new REALTORS® the flexibility to work through the material at their own pace from their home or office.

LIBOR’s virtual orientation program consists of two parts: the association benefits and MLS orientation in slide-show format, and the Code of Ethics training, which was produced by an online education vendor. Both parts must be completed to satisfy the association’s new agent orientation requirement.

The MLS segment of the online orientation provides members with industry case scenarios of specific situations and how to resolve them. The MLS rules book and forms are available online to print. This $25 online orientation is approved for 3.75 hours of New York state continuing education credit and satisfies the NAR ethics-training requirement.

LIBOR also offers a free face-to-face orientation and still encourages members who opt for the online version to visit the office and meet the association staff.

According to MaryAnn Monteleone, LIBOR’s VP of professional development, about half of new members take the virtual version of orientation, which is reviewed and updated annually.

Going virtual

The cost and technological hurdles of producing and posting orientation videos and courses, or hosting webinars, have undoubtedly stalled association development of virtual orientations, but there are cost-effective solutions, including free and low-cost online presentation tools (SlideRocket, Empressr, Google Docs) and webinar services (Microsoft Office Live Meeting, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, Web-Ex, Freebinar).

Before you begin, check your bylaws, which may need to be amended or changed to allow for an orientation that is not in person.

NAR has no specific requirements about what must be included in a new member orientation, other than with respect to the Code of Ethics (“Applicants for REALTOR® membership shall complete an orientation program on the Code of Ethics of not less than 2 hours and 30 minutes of instructional time, effective Jan. 1, 2001”). In fact, virtual orientations are not precluded by NAR policy, according to NAR’s vice president of board policy and programs, Cliff Niersbach. “Whether it’s acceptable locally will be at the discretion of each association.”

Whether virtual orientations are right for your incoming younger membership—in whole or in part—is a question to explore today.