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AE-to-Member Blog

January 1, 2009

When Carol Van Gorp, RCE, CAE, CIPS, e-pro, CEO of the Columbia Board of REALTORS®, Mo., launched her blog in December, she said she’d give it a few weeks to see how it went. Four months later, it’s still going and filled with her observations, explanations, and analyses of association activities and local market happenings.

“My intent is to speak to my members (and anyone else who is interested) on issues that we deal with at the Columbia Board of REALTORS®—both on a staff level and on a volunteer leadership level,” Van Gorp said on her blog. “Maybe we can answer the age-old question of ‘What were they thinking?’”

Here are a few examples of what Van Gorp has posted:
1. A YouTube video in which she -explains how the association is going to use an NAR grant it received;
2. An explanation of a local newspaper’s decision to stop delivering its association consumer publication, and what it’s doing in response;
3. Thoughts on dues collection: “Everyone asks me how we are doing. It’s really hard to tell because you all pay at the last minute . . . The dues being due right after Christmas is a hard time for everyone. It’s a slow closing period, which makes it worse. In -Miami, we billed in the summer for the following calendar year’s dues . . . Everyone hated that too because they didn’t want the association to hold their money that long. My guess is that no payment date would be any better than the next. New Year’s Eve will bring about a third of our membership into the office to pay. It’s -really kind of fun to see everyone!”

“The hardest part about a blog is starting it,” says Van Gorp. “You have to make time for it and to identify your audience. I decided to use it as a vehicle to speak directly to my members about local issues. Members like it, and it provides more transparency to our organization.”

• Houston Launches Free Member Blogs
The Houston Association of REALTORS® has developed a tool to help members become part of the blogosphere. The HAR Blog Builder -allows members to create a blog for free on HAR.com. In addition to being able to personalize their blog with various categories, themes, and color options, members can also control readers’ posts and comments. For Houston -REALTORS® who already have a blog, HAR is creating a blog directory that will be promoted on HAR.com. “HAR strives to stay ahead of the game by developing various products and services to help you grow your business and expand your network of peers and clients,” the association said in a statement. The HAR Member Blog Builder launches this spring. For more information, contact Taqi Rizvi, at 713/ 629-1900, ext. 252, or taqi@har.com.

• CNN Is Watching Your Blog

The recent death of former Chicago Association of REALTORS® President Steven Good caught national attention. Good was serving as the 2009 chair of the REALTORS® Commercial Alliance committee, the commercial division of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and was CEO of Sheldon Good & Company, a -Chicago-based real estate auction, brokerage, and consulting firm. CNN found the association’s tribute to Good online at chicagorealtorsblog.com and quoted from the member postings. CNN online printed: “On a memorial blog set up by the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, for which [Steve] Good once served as president, friends and colleagues described him as a gregarious man with a big personality. He was a savvy businessman who built his company into a major national real estate company that did deals with Donald Trump.”

Hottest Ed Topic: Social Media Marketing
Associations across the country say social media marketing (using social networking Web sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and others to promote your business) is their hottest education topic. “All classes fill up quite quickly,” says Mathias Bergendahl, the director of marketing and communications at the Pinellas REALTOR® Organization, Fla.
“With so many -REALTORS® now adding profiles to Facebook and LinkedIn, and launching blogs, there are both -opportunities and risks involved,” says Bergendahl. “We provide members an education before they get started so that they’ll go about their social media marketing strategically rather than casually.”

The classes emphasize maintaining a professional image on social networks even though they’re informal, as well as adhering to all laws and conforming with company branding.

“We’ve been holding a lot of social -media classes lately. Seems members can’t get enough of it,” echoes Jean Sawtelle, communications director at the Plymouth and South Shore Association of -REALTORS®, Mass. Recently the association hosted a hands-on Face-book class where 22 members brought their laptops to learn the basics of social media and create their own Facebook page.

The Pinellas program is divided into four classes. In the first class they break down the concepts of social media, highlighting the opportunities and risks. In the second class, My First Blog 101, members create their own blog on Wordpress and discuss ways to build their blog presence online. The third class focuses on integrating all online platforms, making sure their brand is clear. The fourth is a customization of personal blogs created in step two, and another opportunity is a clinic where members get one-on-one assistance with any platform. Attendance ranges from 20 to 30 members per class and there is no charge.

The Facebook 101 class at the Columbus Board of REALTORS®, Ohio, is also a hit, says Kelley Truxall, interactive communication coordinator. The free, two-hour class attracts nearly 80 people. “We not only got to show our members the basics, but we also pushed our board’s Facebook presence. We showed out members how they can connect back with the association, with their peers, and with untapped markets and potential clients.”

Contributing to Communities: Giving Without Spending
Giving something back to the community can be difficult to do with an empty wallet. That’s why associations are getting creative in finding ways to help members give back to their communities without spending a lot of cash.

The economic downturn has created a need for more volunteers in many charities. Fortunately, the Cambria Somerset Association of REALTORS® in Johnstown, Pa., which has a surplus of members with time on their hands, is seeing an all-time high in charity event participation.

“With the real estate business down, people just don’t have money to contribute,” says Della Csehoski, association executive. “So donating their time lets the members network with each other while doing something good together, and it also helps keep them busy.”

The Cambria Somerset association contributes to several charities by donating manpower instead of money. For example, the association sponsors a blood drive each year at the local mall. The office with the most REALTORs® donating receives a trophy (a minimal cost for the association). Some of the members donate food to help bring in donors, and one member walks around the mall dressed as the Red Cross “Blood Drop,” soliciting donors.
Members give their time at the Salvation Army, sorting donations for disadvantaged families and seniors.
If donations fall short, the association will purchase additional items to ensure that each family or senior is
accommodated.

Members also volunteer their time at the local soup kitchen, where recent turnout for a week of scheduled service was so great that members extended their volunteer commitment a few more weeks.

With the slow market, members don’t interact with each other as much as usual, says Csehoski, so association events, particularly charity events, are more important today for the association and the community.
— by Lisia Bria Amburn, AE, Southwest Virginia Association of REALTORS®

Associations and Social Media: Advice from Todd Carpenter, NAR’s new social media guru

Q. What is the one “essential” social media platform for REALTOR® associations?
A blog is the most essential social media platform. Blogs allow anyone on staff who is capable of sending an e-mail to publish to the Web without the help of the IT department or Webmaster. Social media simply means media that anyone can participate in. Blogs give your association the ability to quickly and easily publish news, calls to action, and events to the Web.

When participating on all other forms of social media, blogs act as a linkable home base, so they should be the first social media platform associations participate in as well. In deciding where to participate next, consider polling your members. The main reason to participate in places like Facebook or Twitter is that you are getting in front of members who are already visiting these platforms on a regular basis. If only two of your members have a MySpace account, there’s no reason to be there.

Q. How can a small association stay on top of social media?
Setting up a blog as a vehicle for publishing content to the Web is a great way for a staff-of-one association to communicate with members. Blogs are easy to publish to, and have commenting capabilities built into them, allowing the membership to respond to the association, and communicate with other members. Blogs also offer the ability to allow select members to write content as well. When the committee chair for the monthly luncheon can post about upcoming and past events, the entire membership benefits with only minimal work by the staff.

Q. What are some common social media mistakes associations make?
While attending AEI last month, the most common misconception communicated to me was that associations were looking at platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as vehicles for pushing information to their membership. For instance, more than one person wanted to figure out how to use Twitter as a mass direct messaging platform. E-mail and direct mailings are the most effective push marketing devices, so don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If your members are not opening those e-mails, they’re not going to read a message sent to them through -Facebook either. Instead, consider why your members are participating on social networks. They want to see pictures of their new nephew, or chat with their friends. They go to these sites regularly. It’s enough that you are simply there for them to see if they choose to. If you are too aggressive in communicating with them on these networks, they will ignore you.

Q. What are the advantages and pitfalls of social media for associations?
The biggest advantage is that social media opens up lines of communication between the membership and the association. This is also its biggest pitfall. Members will want to communicate more often, expect greater access, and feel freer to express opinions that may be less than positive. Associations need to be open to some additional criticism, and ready to respond. Plus, associations need to be just as ready to listen on social media as they are anxious to talk.

If you have social media questions, contact Todd Carpenter at tcarpenter@realtors.org.

Be My Friend? Social Networking Etiquette Tips
How do you say “no” to members who want to be a “friend” on your personal Facebook page? What should you do when a member on your leadership team wants your “recommendation” on her LinkedIn profile? These requests can blur the line between professional and personal relationships.

Tip: Now is the time to decide how you want your association involved with social networking online and to set an association-wide policy covering all staff and leadership.

Tip: You’re not obligated to “friend” everyone back (your “association” facebook page can be for members only). Every organization uses Twitter, Facebook, etc., differently. Removing someone as a friend doesn’t (necessarily) reflect how you feel about them.

Associations Market RTRN Program
by Marc Lebowitz, CAE, Ada County Association of REALTORS®, Idaho
The size and scope of NAR’s Right Tools, Right Now offering is huge. The question now is how do AEs absorb, process, and capitalize on so many different opportunities at once?

The key to this may be found in the parable of the elephant: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Our staff of six started by watching NAR CEO Dale Stinton’s Webcast. It’s still on -REALTOR.org and is the best place to begin. Next, we divided up the different parts of RTRN among our staff so we could each become “experts” on different components of the program: educational tools; training; grant programs; association resources; and research tools. This was more difficult than we expected. But, over several weeks, thanks to some really heavy lifting on the part of NAR staff, the details are coming into focus.

Next, we put together our own RTRN briefing report for our leadership and made it a key presentation topic for every member event we’ve held since February.

We also put together an e-bulletin for all of the other associations in our state on the highlights and “how to’s,” such as, “How do we apply for a grant under the Foreclosure Protection Relief Program?” and “Where is the Ira Gribin Workforce Housing application?”

The timing of this initiative’s kickoff posed some difficulty, since most state REALTORS® associations are knee-deep in state legislative sessions between January and April.

Meghan Byrnes, communications manager at the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS®, N.C., has been working on some traditional as well as non-traditional angles in its promotion. To date, the association has:
* included links on all e-mail signatures
* posted the banner and link on its association site, as well as on its MLS announcements page
* launched a PowerPoint featuring logo and info that runs on a television in its office lobby
* posted to Facebook and LinkedIn
* tweeted on Twitter every couple of days with a new “featured product”
* included a blurb and logo in its weekly member update (e-mail)

RTRN offers us an unprecedented opportunity to solidify the consultative partnership we have with our members in a time of great need.

New NAR Product Brochures for Associations
Help communicate the many benefits members receive from NAR with two new collateral pieces: the Top 10 Benefits of NAR Membership brochure and the REALTOR® Education & Publications catalog.

The Top 10 brochure includes the Programs & Services CD, a guide to exploring all the valuable tools, initiatives, and benefits that NAR makes available to members.

The new catalog compiles the best of the products available for purchase at NAR’s online store and details online education courses available from -REALTOR® University, plus other specialty designations and certifications recognized by NAR. The catalog also includes a full listing of current REALTOR Benefits® Program Partners; savings opportunities as part of the Right Tools, Right Now initiative; and other free offerings available to members only.
Get 100 copies of both the publications catalog and Top 10 Benefits brochure for just $10, and help communicate the many benefits members receive from NAR. These products will be updated in July and October 2009, and January 2010. Order at REALTOR.org, search “Association Resource Packet.”

Streaming Video Brings Services to Members at Home
“Right this minute, go to GoDaddy or some other service and purchase your domain name.tv,” says Carol Van Gorp, CEO of the 600-member Columbia Board of REALTORS®, Mo.

Van Gorp is sold on the use of streaming video to reach her members, especially since finding a free service last fall called ustream.tv.

Van Gorp explains that “no matter what fabulous program the association offered live, members said they’re too busy, there’s too much traffic, too much something to attend. So now we take our association to their desktop.”

Van Gorp broadcasts education classes, Code of Ethics discussions and skits, political candidate forums, designated REALTOR® meetings, MLS instructions, and more. One of the most popular broadcasts is from the association’s weekly property tour of new listings. “Agents describe their listings and then everyone goes and tours them. Since we started broadcasting,” says Van Gorp, “our live attendance has more than doubled with another 20 or so members watching from home.” Plus, if an agent requests it, Van Gorp will isolate a clip of the agent describing the seller’s property so he or she can send it to the client to demonstrate how hard the agent is working.

“In just minutes, you can broadcast and chat online with a global audience, completely free, all it takes is a camera and Internet connection,” she says. “We quickly signed up for an account and purchased the URL www.cbormls.tv.” The service enables subscribers to password-protect their content and it saves a copy of the live broadcast to be viewed later.

“This service works with any Internet camera, but most digital cameras are not equipped to stream live to the Internet,” says Van Gorp. “After three tries, we found a Sony Handycam DCR-HC62, for about $350.”

To view any of CBOR’s shows, visit www.cbormls.tv, use password “cborsold.”

Real Estate Summit at Midyear Meetings
Compelled by the insistent fact that housing has always led this nation out of economic troubles, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® is hosting the “Real Estate Summit: Advancing the U.S. Economy” on Tuesday, May 12, during the Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

The all-day summit will challenge its keynote speakers and two dynamic panels of experts in the areas of finance and real estate to determine solutions to the present crisis.

The goal of the summit is twofold: First, it aims to alleviate the fears that thousands of American home owners and homebuyers have about entering the real estate markets (thus sparking the national economy); and second, it intends to show the nation that NAR cares about the plight of housing in America and is actively doing many things to improve conditions.

A lively conversation including conservative -commentator Pat Buchanan and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) will open the summit. Hosted by the Legislative & Political Forum, both speakers will address the causes of the present crisis and offer opinions on how to move forward.

Following the forum, an all-star panel of experts from many fields will address challenges and present solutions in “Reshaping Real Estate to Sustain Communities.” The panel draws upon distinguished participants from academia, economics, the real estate industry, and government, and will be moderated by Ron Insana, CNBC, senior analyst and financial industry expert.

In the afternoon session, another panel will -examine the topic “Financing Real Estate for Tomorrow.” The composition of both panels will be announced later.

Sheila Bair, director, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., will be the keynote speaker for the late afternoon session of the summit. She’ll close out the day by addressing NAR’s Member & Director Forum, “59   Minutes.”

The Tuesday Midyear Committee and Business Meeting Schedule has been adjusted so that Midyear attendees can participate in the Real Estate Summit.

There is no registration fee for NAR members to attend the Midyear Meetings. To register, visitREALTOR.org/midyear.nsf.

Searching for a New AE?
A handful of executive search firms have agreed to pay a fee to NAR to post a link to their companies’ sites on the AE Jobs section of REALTOR.org. If typical recruiting methods aren’t working for you, these firms are another option to consider. NAR does not endorse any of the vendors listed on the site, which can be accessed at REALTOR.org/association_executives/realtor_ae/aejobs.

New Rebate for Leadership Summit, Aug. 24-25, Chicago
AEs and presidents-elect attending the 2009 Leadership Summit in Chicago, Aug. 24–25, are eligible to receive a new $750 rebate each to help cover travel and other expenses. This new rebate is a good-faith allowance and is in addition to hotel accommodations paid for by NAR (up to two nights). Plan to arrive in Chicago on Sunday, Aug. 23, in time for the Welcome Event at 7 p.m. Schedule your return home for the afternoon of Aug. 25. Registration opens online June 3 at noon CDT. AEs and presidents-elect will each need a REALTOR.org user name and password plus an NRDS ID number to register. For more information, stay tuned to REALTOR.org/lsummitweb.nsf and your INS report.

MLS Includes Fields for Disabled Features
The MLS for the Dayton Area Board of REALTORS®, Ohio, now includes fields in which agents can note handicapped-accessible features of a property. This new element in the MLS will help connect physically challenged clients with homes that will meet their accessibility needs, says association CEO Jesse Livesay. The association says it is the first MLS in the nation to incorporate these fields.

Title VIII of the Federal Fair Housing Act states that prospective tenants and homebuyers cannot be treated differently in their search for housing or be denied housing on the basis of disability. “The new initiative advances the real estate industry’s already strong commitment to these fair housing principles,” the association said in a statement.
“The Dayton Area Board of REALTORS® is the first to implement this type of outreach to people with disabilities through the MLS structure. People with disabilities have the right to choose from all neighborhoods and all available housing. The ‘Accessibility Features Form’ will give people with disabilities all of the options in homes with accessible features for sale in the Miami Valley,” says Jim -McCarthy, president and CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing
Center.

Homeowners wishing to sell can use the checklist of accessibility features (from ramps and chairlifts to entrance-level bathrooms) as a guide to help them make their home more marketable, making sure they list all the accessible features. For more, view the Dayton association’s press conference at www.dabr.com or contact Bob Jones at 937/223-0900. n

Facebook Proves a Popular Association Tool
The Georgia Association of REALTORS® has more than 2,000 “friends” and counting on Facebook.com, where it posted a group page a year ago. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Communication Director Brandie Miner about the page where the association promotes events, conducts surveys, and posts photos from events and meetings.

“The members that I know well love Facebook and converse with each other often through it,” says Miner. “We have created a group page and a fan page.” Although she can’t point to a specific, tangible benefit to launching the association Facebook page, members do visit it, and she believes it’s a “great way to stay visible at no monetary cost and very little time put in.”

Dozens of REALTOR® associations have pages on Facebook to be where their member are, and to join the conversation.

“In Kentucky, our members have taken to the Facebook craze and created their own local and regional groups after seeing what we were doing on the state level,” says Hunt Cooper, director of marketing and communications for the Kentucky Association of REALTORS®. Member reaction was so positive to Facebook, Cooper recently created a state group on LinkedIn and ActiveRain social networking sites as well.

“We have been experimenting with Facebook as an alternate means of communication, and have found that our members—the ones who are regular users of Facebook—seem to be more closely connected to each other and the board now [through this site],” says Stacey A. Schick, director of communications and marketing for the Orange County Association of REALTORS®, Calif. “We have an association group, a fan page, a young REALTOR® group.” Schick says photos are a key to attracting page visitors and she posts photos quickly after events.

Interestingly, though, age has not necessarily been a drawback for most associations using Facebook. Even the older generation has been actively using this site, notes Schick.

Judy Wegener, director of education and communications at the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®, -Calif., set up a facebook page to replace the “unofficial” association page established by a member. “I’ve tried blogging on it but no one has participated,” she says, “yet event postings seem to attract new members who might not be reading our e-mails.”

Kelley Youman Truxall, interactive communication coordinator at the Columbus Board of REALTORS®, Ohio, also uses Facebook to communicate with members who may not be reading other -association publications. “So far we’ve found [Facebook] to be helpful for instant communication and distributing information that might otherwise wait for our monthly magazine,” she says. Truxall uses Face-book to post all the photos of an event, whereas usually only the best two or three make it into the association magazine.

“The association has also started several groups on Facebook for specific committees, which has helped drive members back to committee participation,” says Truxall. “We have more than 350 members on our Facebook profile and have groups for our PAC, young members, and charitable foundation, and they are all growing every day.”

Event Focus Shifts from Honors to Support
In a quick and shrewd move to better reflect member service need, the Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif., transformed its annual Achievement Awards luncheon into an event to help members become more successful.
Called “Navigate to Success in 2009,” the event featured not only achievement award winners, but also a mini transaction services and technology fair to highlight all of the free products and services the association provides to members. In addition, the event offered panel discussions on using technology in real estate, success with first-time homebuyers and investors, and the emerging international market; lunch with comedian Pat Griffin; and a presentation and Q&A session with state department of real estate Commissioner Jeff Davi. Cost to members: $25.

California Association Offers Mortgage Protection
To make homebuyers less skittish about purchasing a home amid concerns about job security, the California Association of -REALTORS® has created a Housing Affordability Fund to provide mortgage protection.
The fund will pay buyers’ mortgages for six months, up to $1,500 per month, if they become unemployed.
Eligible buyers are salaried employees who have not owned a home during the past three years, are buying properties in California between April 2 and the end of 2009, and are working with a real estate pro on their transaction.
Funded by donations from REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations statewide, the program also offers $750 per month for six months to eligible cobuyers, along with a $10,000 death benefit and accidental disability coverage.