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Join the RE BarCamp Movement

January 1, 2010

REALTORS® across the country are buzzing (blogging, tweeting, posting) about an exciting way to learn new technology and marketing strategies: participant-organized, peer-to-peer Real Estate BarCamps.

First launched in 2008 at Inman Connect in San Francisco and now held across the country, these free events are designed to help real estate professionals learn from each other, network, and challenge one another through discussions and presentations. With several spontaneous sessions, unpaid presenters, and strongly encouraged attendee participation, these camps don’t subscribe to the traditional learning model.

And more often lately, these events are being sponsored or hosted by REALTOR® associations.

“From an association standpoint, RE BarCamps are invaluable for discovering new ideas and talented people,” says Greg Sax, communications director at the Minneapolis Association of REALTORS® and six-time camp veteran. “Participants seem to genuinely want to learn and help each other in a way that is both refreshing and eye-opening.”

Competitive by nature, REALTORS® may not be famous for sharing business tips and tactics with each other. In a peer-to-peer environment that is unstructured, spontaneous, and fun, however, all the cards are on the table.

“RE BarCamps are an absolute hit with REALTORS® since they are free, offer information at the 101 level, as well as the ‘deep dives,’” explains Julie Ziemelis, public affairs director for the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS®, Calif., and six-time camp participant. Ziemelis also organized the RE BarCamp Silicon Valley last year with 260 attendees.

The events—organized by volunteers and funded by sponsors in the real estate or technology industry—foster an environment in which participants speak their minds and defend their opinions. According to Sax, the RE BarCamp events are successful because they are dynamic, organic, and can be at times loud and ruckus.

“RE BarCamps grow organically within the social media space,” says Ziemelis. “People get excited about the event after attending one in a different city and bring that enthusiasm back home. They start talking about it on Twitter and Facebook and then a group gets the energy behind creating one of their own. From this enthusiasm leaders are created who then find sponsors, get a date and a venue, and then everyone works together to promote it.”

So what is the role of organized real estate in this grass-roots movement?

Dozens of REALTOR® associations have helped to arrange, promote, and sponsor RE BarCamps across the country in a variety of ways, from simply donating money to actively organizing the venue and promotions. In return for their support, associations gain invaluable interaction with some of their most dynamic members.

The Indiana Association of REALTORS® decided to underwrite a local RE BarCamp with significant staff time and money, mainly for the opportunity to interact with the younger segment of its membership, with whom it rarely communicates. “We saw our participation in the event as a way to remain relevant and meaningful to the youngest of our members and consumers,” says Indiana’s Communications Director Stacey Hartman.

Indeed, simply by showing support for this peer-to-peer education format, REALTOR® associations are gaining a forward-thinking reputation. Just look at what one REALTOR® RE BarCamp organizer had to say about his association on the RE BarCamp’s blog: “Major, MAJOR kudos to the Scotsdale Area Association of REALTORS® for stepping up to be the premier sponsor for Phoenix Real Estate BarCamp 2! REALTOR® associations are often considered stodgy, old school groups that don’t ‘get’ different ways of thinking and communicating. That SAAR is open-minded and generous enough to sponsor an event like this speaks volumes. Their membership should be very proud of their association. Obviously they are progressive and willing to think outside the box.”

RE BarCampDC, organized by the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® last year, attracted more than 120 attendees from all over the country. Sessions covered: Facebook, Posterous, video tours on YouTube, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), blogging, Twitter, services that offer “virtual voicemail,” LinkedIn, future technologies, and more. “I had many e-mails after the event from attendees thanking me for organizing and thanking NVAR for hosting the event,” recalls Ainsley McDougal, the association’s manager of online communications.

Other than financial and logistical support, associations and other sponsors have had little influence on the RE BarCamp events themselves. Associations do not control content, speakers, topics, or other sponsors—a fact that has some associations reluctant to support RE BarCamps. “The secret to success is to let the members run the event how they see fit,” says Todd Carpenter, social media manager for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and one of the original RE BarCamp organizers. Carpenter helped organize RE BarCamp Chicago at NAR’s headquarters in 2009. As attendees, association staff can make contributions to the conversation, but are discouraged from strongly pitching products or services.
Sage Dillon, communications manager at the Arizona Association of REALTORS®, is donating her personal time to help plan the second annual RE BarCamp Phoenix because she says, “it’s darn fun. But it’s really local members that are driving the bus—as it should be, in my opinion.”

The RE BarCamps are now becoming draws for other community events, says Ziemelis. “The Northwest Housing Summit took place here in advance of RE BarCamp Seattle in order to take advantage of the energy the event was creating in the real estate industry.”
Sponsorship packages typically start at $250, and can include your association’s name and logo on promotions and t-shirts, a link to your site from the RE BarCamp site, a promo table at the event, plus the ability to attend the event, and post to the event’s blog.

According to REBarCamp.com, events for 2010 are being planned in Toronto, Grand Rapids, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Orlando, and New Hampshire.

Hot Ticket: Social Networking Profit Strategies

REALTORS® understand that participation in social media can boost their business, but how do they get started? That’s where REALTOR® associations have jumped in with education offerings, ranging from full-day seminars on blogging to peer-to-peer training on setting up a Facebook account. In fact, associations of all sizes report, not surprisingly, that classes on social media are in high demand.

“This is the kind of training creating positive buzz about the association,” explains Julie Ziemelis, the public affairs director at the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS®. When it comes to her association’s social media classes, which started with about 25 regular attendees, growing to 65 registrants, Ziemelis’ board stands firmly behind the programming, “Our board of directors even said in their meeting that we should put even more effort into this type of education because the tools and information have such a positive impact on members’ businesses.”

Hands-on classes where members bring their laptops and leave at the end of the session with completed Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles, are some of the best-attended offerings, associations report. The Long Island Board of REALTORS® offers a four-hour, $49 class called “Social Networking for REALTORS®,” that is taught by staff and members. “We cover privacy settings; finding friends, associates and groups; using lists; updating profiles; and the ‘See My Listings’ tool,” says Tricia Chirco, the association’s marketing and communication director. The class covers social networking do’s and don’ts, including limiting listing promotion, writing interesting updates, and separating personal from business interactions.

Gaining popularity among social media topics is online risk management. The Kentucky Association of REALTORS® is developing two new three-hour CE courses that focus on the regulations and laws that surround using social media, including Code of Ethics, trademark, and copyright. The association hopes to have these courses online by the middle of the year so members anywhere have access to the information, says Hunt Cooper, the association’s communication director.

Likewise, the Virginia Association of REALTORS®’ free, nearly monthly “Social Media Risk Management” class that covers how the REALTOR® Code of Ethics and state real estate laws apply to social media marketing, routinely sells out.

NAR’s REALTOR® University offers social media classes and Webinars, many for CE credit, online to members across the country. Direct members to REALTOR.org for more information on classes, such as “12 Advanced Strategies to Explode Your Business with Facebook,” “12 Strategies to Leverage Facebook for Business,” “Social Media Marketing Mania Made Simple,” and “LinkedIn as Business Tool.”

Associations Step Up for Haiti Relief

REALTOR® associations don’t hesitate to step up to help those in need when disaster strikes. The television images of Haiti’s crumbled houses and homeless families no doubt moved associations and members to contribute to the REALTORS®’ Relief Foundation (RRF) of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, which has raised more than half a million dollars for the Clinton-Bush Haiti Relief fund. NAR contributed $350,000 to the RRF.

“Our people have been there, and can feel for what it’s like to go through that type of disaster,” says Marla Martin, communications manager for the Florida Association of REALTORS®, whose members have weathered numerous hurricanes this decade. The Florida association contributed $10,000 from its charitable foundation, and since the Haitian earthquake occurred just prior to the group’s mid-winter business meetings, it was an opportune time to invite individual REALTORS® to contribute as well. The association spread the word through newsletters and other media and was able to raise another $5,635 in individual contributions.

Associations were quick to employ a wide range of communication vehicles to encourage members to donate. The Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif., which donated $5,000 to NAR’s RRF, made in person announcements at meetings and included links to the fund in member e-mails. The Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS®, which donated $5,000 to the RRF, solicited donations on its Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, as well as in its weekly e-newsletters and print publications. The Greater Louisville Association of REALTORS® held a raffle at their charity bowl-a-thon with proceeds going to the RRF.

Associations also donated to other Haiti relief funds including International Habitat of Humanity Haitian Relief charity ($2,500 from the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS®) and directly to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Relief ($10,000 from the Long Island Board of REALTORS®).
Associations and members can continue to donate to Haitian earthquake victims through the REALTORS® Relief Foundation by going to REALTOR.org/relief and completing the contribution form.
--By Shirley Smith, EO, Hillsdale County Board of REALTORS®, Mich.

Electronic Signature Partner Benefits

The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ newest REALTOR Benefits® Program partner, DocuSign, offers members and associations preferred pricing on a range of e-signature services. DocuSign’s REALTOR® Edition offers a REALTOR® branded online console, REALTOR® branded e-signature and e-mail templates—all for 20 percent off retail. Visit docusign.com/NAR or call 866-219-4318 and mention your NAR membership.

Mini convention packs power training

To motivate members to stay positive about the real estate industry and provide them with helpful information to boost their bottom line, the North Shore–Barrington Association of REALTORS® (Ill.) held an intensive education day, which CEO Terry Penza called a mini convention. More than 260 attendees were offered a menu of 14 speakers and an expo area with 35 vendors. The most popular sessions of the day were “How to Survive a Tough Market” and “Brandcasting Through Social Media.” The online companion page at the association’s Web site featured all speaker outlines and PowerPoints and taped messages from each exhibit hall vendor for those who could not attend.

NVAR’s Chinese REALTOR® forum

To embrace the diversity of its membership and the region’s population, the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®’ created the Chinese REALTOR® Forum as an educational tool to provide resources for serving the needs of the Chinese consumer as well as networking for REALTORS® of Chinese decent and other members. Tony Yeh of United Realty Inc., will lead the group in its inaugural year. NVAR already hosts forums for its Vietnamese, Hispanic and Korean members.

Naples launches intl’ network

Given Naples, Florida’s reputation as an international vacation spot, the Naples Board of REALTORS® created the GNOR Global Network in an effort to educate members about cultivating and profiting from international real estate sales. Members who join the free networking group gain access to research and news through an e-newsletter, plus monthly education sessions and training.

The first REALTOR® Nationwide Open House Weekend, April 10-11, 2010, was a collaboration between dozens of state and local REALTOR® associations across the nation to kick off the home buying season.

Fresno Rolls Out Member Service Mobile

When the Fresno Association of REALTORS®, Calif., was challenged to develop a way to reach its 2,800 REALTORS® with education and services, and to be a visible community partner, the answer wasn’t a satellite office, it was a mobile office. The 24-foot-long van has an interior height of more than six feet and seats for 10, plus room for an instructor and monitors. It also has the ability to accommodate every class that’s taught at the association. “Every visit is met with enthusiasm from local REALTORS® who are thrilled that we came to them,” says Gerard Lozano, marketing and governmental affairs director. The association plans to take the Member Service Mobile to trade shows and local events to heighten visibility in the community. The Member Service Mobile will serve as a rolling billboard, promoting the importance of using a REALTOR®.

Congratulations to these REALTOR® AEs on achieving their Certified Association Executive designation!

Steve Blanton, RCE, CAE, Rogue Valley Association, Wash.
Kathie Feldpausch, RCE, CAE, Michigan Association
Kyle Lambert London, RCE, CAE, National Association
Sue Millager, RCE, CAE, Chapel Hill Board, N.C.
Michael Theo, CAE, Wisconsin REALTORS®
Cherie Williams, RCE, CAE, Reno/Sparks Association, Nev.