by Ken Wysocky
For increasing numbers of members, a printed newsletter or magazine is the technological equivalent of rune-covered stone tablets. Boring. That’s why increasing numbers Realtor® associations, are slowly turning to audio podcasts and online videos to offers members more interesting and convenient ways to consume association information.
For communicators who are wary of or intimidated by the technology, take heart: Podcasts and their ilk are by no means meant to replace traditional forms of communication. They offer alternatives that may entice younger and more tech-savvy members to participate. They are also much simpler to use and less expensive than their high-tech image might indicate.
Eric Berman, communications director for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors®, who helps produce the monthly “Keeping It Real: The MAR Report,” a podcast for the association’s roughly 23,000 members explains, “You can do things with podcasts that you can’t do with, say, e-newsletters, where everything has to be short. With a podcast, members can download it to an MP3 player and listen to it on the way to an appointment or maybe while they’re working out. It’s just another way to reach our younger membership.” The podcasts supplement a bimonthly magazine and an e-newsletter, he says.
Much like a radio show, the podcast includes musical interludes and different news segments. The shows present pertinent topics such as new financing programs available for first-time homebuyers or ways to prevent identity theft. Some podcasts offer harder news, like a recent interview with an attorney who was involved in a landmark lawsuit that resulted in a ruling favorable to state Realtors®.
“It was an important decision for our members, so it was good to have an attorney explain its ramifications,” Berman remarks.
Quiet On the Set
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors® started producing the 30-minute shows last July. Equipment to produce the show cost the chapter nearly $2,000, but Berman is quick to point out that other associations could do it less expensively.
“There are ‘podcasting in a box’ products that you can buy for much less,” he says. “Plus you can get audio software called Audacity for free on the Internet. We use higher-end equipment because Mike Cutlip, our IT director, is experienced with audio engineering.”
All Massachusetts Association of Realtors® members are notified by e-mail when a new podcast is available. The e-mail includes any Web site links mentioned during the show, so members can read information even if they don’t listen to the podcast. Members can access the podcast on the MAR Web site or receive automatic downloads of new shows to their personal computers when they subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes.
“Every month, about 2,700 members open the e-mail (about 21.5 percent) and of that, we usually get roughly 300 who listen on a monthly basis,” Berman says, noting that “overall the listenership isn’t overwhelming but people have told us they love it. Realtors® are multitaskers, so this technology is a perfect fit.” To hear a sample podcast, visit www.themarreport.com.
Slowly Gaining Acceptance
The Minnesota Association of Realtors® started using audio podcasts last fall to help its 22,000 members understand changes in real estate forms, such as purchase agreements and financing addendums. But it now uses them to address other newsworthy issues.
“We find our members are downloading podcasts from our Web site to their MP3 players and listening to them on their car stereos,” explains Val Brones, the association’s director of program services and technology. “So now we’re addressing wider topics, such as professional standards and market trends, to get messages out to members.”
Brones says her group takes a low-tech, yet effective, approach to producing the podcasts.
“It’s very easy to do,” she explains. “All you need is a digital recorder that connects to a PC and MP3 Maker software that changes the recording into a downloadable file. We record, download, and post the podcast in 30 to 40 minutes.” To avoid unnecessary re-recording time, Brones suggests scripting out what you want to say ahead of time.
Brones says her group posts fresh podcasts frequently, so there’s always something new for members to hear. The Minnesota Association of Realtors® also communicates with members via a printed newsletter that’s published 10 times a year, a weekly e-newsletter, and its Web site.
The podcasts have proven popular, with nearly 11,000 hits on the Minnesota association’s Web site since they were first posted last fall. Although some brokers tell Brones they use the information from the podcasts at sales meetings, she acknowledges the technology isn’t for everyone.
“There’s a certain set of our members that likes to read and a certain set that prefers to listen to audio,” she observes. “The older generation prefers print media and the younger generation likes podcasts … they’re used to everything being done electronically. We’re using podcasts to appeal to those younger members in our organization.”
Innovative Partnership Yields Videocasts
In California, the Santa Cruz Association of Realtors® is partnering with a local video outfit called PreVuMe.com to produce 20-minute videocasts of education sessions that will be accessible to members via a link on the association’s Web site.
In return, PreVuMe gets prime marketing exposure to members to promote their services, which include short video “walk-throughs” of homes that could replace the popular 360-degree still shots currently used on home listing Web sites.
The collaboration will involve filming two dozen 20-minute educational seminars at the upcoming Santa Cruz County Housing Expo. Topics will range from mortgage and title applications to foreclosure information to “green” remodeling, explains Julie Ziemelis, the association’s director of marketing and communications.
“It’ll be a virtual home fair,” Ziemelis says. “If members can’t attend, they can download the topics they want to watch and view them at home. Furthermore, if clients have questions about, say, foreclosures, our members can direct them to the Web site, where the videos will serve as an instant resource.” She goes on to add, “In turn, the speakers making the presentations can use the videos to further their marketing goals. And we can also post the videos on YouTube. The possibilities are endless.”
If the collaboration works out well, the association plans to produce bimonthly educational news briefs, then post a link to those videos on its Web site in addition to e-mailing the link to its 1,600 members.
Ziemelis admits it’s difficult to quantify whether the new communication technologies are boosting membership. But one thing she does know: Not having them will almost certainly alienate technologically savvy members who have come to expect high-tech bells and whistles when it comes to communications.
“People will see the value of this as a marketing tool,” she asserts. “Organizations can’t afford to look archaic. They need to look like they’re moving along with the times.”