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The Art of Engagement

January 1, 2009

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was first introduced to e-mail with a network called Wang-Net in the late ‘80s. This now archaic network connected the Illinois governor’s cabinet members to his office and little more. It’s a far cry from the technology discussed at the recent Association Executives Institute in Colorado Springs.

The social media sessions were all “atwitter” with everything from the basics to the big question: How can AEs best use varying social media to engage members? I think it’s safe to say that the larger the association, the greater the disconnect with members. That’s why these new technologies are so important and exciting.

Typically, we listen to those few volunteers who give us their time and opinions about the needs, ills, and direction of the association. But will we admit that much of our structure, governance, and communication dictats that only a few participate? As I listened to the comments and the presentations at the AEI, it struck me that we have new voices speaking up about the association out there on the Web. The challenge is: How do we engage them?

Our members who are talking to us (at us or about us) via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ning, -Active Rain, or a blog are not responding to a survey or speaking up at a quarterly meeting; they’re attempting to engage us in real time.
How you connect, and stay connected, with this audience will determine whether these members engage with you or replace you as the “opinion leaders” for real estate in your area. It’s true that, to a great extent, the unfettered opinions on blogs are creating and driving mainstream media. Will they drive mainstream real estate news as well?

To blog or not to blog is an individual association decision that requires time and a detailed policy. Your 2010 AEC Chair, Dave Phillips maintains our AE Committee blog and provides an excellent example of how it should work (check it out at www.blogaec.com).

There is a need for your association to engage in social media. Our association’s Twitter activity has had a pleasant but unforeseen benefit: In addition to a growing number of members participating, the media were quick to join in as well, providing our association with more accurate coverage in news-papers and on TV.

So what do you do now? Try starting with monitoring the activity that’s already happening online. Set up a daily Google Alert to catch mention of what is being said in blogs or the press regarding your association, your leadership names, and yes, your name. You can also use Twilerts to monitor what types of messages are being posted on Twitter about your association. This activity might help in shaping the direction, and the degree, of your social media activities.

But help is also available. NAR has social media experts who are working on draft policies for REALTOR® associations in these areas as well. Hilary Marsh, managing director of REALTOR.org, and Todd Carpenter, manager of social media, are phenomenal resources to tap whether you’re -getting started, fine-tuning your present social media programs, or taking them to the next level.

Best wishes, and stay safe.

— Gary Clayton, RCE, CAE, 2009 AEC Chair
CEO, Illinois Association of Realtors®
217/529-2600, gclayton@iar.org