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Embrace the New Openness

The annual technology issue of REALTOR® AE magazine is one of my favorites. It’s exciting to see what AEs and associations are up to in the ever-changing arena of technology. It is also a little scary to think about how cyberspace has opened our lives, and our associations, up to the world. Our personal privacy, much less our association’s privacy, is an illusion. As association executives, we are now faced with a choice: bravely embrace the new openness of social media or bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we still have the ability to control what information gets out about our associations.

My association has a group on LinkedIn and Face-book, as well as several Twitter feeds. In fact, we often send out tweets during board meetings, which is great for getting member feedback (via Twitter) while we are discussing an issue. Recently I was tweeting about developing a social media strategy for the association when I started getting inquiries from members. They thought we were developing a social media strategy to connect with the public. When I explained that the strategy was to connect staff with members, they were relieved to learn that we were not trying to compete with them for the public’s attention. Had we not posted this instantaneously in the social media, members may have heard about our strategy and, like the ones who tweeted us, filled in the blanks with their own misinformation.

A recent NAR survey showed that nearly 80 percent of our local REALTORS® have smartphones and almost half of those members use these devices to update social media. So something that happens at your association today can instantly appear on Facebook and Twitter.

We used to worry about controlling the message that got out in the newspapers, but today we have members (and others) who blog about issues facing the association. Sometimes bloggers and social -media players get the facts correct, and sometimes they don’t. Most try to publish accurate information, but sometimes if they can’t easily get details from the association, they’ll fill in the blanks themselves (often with suspicions and fears).

Today’s brave associations have decided that they must embrace this new openness of information. After all, if you can’t control the message, you can at least help shape it by engaging in the conversations members are having in social media and on blogs. This strategy is not without risks, but there are also pitfalls to not embracing the new reality.
The scariest part for most AEs about participation in new media is member feedback. It’s certainly easier to avoid participating in new media. Besides, who has the time to be active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs? But nonparticipation is a strategy best reserved for AEs who don’t care what members think about the association. On the other hand, if you do want to know what your members care about, it is time to embrace the brave new World Wide Web and the social media it has to offer.

— Dave Phillips, RCE, CAE
2010 AEC Chair

CEO, Charlottesville Area
Association of REALTORS®, Va.

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