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Have Time for Facebook? Tips on blending new media with old.

Should you be spending more time crafting your member e-newsletter or posting announcements to your Facebook page? Many AEs struggle to find the right balance of print, electronic, and social media communication vehicles to reach members today.

The perfect mix of avenues, of course, depends on your member needs and staff capabilities. But as a recent survey of communications directors shows, one thing is for sure: You need to employ a growing variety of communication methods to reach your -diverse REALTOR® audience.

Here are some of the ways associations are trying to strike the right balance as their communication strategies evolve:

Keep testing the waters: The only way to really know what your members want is to survey them at least once a year. Find out how many want a traditional newsletter, an electronic newsletter, or prefer to get their information from your Web site. Then build the results into an annual communications plan. Rather than jumping in with both feet, most associations are gradually placing more focus on digital communications.

Don’t fall into the ROI trap: Even though most social media vehicles offer free participation, don’t forget the cost of your staff’s time and energy. The justification for this expenditure is the return of increased engagement with your members, more member participation in the organization, and potentially more members. Stacey Schick from the Orange County Association says, “Facebook has probably been one of the most successful tools in engaging our membership. Of course, we are not reaching them all, but we have identified with a group that we previously had not been capturing.”

Build slowly but surely: As you transition toward more electronic means of communication, add one new tool at a time. For example, continue with your monthly e-newsletter, then add a Facebook page. If you engage in too many online platforms at a time (Facebook, ActiveRain, MySpace, YouTube, SecondLife, LinkedIn, blogs), you risk not being able to update and monitor them all, which has the potential to alienate, rather than engage, members. If finding the time to monitor even one social platform is a challenge, look to an enthusiastic volunteer.

Keep an eye toward greater integration: When adding more electronic media to your communication strategy, make sure to coordinate the efforts of various departments. For example, don’t have your political action team start a blog while your educational staff promotes classes through Facebook. The goal isn’t to increase the number of messages, but to increase their effectiveness through a variety of vehicles.

2009 Member Tech Survey
More than half of REALTORS® are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with using social media tools, according to a survey conducted by NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology in June. The survey found 76 percent of REALTORS® use Facebook and 58 percent use LinkedIn. More than 60 percent say social networking is effective or somewhat effective for business purposes. Of all respondents, 16 percent do not use any social media sites.

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