Waking from my blog reverie

I left Inman’s Real Estate Connect conference this past July utterly convinced that blogging was the means through which real estate professionals would forge a new relationship with consumers. Today, I still believe blogging can be an important, even central, piece of a broker or agent’s marketing mix. I tell nearly every practitioner I meet to join Active Rain to start learning and writing. But a number of things prevent me from enthusing too promiscuously about consumer focused real estate blogging.

Here are just a few:

The number of serious blog readers is still relatively small. Technology blogger Robert Scoble recently noted that the most popular RSS feed for Google Reader users, the BBC’s front page headlines, counts just 1.3 million subscribers. His back-of-the-envelope calculation for total worldwide RSS usage is 10 million. With 75 million homeowners in the U.S. alone, this number seems small – and certainly nothing that dictates a drop everything rush to blogging for all agents and brokers.

Email marketing is still highly effective. According to a recent report from OgilvyOne, email remains the most effective and cheapest means of electronic marketing, beating out banners, pay-per-click and affiliate networks by a wide margin. While most people in an agent’s farm may not even know what RSS is, you can bet the large majority have an email account. If a broker or agent can send consumers something useful (e.g., hard market numbers, recent solds) email is still quite viable.

Salesperson reviews won’t work for a toaster; why will they work for a neighborhood? Wal-Mart recently pushed its million-plus employees to review the company’s products online. Great idea, right? Not so much it turns out. Most consumers feel the reviews are of little value, likening them to pitches from an in-store sales person. The same effect may be at play when a consumer reads a local agent or broker’s blog.

Where in America is someone sitting in their living room thinking "I really wish I could read a blog from my local Realtor"? Real estate blog content is not a well established consumer need. Like consumers’ desire to see home listings online, for example. Or proven, like the power of sold data to garner buyer, seller and owner attention both online and offline. That’s not to say you cannot build an audience. But you have to be good. And unless you’ve nailed online home search and basic decision support, you’re probably better off focusing on those things first.

There are too few in the business that can pull it off. I’ve spent too many years in real estate offices talking to agents who fall over each other to get a supermarket donut from the local title rep but have no interest in, or capacity for, learning about online marketing. My heady Blogger’s Connect experience made that seem so distant. But that reality persists. For every Ardell DellaLoggia or Teresa Boardman, there are 10,000 underskilled, undertrained folks who’ll never get it.

In the past few months I’ve gained some perspective. Blogging is a powerful tool as part of a marketing plan. But it’s not a cure-all. It’s not easy and it’s not the place to start with online marketing if you’ve been remiss in keeping up with much of what preceeded it.

Brian Boero