Foursquare and five years ago: Recalling the promise of real estate and social media

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”


— Confucious

2005. Social media drifted into real estate like a thick morning fog by way of the Rain City Guide blog. It was published by an unknown author named Dustin Luther, a gifted outsider who knew little about real estate but a whole lot about people, marketing and technology.

At that time, most folks in real estate had never heard of social media or blogging. Of those who did, most drew their understanding from MySpace, considered by many to be a creepy place parents feared.

As a result, most agents didn’t “get it.” In typical fashion, they chose to roll their eyes, fold their arms and discount it all. As usual, the world at large was wrong. They knew better. Most chose to not participate.

I believe that was a good thing.


Reports of Rain City Guide’s traffic grew. As did its ability to promote the agents writing for it. They saw results. Dustin’s reputation grew along with the notion that a blog might not only attract new business – it could well replace older, less productive marketing methods.

And so, crisp from the deep fryer of Web 2.0, blogs surfaced like zits across the face of real estate. Agents took to blogging like young chicks take to flying: lots of flapping, considerable clucking, few ever lifted off. For the most part, these blogs were poorly executed, blindly designed whiteheads of self-indulgent gibberish, sales scripting or outright theft.

The great promise of social media, transparency and connectivity that Dustin envisioned was fast becoming a window into real estate’s dark side.

I believe that wasn’t a good thing.

Tipping point

Realizing that composing 500 lucid words was more arduous than the slingshot advice crowd suggested, most agents traded in their blogs for Facebook and Twitter accounts by 2009. They believed their value proposition could be better served in 140 characters bursts and comments on photos.

It seemed viable. Agents are social people. These are social networks. Perfect fit.

So it seemed.

Agents proceeded with glee, posting what they were doing, what they were thinking, what they were thinking of doing. The few who advised agents to take into account reputation, branding, customer service — the things companies outside of real estate understood – were largely ignored.

After all, why would a consumer ever bother to follow or friend an agent if they didn’t “keep it real” or “get to know them”?

It did not matter. Agents found another receptive audience – each other – using these channels to broadcast meaningless banter that sometimes crossed the line of ethics, common sense and adult, professional behavior.

Some higher ups took notice – to little avail.  Agents continued to wax flatulent. Videos and images of inebriated post-BarCamp folly, arguments, fights and personal attacks ensued.

Social media cast a fun house mirror reflection on an already poorly defined, stereotyped industry.

Social media peeled back an onion layer.

Eyes are tearing now.

I believe this a really sad thing.

Foursquare and…

For the most part, while real estate has seemingly embraced social media by now as a device, its use of it is all wrong – like using an Uzi to pop open a beer can. Look at the tweets, posts and videos from the obstreperous minority who chant social media’s praises and you scratch your head and wonder: what’s really there? A whole bunch of stuff that would be better served by opacity than transparency.

Look, I get it: social media has given agents a great new way to make friends with other agents. I’m down with that. I’m all for the sharing of information. But I wonder whether the visionaries of social media, those who lit the way for those of us who followed, ever imagined these public platforms would become so riddled with name calling, “spanking”, trash talking, and sheer vapidity.

On a recent blog post discussing Foursquare, the new folly for real estate’s social mediaphiles, an agent commented as follows:

My clients want to see me both in a personal and professional perspective. Only showing one side of me is not being true to them or myself. If I’m out for lunch or running to the grocery store in the middle of the day, at least my client and prospective clients know that I am local and just don’t talk the talk.”

This is the sort of delusional thinking that drives agents to spill their guts on social media. You’re a Realtor. Not Waldo. I submit that the only time your client really wants to know where you are is when you aren’t returning their phone calls or emails.

Showing your true side in a professional environment is achieved by doing your job better than your competition. And making the deal happen. And providing the type of customer service that warrants having your face placed on currency. Being true to your customer is not a Foursquare check-in placing you in donut shop that merely beckon viewers to wonder about your diet.

The great promise of social media is out there in faintly lit pin light impressions poking through real estate’s darkness. A great agent blog here, a well-executed corporate Twitter account there. Those who do it right shine through.

The great promise

So here we are, five years after it all started:

  • How many great, highly trafficked real estate agent or broker blogs are out there?
  • How many brokerages have set up a video studio in their office and provided their local audience with ongoing market updates, advice and explanation?
  • How many great real estate-based Flickr accounts exist?
  • How many well-managed Twitter accounts are there in real estate?
  • How many agent-authored Foursquare posts actually help their brand?

The great promise of social media lies in what Dustin introduced five years ago: a well executed local media channel authored by skilled people who devote time to creating quality content that people find useful.

Real estate people are capable of so much. Your hearts pump nectar. Don’t be fooled by social media and all its trappings. Refrain from posting everything. Make what you post count. Every single word you publish, video you film, comment you write, blog you post and tweet you leave can, at any one time, be isolated, taken out of context and turned into a professional liability.

Making friends is nice.

Taking digital marketing, branding, and your reputation seriously is nicer.

This is what I believe.