The masked ball

I wrote the post below two years ago. I am re-posting it because the metaphor of the masked ball has come to mind often in thinking about the vast tentacular expansion of Facebook.

If, as Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “human desires grow with the means of their gratification” the social web is surely an invitation to indulge extravagantly our desire to be heard and recognized. Our lives can seem more real when they are memorialized forever in the ether.

And, hey, that’s cool. But it can make one hell of a mess if you intend to work social media for business. So plug into Zuckerberg’s graph – just make sure you do it with smarts, with content, and without the mask.

I am a big believer in the power of social media. They — or, it, really — enables meaningful connections; it’s a solvent of unnatural barriers that stifle talent; it explodes the wall of cant that brands and service providers place between themselves and customers in the name of “marketing.”

But lately, in the back of my mind, I’ve been a little uneasy with where all this is headed.

There’s something counterfeit among the blog posts, comments, social network connections and fora. I’m speaking here of the business to consumer side of things, where the promise, and the stakes, are highest.

While on the surface something like Trulia Voices or any number of agent or broker blogs may evidence plenty of open, no-pressure interaction, the sort of conversation many of us venerate, what really is there that’s real here?

Social media promises humanity, but I often find it more like a masked ball, a place where opportunists dart about behind avatars, user names or personas that serve to obscure, rather than illuminate, what’s underneath.

For every pro who manages to channel excellence into this new medium, there are a dozen who rise to the bait of a consumer query like a trout to a fly, gobbling up “engagement” promiscuously. For every master blogger, there’s a copy and paste artist feeding search engines but leaving consumers hungry.

There is thus a big signal to noise ratio in real estate social media. I wonder if the static will overtake the message entirely, if consumers will tune out.

Social media only works as a marketing strategy for agents and brokers if there’s something behind the posts: A track record, a deep expertise, a capacity for interpersonal communication, something, anything, that marks one as great. I see too many jumping into this because it seems easy, because someone told them to do it, or because there’s nothing else to do amid a slow market. And that’s unfortunate.

I get asked a lot about social media strategy. Before I say anything else, I tell people — whether they’re making decisions for themselves or entire organizations — that they must have something to say, they must be able to say it well, and, if that’s the case, must throw themselves into it with the same seriousness they bring to their most critical business endeavors.

Right now, it feels to me like too many are just throwing on the mask.

Brian Boero