While at Inman NYC in January, I met a great guy, Ernie Graham, a co-founder of an outfit called SocialBios.com. He’s smart, he’s personable, he’s driven, he’s focused, and he sure can carry a tune at the karaoke. [Ed: We won’t be talking more about that now, y’hear?] I spoke with him yesterday about his company and what they’re up to, and something interesting came out of the conversation.
I believe that there is a possibility that SocialBios, if widely adapted, could provide an answer to the question of whether real estate agents are professionals in any real sense of the term.
So this ain’t a product review; you can go check out Ernie’s company and the product they offer, and I could see a lot of reasons to use that product. But it is to highlight what we may discover about the industry as a result.
SocialBios In Brief
Of course, it’s impossible to have that discussion without at least touching on what it is that SocialBios is offering to real estate agents and brokers.
Basically, the company offers a product that would transform the About Us page on a real estate website into a lead generation tool by providing a way for consumers to see the ways in which they are connected to one or more of the real estate agents through social networks. As Ernie put it, their research showed that the About Us page on a typical website is usually the second or third most trafficked area of a website, and the least updated. So their product attempts to put that page to work.
The agents would go into the system and provides their credentials for various social networks, like FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, whatever. SocialBios would pull in all of their networks and various information (such as what they might have “Liked” on Facebook). The consumer would be invited to use one or more of his social networks to see who he knows. It may be that the consumer and one of the agents shares a Twitter contact, or both Liked a particular TV show, or something.
The concept is to create something more like a dating site — a Match.com to find a real estate agent — to create inquiries to agents the consumer feels comfortable with.
It’s a nice enough idea, and the product is slick and well-designed, and there are some technical innovations in the way that SocialBios manages to cross-reference and coordinate disparate data sets from across unrelated social networks.
The Experiment and the Evidence
Here’s where I think we’ll have the opportunity to get some evidence.
Let’s suppose that a large number of brokerages and agents adopt SocialBios. There are two possibilities here.
One, those brokerages who use SocialBios find that the number of leads and conversions improve significantly as a result. Or two, SocialBios ends up being yet another tool that promises all sorts of things and fails to deliver on them, and gets junked within a couple of years.
If the result is the latter, then there’s nothing interesting to discuss afterwards — except perhaps that it appears the hype about social media as a marketing tool is really quite unjustified. If, on the other hand, the result is the former, where the ability for consumers to find common connections and common shared interests results in a huge upsurge in leads and conversions… then I think it’s fair to conclude that at a minimum, consumers could care less about a real estate agent’s knowledge, expertise, or know-how. In short, they do not regard realtors as professionals in any meaningful sense of the word.
Assumptions about Professionals
The four traditional professions — law, medicine, clergy and the military — may be supplemented in our modern times with perhaps a couple more: accountants, investment advisors, and perhaps a few others. For centuries, the three professions of law, medicine, and theology were known as the “learned professions” requiring far more study than was the norm, especially at a time when scholarship meant the study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
Perhaps as a result, even in our modern times when just about any job can be called a “profession” — a professional basketball player, a professional journalist, a professional trash collector (that would be, Waste Management Professional) — there is a subconscious understanding on the part of consumers that the professional is differentiated by his/her learning, experience, and skill.
I would not choose a doctor for an important surgery based on what friends we shared on Facebook. Nor would I select an attorney for anything important because we both like the same restaurant on Yelp. You wouldn’t either.
The basis for the claim of professional status by real estate agents, including the rather heavy responsibilities of fiduciary duty, lies in the idea that the sale or purchase of a house is the single largest financial transaction for most families. The idea is that realtors, by dint of their training, knowledge, advanced learning, experience, and skill, have a responsibility to guide and protect the consumer in a life-altering decision. As a result, all of the debates around “raise the bar” in the industry have focused around the idea that some agents lack the knowledge, experience, training, and skills — not to mention, in some cases, ethics — to serve the consumer as he should be served.
Well, what if the consumer disagrees? What if the consumer really just thinks of the realtor as just another salesperson, no different than the guy at the car dealership, or the gal at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s?
SocialBios.com can provide some evidence one way or the other. If what drives the consumer to choose an agent is not her learning, knowledge, experience, skills, but how many FaceBook friends they share, or what common interests they have… then I think the debate needs to move elsewhere.
And quite frankly… I’m not sure that most brokers and agents would care all that much whether the consumer does or does not see them as professionals… if leads and conversions are up 30% across the board.
Looking Forward to the Data
So, two things. First, why not give SocialBios a try. Fact is that your About Us page is probably stale and getting staler by the day anyhow. I figure, you have little to lose.
Second, please keep track of the leads and conversions data. Let me know what they are over time. I’d love to see them after six or twelve months of continuous use.
Oh yeah, I have absolutely no relationship or financial interest in SocialBios.com. I do like Ernie quite a bit, but this is about as unbiased a recommendation as you’re likely to find in our industry.