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Many In CRE Industry Embracing the Social Networking Phenomenon

But They're Still Searching for Ways To Integrate Into Day-to-Day Business
February 2, 2011
One of the year's hottest movies, The Social Network, has garnered eight Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, and while the Internet phenomenon known as social networking may not yet have garnered as much acclaim among commercial real estate professionals, the industry is widely adopting the technology, according to an informal poll.

Social networking in the CRE business is largely in fledgling state with the industry still trying to harness its reach. CRE companies and individual deal makers are all over the leading social network sites in hopes that one day it will become the next great sensation and lead to more deals and connections.

"I have a hunger to know more about social networking, but I haven't yet figured out how to use it in business," said Gil Daniel of Southeastern Realty Group Inc. in Orlando, FL. "I am a member of LinkedIn and Facebook. I would love to have this as a tool to help sell commercial real estate, but don't know how. I'm all ears."

Like Gil Daniel, Jonathan McLaurin of Silverpeak Real Estate Partners in Atlanta also has his own personal pages on Facebook and LinkedIn and so do many others. Says McLaurin, "As social networking evolves and social networking technology starts to impact a larger percentage of people in the industry, social networking will be more a value-add phenomenon in the industry."

CoStar Group surveyed a random sample of 800 Watch List readers asking whether they or their companies are on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn networking and how they use them. We received 76 completed responses. Of that group, three out of every four respondents maintained a personal page on LinkedIn and half on Facebook. And about one-third of the CRE companies they represented had sites on all three networks. And while there was less widespread personal usage of Twitter, one of 10 companies identified that site a "primary" outlet for business communication.

Not There Yet

According to Michael E. Madziarek, senior advisor for Sperry Van Ness | Landmark Commercial Real Estate in Geneva, IL, social media in its present form and how people use it is not a source of information, rather a communication game that people enjoy.

"I do not care if you are attending the CCIM course 101 today and have to see for the next five days what you did in class," Madziarek said. "Because of the way people tag their tweets, you get all kinds of junk. I believe that it needs to be revamped in a way that people find it to be a source of information not a place to have a contest for the most followers and tweets for the day."

"I really don't have time to spend on the computer on social networks because I am busy actively marketing our properties, showing them, and also performing leasing and selling duties," agreed Angela Harwell, a broker / Realtor in Winter Haven, FL. "We have people come to us based on the press releases we issue about our activity - but I'm not sure we need to constantly put ourselves in people's faces."

It's All About The Future

The fact that social networking technology seemingly has widespread acceptance today has little to do with what industry professionals are doing right this instant, but rather is much more about where they see the industry heading.

"I think it is important as far as my business is concerned to stay up with the business networking sites, such as LinkedIn or Plaxo because they could become a real force in the future and I don't want to be starting from scratch at that time," responded R. Dabney Tompkins, Brokerage Services of CB Richard Ellis | Office Properties in Portland, OR.

"Or they may fade and never be much and I don't want to have devoted a huge amount of time to something that is going to end up irrelevant."

Some respondents compared social media adoption to the similar way the Internet was initially greeted with skepticism before being embraced by business. Katie Sherman of Commercial Defeasance LLC in Charlotte, NC, said: "It is incredibly important and crucial in today's day and age. If you don't [have a presence] you're not on the cutting edge and I believe in the years to come if you're not involved in social media then you will not be in business."

Larry J. Socia, director, retail division of Pyramid Brokerage Co. in Syracuse, NY, said: "Generally speaking, it's important to keep up with latest technology and trends to keep abreast of what's going on in the industry and worldwide. Right now, I'm more of an 'old school' person who uses these social networking resources as a means to keep pace with clients and competitors, rather than have a 'Challenger' moment trying to be first in space with cutting edge technology. It helps me look more modern."

Then Socia added: "I haven't used our fax machine in months."

"The jury is still out on the social networking," said Rebecca Horne, filing library museum evidence storage specialists with System Concepts Inc. in South San Francisco. "As the population ages and moves into management and powers of companies, it may well become the standard way of doing business…"

In fact, Horne added that we may be approaching that point: "Today is a very interesting time with Egypt and the Mideast erupting and the "normal" feeds of social networking as news sources have been cut. When the Internet does go down, how does business continue in the daily "new normal?"

It's All About Building Contacts, Promoting Buildings

Valerie Cothran of SunTrust Bank in Raleigh, NC, thinks she knows where it is heading in the future.

"I can use social networking through LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with professionals and basically build an address book of contacts that I can go to," Cothran said. "For example, if I meet someone in passing or have lunch with them at a conference, I may not have an immediate business prospect or connection, but by adding them to my network, I can contact them in the future. Considering I work in Special Assets now, building a network of future contacts is very important as I think about being on the origination side again in the future."

Marty Busekrus, CCIM, a senior associate investment sales with NAI Rauch Weaver Norfleet Kurtz & Co. in Fort Lauderdale, recently gave a presentation at NAI's national convention on the topic of Social Media. His theme was that social networking is all about personal and property promotion.

"I use social media as an extension of my resume," Busekrus said. "I think resumes are almost going by the wayside. Rather than sending an employer your resume, send them to your website. The personal website should be a really beefed up version of your resume. From your website you can link to LinkedIn, Twitter, I have podcasts, etc. These are all great not only for potential future employers, but also future potential clients. All of these "things" may not win you business, but it will get you in the door and you will absolutely be at the forefront of technology and your clients should see that."

"Most people start researching a person with whom they are planning to do business BEFORE they do business with them," said Nicholas L. Miner, CCIM, vice president - investments for Commercial Properties Inc. a CORFAC International Firm in Scottsdale, AZ. "If you make it difficult for them to find you, they will use your competition."

Paula Greer of Black & Associates in Portland, OR, said: "LinkedIn has been good for wider realm of industry information. And for finding potential contacts for my own business. I have also used it for referrals to business associates that are not on LinkedIn when I see requests that I know would be of interest to them."

It's A Generational Thing

"Some is much ado about nothing," said Steven R. Miller, brokerage vice president Industrial Services Group of Colliers International in Greater Cincinnati. "I also think it is "generational" I am in my fifties and find that my age group or older are still very much "old school:" phone calls, faxes and snail mail. My contacts and clients of a younger grouping are IMers, texters, Facebook-, LinkedIn-, iPad-types and certainly Twitter. I do not twitter, I do feel it a necessary function to employ some social networking sites and technology but like most things I believe there is a point of diminishing return with some of this."

Joseph Scarpa of Green Paradigm Realty in Pennsville, NJ, said: "The millennial generation is growing up with this technology… naturally adapting to collaboration, research, and communications… business soon - if not now - will have a social networking presence to accommodate the next maturing generation."

Kevin Peixoto, principal of KP & Associates in San Jose, said: "I don't see social networking as a primary tool for business communication in the commercial real estate industry at this point. It may be a useful tool in the future. I believe as communication evolves with younger generations that use Facebook and other social networking websites for business communication, that this form of networking and communication may become more popular with younger generations and it may find its place in the commercial real estate industry."

Keeping It Professional

One of the stumbling blocks some see blocking wider adaptation of social networking in business is the cross-pollination of what information professionals are willing to share and don't want shared.

"I use it primarily for branding and so clients can find out a little about me. I think it will become more important overtime," said Tim M. Noonan of the National Multi Housing Group for Marcus & Millichap in San Diego." But, at the same time, I think it is good to keep as much about your personal life personal. I like the fact that people can find me if they needed to but they don't know about my family and what I do away from the office."

Steve Basurto, an investment sales broker with CLB Real Estate Services Inc. in Temecula, CA, said: "The social networking sites I believe are still in its infancy regarding commercial real estate. I'm sure there is some value in having a presence on any one of these sites. As time goes on the information obtained from the sites will grow to be what they are, however in this business, certain information is deemed proprietary and I can't envision it being shared that way."

"I think in the brokerage business those sites are tough to use because the dissemination of information is impossible to control once posted via reposting and re-tweeting," said Nate Oleson, vice president of ARA ? Pacific in San Francisco. "In addition, investors are very particular on the type and quality they want to purchase. Also, most of my clients (private clients) don't use or have Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. The use of it may expand in our space but it is a ways out."

Email and Face-To-Face Are Still King

In the survey, we did not include the choice of email as a preferred option for personal or business communication. If we did, it likely would have gone home with the Oscar. We did ask if any of the three social networking sites had trumped email as a preferred method for communicating with friends and business. More than half answered a resounding "No!" while almost one in four also said "Yes" or "Not yet."

"Email is still king," said J. Francis Mahoney, SIOR, Cushman and Wakefield of Pennsylvania Inc. in Philadelphia. "Business owners and/or company executives charged with large real estate decisions are too mature/aged/busy to devote a huge amount of time to searching the social sites. They still seem to be the province of the young."

"Personally, I do not see what the fuss is about," said Karen Van Hamme of Principal Life Insurance Co. in Des Moines, IA. "I prefer to get my business communication by reading newspapers and journals (online) and emails that push the news to me rather than social networking sites. I see little value in my business of CRE research. I need more than 120 characters to get the info I need, and I want it from reputable sources, not random "twitterers."

Fred B. Cordova III, senior vice president / CART Western regional director for Colliers International in Los Angeles, and author of the firm's The Aggregate, said: "I believe in spreading knowledge an insight and sharing it openly, but it needs to be thoughtful and worthwhile. Everything else is just noise that no one has much time for. With all of the email noise, picking up the phone is more important than ever! Trying to deliver a personal message to 5,000 of your closest friends via Twitter or Facebook, just does not seem to me to be the way to go in our business."

Still, Cordova offered the one pervasive caveat that seems to be out there about social networking in commercial real estate.

"That said," Cordova added, "we are looking into it to see if there is a way to do it and protect client privacy. It does seem to be the wave of the future and with iPhones and iPads… we feel it bears serious consideration."

Keep up weekly on national news, trends and property leads with the Watch List Newsletter, a weekly pdf that includes other news and leads not found on the CoStar Group web news pages. Sign up for the Watch List E-Mail Alert. A new issue is published late each Wednesday.
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