The Next Best Thing?

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

But do we really want to go there? For the NYC Residential Real Estate community the last month has been a hyper one. No less than four major events exploring social media, networking and the ever evolving technology (marketplace?) have taken place. Over a year ago I wrote progressively of our need to transform and grow (see post
"What's a broker to do?"). Since then the communication vehicles associated with the younger generation have been further embraced by the rest of us. As reported by Bloomberg in March of this year, Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social-networking site, surpassed Google Inc.’s search engine in weekly hits to become the most visited Web site in the U.S. The bandwagon has come to town, but the "bandwagon effect" might also be close behind. For the business of brokering real estate, it might be prudent to ask what level of participation is healthy for our businesses, and what is the true value realized by adopting the social media tools being presented to us.

In Technology, "the next best thing" often takes on its alternate meaning where "the next best thing" is the lesser when compared to what has already been established. The desire by some to "find" an income can lead to others taking a step backwards. I'll give the simplest example I can think of: when driving at night, I would submit the best way to shift from low beams to high beams and back--given where the technology is today--is by using a foot button on the floor (this was the old way for those of you who don't remember). The more recent use of a lever off the steering wheel is less practical, slower, and more dangerous, but continues to survive. It's a shame when a quest for novelty trumps an already established and superior functionality, but it happens often. The results attained in the digital age can be "a wonderful thing," but they're not immune to the dilution of quality that can accompany broadening the bands that channel information.

The year I was born, Claude Shannon, one of my "mentors and thought provocateurs," (yes, that's him, third row, fourth from the right on my "memoir" page...for those of you who've found it) published the seminal
A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Along with his Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems published a year later, these two articles marked the inception of the Information Age and the information/communication theory that lies behind every computer, the Internet and all digital media.

For Shannon "information" was seen to exist only when the sender was saying something the recipient didn't already know and couldn't anticipate. Strangely, finding the best means for transferring that information could be achieved by ignoring content. Information is turned into bits and communicated as such. Meaning, too, is ignored--the system can accommodate any selection and not just the one(s) ultimately chosen. This open application has led to unprecedented speeds and capacity when it comes to communications and its influence on our daily lives and to scientific perspectives has been astounding. But let's not become enamored with the application merely for application sake. Fecundity is good, but overindulgence or superfluous consumption can harden your business' arteries and could even lead to professional "heart attacks".

Granted, information theory helps us better receive the "signals" with less "noise", and more of them, but that doesn't preclude our own need to listen to some signals while ignoring others. This becomes an essential practice as the information increases but our capacity to understand it all doesn't--we ourselves are analog devices caught in our own entropy and living in an increasingly digitalized world.

Some of the speakers at these technology seminars had a lot to offer. I heard many talk and hawk digital panaceas: portals v. the static websites of old, the changing landscape in SEO, social network integration, etc. As a broker, the questions that came to mind revolved around which signals were the right ones, and how could I avoid spending time on sending and receiving what's less relevant all while acknowledging my energy is limited.

Perhaps the best guidance came from
Ryan Slack, CEO of GreenPearl Events and the planner of this year's two day event: Real Estate Marketing & Technology Academy. As a prologue he suggested attendees might want to examine their own needs and then concentrate on just one or two approaches rather than trying to take on a plan that encompasses all, or too many.

I will say there are some people who themselves are quite "broadbanded" (fellow blogger
Jonathan Miller is impressive though I'll have to forgive his Yankee fervor if only because he's too young to have rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers), and these people can assume a greater array of digital participations, but for most of us working as real estate brokers, I think previously acquired knowledge can be the key to proper choices.

Some considerations might include:

1. Remember that of all the customers and clients one interacts with (and this is true of the general population as well), only a minority actually (ever!) buy.

2. Time spent on social media endeavors is time not spent on doing the job for contacts already made--and this might eventually injure one's reputation.

3. Some time should be set aside to gain a greater understanding and knowledge of one's business which will increase one's effectiveness as a broker.

4. Finding balance is a key to longevity in this business (and in life), and each person has his or her own optimal signal-to-noise ratio.

5. One should learn to separate ego driven factors from those which will really be productive. If you truly view yourself as a service provider, then making that your primary goal may call for not participating in the "social media du jour"--the media is not the message; the best solution for your clients--each and all your clients--is.

To our regular visitors this post might seem incomplete without a digression (it's a habit of mine) so here it is:

Those of you who have met or know me recognize my Flower Generation roots (maybe the hair's a giveaway), but anyway in the late 60's the signals carried through
that culture's communication channels couldn't have been more pure...for awhile anyway. Sharing content and everything else followed a reciprocal structure but with no conscious sense of reciprocity--it was effortless and mutually rewarding. In 1971 I helped organize a free outdoor concert featuring the band Orleans on the Ithaca College Campus. While listening with friends we were approached by a Mansonesque looking "brother" (this was before the now diminutive "bro'" came into use). He asked if we would be willing to sell him a cigarette. Our response was "Oh please, take a couple, no charge." As he stood with us moving to the beat, he took a few drags then asked "Can I buy a beer from you." Again our response was, "Please take a can or two, no need to pay, and have a sandwich, if you like." Orleans was doing great and our new friend was enjoying the concert, his beers, the sandwich, and his cigarettes. When he finished I saw him look down at the ground for a few moments, and then he turned to me and asked "Do you have a car?" ...the "noise" was back.

--Leigh Zaph. (any comments can be emailed to us at, thanks).