All of a Twitter about property
Copyright: David Lawson
Published in Property Week Sept 2009
Is it vital to know that someone you met at a conference has just had a good lunch? It seems that way for millions of Twitter ‘followers’. Many will also rush to upload the restaurant recommendation to a blog or start a debate about relative merits of the food on a networking site.
Are they time-wasting or making the next step in an online revolution? Trendsetting youngsters have already lost interest in social sites such as Twitter, according to a 15-year-old who grabbed headlines as a summer intern at a City bank. Further criticism came from a US study which said 40% of Twitter messages are ‘pointless babble’. Yet more than half the users in a European poll believe the service gives them insight into other professionals’ lives and businesses. And two thirds feel that professional networking on the web is vital to their career progression, according to the survey by the Association for Information and Image Management, and will become even more important in current difficult times.
In the UK the RICS is convinced enough about the importance of online networking to have commissioned an investigation.. Remit Consulting partner Andrew Waller says a new form of communication is evolving which offers swifter responses through online conversations rather than the delays of traditional letters.
Chris Lees was a sceptic, which may seem strange when he has helped pioneer computer technology in the property industry as executive director of software consultant Calvis. ‘Why would I want to spend more time online instead of picking up the telephone or going out for a beer when my day job locates me in front of a computer for much of the time?’
But he has converted to a fully-fledged evangelist for Twitter and network sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. He realised how many friends and business contacts overlapped between social sites while ‘tweets’ gave a feeling of intimate day-to-day connection. That overlap has increased as he invites more contacts to cross over between the services. He admits that benefits of investing time and money can’t be quantified. ‘But the same could be said of marketing, advertising, research, networking events and conferences. These things deepen relationships, and relationships are at the heart of doing business.’
Connecting with clients can be another key function of online networking. Marketing executive Carey Metelerkamp’s job is to keep in touch with existing and potential customers for Qube, the property software supplier, and she draws on the full panoply of online tools. Twitter is useful to broadcast events, news and product launches to about 100 ‘followers’ – users who sign up to particular user’s announcements through a system called ‘hash tags’. She has hard evidence of benefits, such as the 200 enquiries for Qube white papers after announcements on LinkedIn. Generating this kind of response would usually involve hefty publicity.
Participation in Twitter or LinkedIn also raises Qube’s Google rankings, which might otherwise mean paying specialists. ‘This could be a huge benefit to small property firms which don’t have the time and resources to raise their profile,’ she said. Qube is a global company and finds online networking an important tool for communicating in the US. ‘The UK property market has not yet realised the potential,’ she said. For instance, CREOPoint, a discussion site for US property executives, has no similar vehicle over here.
Some well known networking sites are less appealing. Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, for instance, are widely dismissed as consumer-based, with little business-to-business potential. But AIIM says they are still part of a new world of interaction it calls Enterprise 2.0 which is growing exponentially. Even where there is no business involvement, they have bred a demand for easy and immediate access to people and data.
Companies are coming under pressure to replicate online networking as business tools. More than 70% of professionals told AIIM they find it easier to locate information on the web than on internal systems. A third of users want to use the same social networking techniques for communicating with colleagues as they do with friends and family.
Networking and job hunting go hand in glove, and online sites are often still considered as a somewhere to display a CV in the hope of reeling in a plum post. But employers also demand references. Agencies have developed a technique called ‘crowdsourcing’ which reverses the process, asking professionals in an online network to recommend candidates. This demands enough members to generate worthwhile responses but few enough to have the intimate connections for valid recommendations. Background noise is also an issue. How do you filter out the mass of jabberers?
Tim Latham saw rich potential by concentrating on the relatively small number of professionals involved in the property industry. But when he set up recruitment site Prefio he still had to overcome other barriers, such as getting people to give honest opinions in public and protecting the sensitive information required by employers. He relies on ‘referrers’ who can prove they know the business and commit to confidentiality. They are paid £2500 for each successful appointment. Employers are charged £5000.