Empowered Users Pose Challenges for Organizations Too

by Michael Marchionda - The arrival of the internet forced organizations to rethink their business models to remain competitive in a changing marketplace. With the proliferation of social media, we are again seeing how new technology is forcing organizations to rethink their business models.

Several online businesses that emerged in the internet era replaced previous ways of doing business which required human interaction or some other medium. Amazon and Kijiji, for example, disrupted traditional publishing businesses and eroded classified ad revenue for newspapers. In the social media era, online forums, product review websites and other emerging tools are only a click away, empowering consumers and opening doors and challenging organizations to demonstrate their value proposition.

Example: Real Estate Industry

The recent turbulence in the housing market demonstrates how social media can benefit and empower users. Of course, the impact of social media is not limited to this particular industry, but it makes a good example because of its relevancy to today's world and because many people have bought/sold a home, or are at least considering it. Also, given the importance of trust in the industry, social media is an obvious choice for building relationships and establishing credibility: key assets for the agents who must now compete in a social media environment.

Several online tools emerged which provided buyers and sellers with the knowledge they needed to make better decisions with realtors. Trulia Voices, as one example, is an online community where buyers, sellers and agents can get advice and share knowledge with other experts. These kinds of tools empowered buyers and sellers by providing them with information that was previously non-existent, unknown or not as useful.  For example, users could get appraisals on homes, learn which real estate agents were the best to work with, and list properties to maximize their exposure to the market. These tools changed the role of the real estate agent as buyers and sellers became smarter and more resourceful. A new generation of empowered home buyers arose from the rubble of the housing collapse.

The following quote by Peter Kolat from Real Estate Black Book reinforces this argument:

"In today's world, every real estate agent, real estate investor, house buyer, house seller, distressed property owner, and everyone else in between can just jump on the internet and find what they are looking for.  People are no longer restricted to working with real estate agents and relying on MLS listings to find a house. They are not restricted to working with their bank to get an approval for a mortgage, running around from one open house to another, being swayed by pressure tactics and relying on other people to purchase or sell a home. Not anymore..."

Recognizing this trend, real estate companies were early adapters of social media and are enjoying their benefits as well. According to Mashable, realtors are using photo sharing to enhance listings, along with professional networking sites to hone their sales skills. They share videos, listings or advice with their communities and prospective buyers or sellers.

WellcomeMat is a good example of social media being used by realtors, as it hosts videos which show potential buyers what a property looks like without requiring them to leave their home. Video with commenting is a particularly advantageous social media tool as it may eliminate the need for an open house and provides a platform for discussion.

Another example of a functional social media tool is Coldwell Banker's On Location which takes users' IP addresses to determine the closest available video listings and then displays those listings for easy viewing. Coldwell Banker's 5,500 Twitter followers and 9,500 Facebook followers suggest that their social media strategy is working and their decision to redevelop their website (and incorporate social media links into the homepage) was a good one.

Yet another example is Corcoran Group, a New York based real estate firm, which effectively utilizes different social media channels (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Foursquare). Their Facebook fan page personalizes its posts in a way that lets followers see the success stories of real people that used the organizations' services.

Lessons Learned

By looking at a few examples in the real estate industry, we can learn valuable lessons about social media on the whole as well as their impact on other industries.

  • Social media creates empowered users who can pose challenges for organizations not equipped for change. 
  • Organizations need to meet their consumers' needs with proper strategic planning for their social media initiatives.
  • Organizations need to join the conversation and embrace social media instead of waiting for it to go away.
  • When it comes to B2C companies and consumers, social media is used on both sides of the fence; first by consumers and then by companies. Companies need to meet consumers halfway by engaging with them through the mediums they prefer to use, and not the other way around.
  • Players that embrace collaboration and can add genuine knowledge using the social media tools can continue to enjoy a strong business model.

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