Making social media sing with REO

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about optimizing social media, life, and spirit. Reach her at elgantz()yahoo.com

I have been on a unique journey that has definitely been broadening my horizons— drilling deeply into a real-estate-publishing niche focused on REOs—that’s “real estate owned” properties (not the eighties pop band) that have run the foreclosure gauntlet and are back in the hands of the financial institutions. This is a growing byproduct and reality of our struggling economy, which was so crippled by the once reckless heyday of sub-prime mortgage lending.

Yes, I guess one might say there in a murky dark side to this world—all the financial loss, property vandalism and deterioration, hassle, anger, anguish, shame, and lives in upheaval. But as there is a yin to every yang, REO sales actually provide a glimmer of hope for devastated neighborhoods and broken dreams—the promise of asset managers and investors who are committed to win-win-win propositions which involve neighborhood transformation, green renovation, and helping people live without the oppressive burdens of back-breaking mortgage obligations.

That’s where the REO Expo, June 6 – 9, and the Open Door Institute, a vibrant community for REO professionals, come into play.

I joined the mother ship, The LTV Group, about a month and half ago to develop a social media marketing strategy for the REO Expo and other corporate entities down the road. Other core businesses under the umbrella are REO Insider magazine and HousingWire magazines and LTV Creative. It’s been quite a ride—working with a talented and energetic bunch of folks, as well as a target market with a fiercely persistent, can-do work ethic. We are less than two weeks away, and the registration momentum continues to build. Here are the basics of the case study—with updates to follow.

REO Expo 2010: Social Media Strategy

Objective:
Maximize registrations for REO Expo and simultaneously—expand membership in the Open Door Institute, a new community for REO professionals, requiring dues ranging from $595 to $2995.

Key tactics:
• Driving consistent conversation and engagement activity on Facebook, Twitter, REO Pro Ning community, Linked In, and blog response. Monitor, engage, converse, and respond. In a little over a month, the Facebook fan (or like) page is more than 425-strong.

• Building a complete social media “ecosystem” across all marketing communications channels—with social media group icons inviting engagement on all outgoing emails, materials, and the REO Expo website.

• Launching a “Share Your Story” contest. The winner received free REO Expo registration, a 3-night hotel stay at the conference, and an invitation to the private reception with Emmitt Smith. The two runners up won free registration. We had some very disturbing REO tales, indeed, and interestingly, the site that provided the most involvement was Linked In—through postings on the various subject-matter interest groups.

There were many stories of persistence, accomplishment, and cast-iron stomachs, but our winner, Nelya Calev of Seattle, wove a particularly disconcerting yarn. You can read the whole story on REO Insider blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“Our guys re-keyed the house, and I went to take pictures for BPO. And as I was walking down the hallway when I saw F*&K . . . (name of the bank) written in large letter on the wall and punched holes next to it. Not a big deal, so I take pictures. There was spilled paint on the tile floor, fire place, and carpet. No biggy, right? I walked in to the master bedroom and he had little girls underwear framed on the wall . . . What kind of sick person does that? It scared the crap out of me . . . I went downstairs and he had a picture of . . . “

OK . . . I think you get the picture. Not for the faint of heart, right? She goes on to say she had to deal with crazy neighbors approaching every buyer and scaring them off. He had to babysit buyers and the buyers’ agents to get it sold.


And I thought I have had a colorful career!

The Campaign Results so far:
1. Registrations have increased almost twelve-fold since launching an integrated social media, e-marketing, and traditional materials/word-or-mouth marketing campaign a little over a month a ago—meeting and even surpassing expectations.
2. Open Door Institute Membership has almost doubled in the same time period.

Registration is online at www.REOExpo2010.com. Be sure to sign up sooner than later, because attendance is capped and the free classes that we’re being offered through the Open Door Institute and Default School are filling fast.

There’s more to come, and we will keep you updated. Or, why don’t you join us? For now, it’s time for me to fly . . .

Peer Factor

In his epoch-defining book, The Long Tail, WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson explores the statistically rooted theory of the same name. He suggests, “Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a high number of niches in the tail.” He romances this theory in the context of dominant market forces, including the diminishing physical requirements of distribution and the proliferation of individual content producers empowered by the Internet and new media technologies. His clarifying point is critical,“The Long Tail starts with a million niches, but it isn’t meaningful until those niches are populated with people who want them.” Ay, there’s the rub.

The Democratization of Production and Distribution.

Everything really comes down to the basic economic concept of demand and supply. The difference now is that the cost of reaching niches is reducing dramatically -– thus driving the democratization of production and distribution. In his addendum chapter, Anderson addresses the “the Long Tail of marketing.” The premise of this chapter is that the fragmentation of markets is requiring the fragmentation of marketing. More important, as I have proposed in earlier posts, the user-driven Web is turning the paradigm of traditional marketing communication on its ear.

“(With) individuals trusted more—institutions trusted less—the most effective messaging comes from peers. Nothing beats word of mouth, and as we’ve seen, the Web is the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier the world has ever seen.”

Understanding the Dynamic of Influence.

The integration of the multimedia Web and mobile technologies has forged a brave, new frontier. The medium is really no longer about the message. It’s about the relationship. Therefore, businesses and institutions must shift focus away from managing the message and move toward relating with the influencers. This means leveraging personal affiliations, relationships, and their voices. It also means listening and monitoring through resources, such as:

TechnoratI
Google Trends
Social Networks

The hyperlink is, indeed, the new response device. Traditional metrics, such as audience size and readership are becoming increasingly stale and even irrelevant. Now, response is measured in real-time interactivity—clicks and click-thrus. Action. Anderson says “The hyperlink is the ultimate act of generosity online.” Placing a hyperlink in content signifies tacit endorsement of the associated content and simultaneously gives the author a new brand of authority—the power to refer.

The Power of the Peer.

Given this new focus on the influencer, we as fundraisers could not be in a better place. The development “sweet spot” has arrived. We know that that people give to people, not institutions. And now, the cultural evolution of communication is giving our volunteer fundraisers more power and influence than ever before.

We just need to find the right tools to make them the most successful “askers”— and us the most effective “impresarios” of generosity. Let us know what you think. Ask a question, or leave a comment. Tell us know what you are doing to lake advantage of this rare moment in history.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that matters. Find her at elgantz@ yahoo.com

Tactics for Tough Times

“It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.” –John Steinbeck

Whether you are large or little, flush or floundering, it’s never too late to chart a course to flourish in the New Year. Even though recovery is still looming as a faint glimmer on horizon, we need to be vigilant about honing our skills to work smarter and make the most of the new economic realities. Here are some scrappy, do-more-with-less things you can do to jump-start your marketing program in 2010:

Contact your lapsed donors. Appeal to them via snail mail or better yet, through email. Reactivated donors can have higher lifetime value than new donors, because they’re already invested.

Express gratitude. Curtailing donor-acknowledgment activities as a means of cost-cutting can be counter-productive–and even devastating. In fact, messages of appreciation will be more potent than ever.

Take risks. Yes, even in a time of uncertainty, new tools can help you differentiate yourself in a sea of solicitations and a cacophony of causes. Social media can help you expand your base and leverage the viral power of peer-to-peer fundraising in dynamic, new ways. Discover exciting ways to streamline your process and empower your volunteers. In this Internet age, the medium is definitely the message, as well as the method!

Innovate. Effective fundraising is dependent on innovation. Everything is testable, and any idea can lead to a stronger program. Whether it succeeds or fails, there is something to be learned. The biggest mistake you can make during tough times is to retreat to a defensive position and make decisions out of fear.

Put the “Donate Now” button on everything. Don’t be shy about the “Donate Now” button. So many schools and universities, in particular, are shy about using this. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase online giving–by asking!!! Some key places to put it include:
• Your homepage.
• The homepage of your online community.
• Every email, every e-newsletter you send.

ENGAGE in social media. If you have not already, create a Facebook page that will automatically post status updates to your Twitter account. (Set that up, too.) And, investigate your LinkedIn groups. You may find that that there is already an active community of support burgeoning on these sites. Build a bridge, and interact with online savvy groups.

Investigate mobile applications. Whether you are providing mobile access to a unique resource, to volunteer offerings, or to giving opportunities, everyone is going mobile. We need to communicate to our donors and alumni where they are — in the palms of their hands — through mobile applications, texting, and mobile-friendly rendering of our communication devices. This will be essential in 2010! According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 43.3 million units during the third quarter of 2009 (3Q09), up 4.2% from the 41.5 million units shipped in 3Q08, and up 3.2% from shipments of 41.9 million units in 2Q09.

Whatever you do, keep trusting — and testing, testing, testing . . . And remember to take time to breathe and celebrate everything you have accomplished this year.

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media that makes a difference. Contact her at elgantz @ yahoo.com.

What’s the Next Layer on the Stack?

pancakesI was privileged to speak to a class at Southern Methodist University last week on social media for nonprofits. Nina Flournoy, the charming, accomplished corporate communications professor, was taking a very practical, professionally focused approach to the material. Clearly, the bright, enthusiastic students were hungry to comprehend the marketing power of social media.

They asked great questions – What makes something go viral for a business or nonprofit? How do I know what to post? When to post? How do I find my audience? Looking back on the day, my insights were many, but I was surprised to notice that though we may be asking similar questions, our points of view were remarkably different. Facebook, Twitter, and social media are as much a part of their daily lives as the telephone or the iPod. In fact, they live perpetually connected lives. Therefore, looking at these social media sites as marketing channels to be managed or positioned can feel incongruent. Social media is simply how they live, how they interact with the world and each other. It’s second nature—breathing, eating, sleeping—and tweeting! The reality is here:

As part of a slightly older generation of professionals, I am still experimenting with ways to integrate, coordinate, and differentiate somehow. But whether you are Generation X, Y or Z, I think these are questions we as marketers must address right now, in the moment. We are all trying to figure out how to weave social media tactics into the overall marketing mix—and manage them effectively. As we know, setting up a Facebook account or a Twitter profile is just the beginning—definitely not the whole story.

Content is king—but even more important is the conversation it triggers. Social media is less about information and more about participation. And geez, that is very hard to schedule! It is an activity, behavior, and process. Therefore, the question is—does the user experience have value? I think that’s where businesses and nonprofits are stymied. They look at social media and ask, “how is this relevant?”

And yet, that’s probably the flawed interpretation. Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In are really relevance-neutral. They are only as effective as their context. Sage North America recently released survey data that “88 percent of U.S. and Canadian nonprofits are using some form of social media, although less than half of this number have been using it for more than a year.” The surprising news is, “Of those who have not adopted a social media campaign, 45 percent indicated that it was because they were unsure of its relevance or advantages. Others said that they were unable to devote the time or resources.” The other hesitancy seems to be an uncertainty about integrating existing online transactions with social media environments. “91 percent of nonprofits said that they raise funds online, yet only 58 percent of these respondents said they use social media for fundraising.”

The challenge is to embrace the social media landscape in a valuable, productive way. That is, from a business perspective, we need to find a way to aggregate the vast, messy world of social media into a usable set of metrics, messages, behaviors, and/or outcomes. As I have written in earlier posts, it’s the new success measure—ROE, return on engagement.

At the end of the class, the SMU students asked me the question, “What’s next? What’s the next big thing?” What a fabulous and provocative question. There is some buzz about this among thought leaders. They suggest it is the question is really “What’s next on the stack?” We need to think about the media communication world as a stack or a progression. Many point to aggregation, dashboards for marketers, and consolidation tools. Chris Vary of Weber Shandwick and the Dallas Social Media Club says he suspects Twitter has probably peaked in terms of growth, so we should keep our eyes on the social media horizon. I have read there are 11,000 registered third party apps built on top of Twitter and probably more for Facebook; therefore, I’m thinking the cycle dictates some sort of consolidation or filtering.

Thinking back on my visit to SMU, where I earned an MBA and an MA, I am dizzied and overwhelmed by the acceleration of change. When I was sitting in those same chairs in the Hughes Trigg Building (well, maybe replaced since then) twenty-ahem years ago, I was thinking about taking my box of punch cards to the guy who worked on the other side of the little window in the mainframe building. No PCs. No Internet. No email, even. Still had the old Smith-Carona and Liquid Paper, for heaven’s sake! So hard to fathom.

gartner-social-software-hype-cycle-2009
Gartner Social Media Hype Cycle

And now, I can’t imagine a day without my iPhone and HootSuite. I guess I’m sort of a hybrid. As I wrapped up my remarks, I waxed a little nostalgic and encouraged the students to stay open, curious, and highly, highly adaptive.

The human condition is evolving at hyper-speed—intertwined with high-velocity technological innovation focused solely on expressive capability. As NYU professor Clay Shirky observes, “The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

So consider this—social media as we know it right now will not be recognizable in 3-5 years. What do you think is next? Are you ready?

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about social media and other communications phenomena. Please post your comment below and join the conversation. elgantz@ yahoo.com

Will microvolunteering have a macro impact?

iphone_200
I was very intrigued by the latest social media philanthropy trend I saw posted by NPR on my Facebook page—The Extraordinaires, a snazzy, new social media enterprise that delivers microvolunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. The article begins – “Got five minutes? Got a cell phone? Want to do good?” What a concept—weaving volunteer activities into the fabric of your busy, over-programmed day. Interesting concept, but does it make practical sense? When you are waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery store, might you have time or focus to translate an email newsletter into Spanish—or figure sum-of-the-years-digits depreciation on the purchase of a new copier? I wonder. It’s a great concept, indeed—multi-taking at the highest level of win-win efficiency.

Upon download, I realized the opportunities offered were almost universally photo-related—tagging images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. My mind was racing with other options or opportunities. Still, I was a bit bewildered. The app asked that I describe what I saw—one session asking me to tag what appeared to be 19th century French Genre paintings. Now, I’m thinking this is a bit freewheeling for a museum. Luckily, I took art history in college, but I’m not so sure I would trust the random, crowdsourced public to accurately catalog these esoteric works for posterity. Definite fact-checking and review required, indeed.

As I hit submit, I suspected that it was less about the task at hand, so to speak, and more about the experience. It’s kind of like taking one of those Facebook quizzes. It’s fun and enlightening in a pseudo-informational sort of way, but the value is questionable. However, I was surprised that there seemed to be no data capture—no way of engaging me further after my “micro” interaction. There was just a very cordial thank you for “making the world a better place.” So, the ongoing social media question looms—how do we bring those touched through casual encounters such as an iphone tagging exercise into our cultivation universes?

Extraordinaires co-founder Jacob Colker, 26, says, “We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games.” He continues, “Microvolunteerism is perfectly suited for the Millennial Generation. They are used to text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, get-in, get-out, instant gratification. For them, going out and cleaning up a park—that’s not necessarily attractive to them.” So, is microvoluteerism the new media equivalent of a one-night stand? No commitments . . . no strings? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned!

I cringe to think the entire paradigm for volunteerism is shifting to micro tasks and instant gratification. I prefer to see this as fresh, innovative concept yet another option to attract “followers” and “fans.” I am reminded of the mission trip my 17-year-old son recently took to northern Michigan. The group of 35 students spent a week renovating a deteriorating campground for economically disadvantaged youth. They built Adirondack chairs, sanded fences, and painted cabins. They got their hands dirty and their hearts engaged. No cell phones were allowed. And, the gratification may not have been instant, but it was most certainly—genuine.

What do you think about microvolunteerism?