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RISMEDIA, February 11, 2011—With the social networking craze continuing to capture headlines, and names like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google now common topics of dinner conversation, one cannot ignore the impact this new medium has had on our lives.

Did you like the Super Bowl ads? If you didn’t tweet your thoughts, your opinion was probably not counted as researchers were watching Twitter data to assess the biggest winners and losers.

Big business spends millions of dollars a year on social networking and media. Twitter and Facebook logos are now common place on most advertisements, television and print media. The latest car gadgets include Facebook messaging and YouTube is used by President Obama to get his message out to the people.

So just how should you, as a real estate agent or broker, embrace this technology and how can it benefit the bottom line? Is your time best spent writing a blog (Web log), spending hours on Facebook connecting with your sphere of influence, and others you don’t even know? Should you have your profile on Facebook or MySpace, what about Twitter, LinkedIn, RealTown or ActiveRain?

First, let’s take a look at the difference between social media and social networking and a little history. Social networking is not new. You and I have been doing it for centuries. When you mingle with co-workers around the coffee machine, go to a fund raiser, club, party, business get-together, seminar, golf, sewing circle, etc., these are all forms of social networking. Similarly, the new online social networking is a bi-directional mode of communications between people, sometimes a group of people with similar interest. Good examples would include e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, RealTown and ActiveRain; places where you are having conversations with your friends and associates.

Social media is also not new. We have all been listening to the radio and watching TV for years. Social media and social networking are very different. Social networking is a conversation, while on the other hand social media is a broadcast of communications and is not typically a conversation of sorts. A good example of the new online social media would be YouTube, Vimeo, Podcast and Virtual Tours. Social media typically would include the use of pictures, video, images and/or sound to deliver a message to a group of people or audience.

So, where did it all begin? Well the first mass form of social networking technology was the e-mail or electronic mail, and without going into the techno-mumbo-jumbo of the early days of e-mail on large shared computers back in the 1960’s and 70’s, the first real commercial and mass use of e-mail came about in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the widely used MCI Mail, Compuserve and AOL applications.

As an example of how widely used e-mail is today, I read an article in the local paper last year titled, “Dear Santa.” In this article, they published several letters to Santa, and as you know, kids say the darnedest things. One little girl wrote “Dear Santa, Do you have an e-mail address? If you do, please give it to me so we can send messages quicker.” Love Bella.

Social networking and social media are tools. And these tools are here to stay. If you don’t think so, just check out these facts: Facebook in July 2010 announced they surpassed 500,000,000 active users. YouTube is now the second most used search site, second to Google. And Facebook just surpassed Google in the most weekly hits for the first time ever.

The most recent National Association of REALTORS® statistics show over 90% of home buyers said they looked online for their home before purchasing.

So, how do you balance this new medium and new technology with your current business without letting it overwhelm you? First of all, don’t try to do it all at once. Take your time. Start by creating a Facebook profile if you haven’t done so already. Invite your friends, business associates, other real estate agents and prospects, and then create a Facebook business page. The most success I have seen is when agents specialize or localize to build brand recognition. Then join LinkedIn and create your business profile. If you are serious about social networking (and you should be), join one of the real estate networking groups at RealTown or ActiveRain.

Once you have these accounts created, don’t spend more time than you are comfortable with. Getting started, many experts say to spend no more than 15-30 minutes a day on your social networking. Or, you may want to set aside an hour once a week. These are tools, not a new way of life.

Another great way to increase your online branding and integrate your social networking is the use of social media. Virtual tours and YouTube videos can be very useful for property marketing or even personal marketing and branding. Find a virtual tour service that utilizes the latest technologies, social media and social networking, and integrates these services in an easy-to-use platform so you aren’t spending a lot of time learning something new on top of everything else. Integration and ease of use are keys to survival in the new world of social technology.

Tim Denbo is president/CEO of VirtualTourCafe. VirtualTourCafe LLC is based in Dublin, California and was co-founded by Timothy Denbo and Hannele Rinta-Tuuri. The business is operated as a limited liability company and has an advisory board made up of professionals in the real estate, technology, and marketing fields.

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