The word I have used since talking to Ben Martin is “excited;” excited that the VAR is actually reaching out to the members for their insight and opinions. Ben is the new Director of Communications & New Media at Virginia Association of Realtors* and his hiring is a hopeful sign of the VAR embracing the brave new world of Web 2.0.
Ben is the first person from any Realtor association we are members of (we’re members of NAR, VAR and NVAR) to ask for our feedback and thoughts on any subject whatsoever. Sure, we get contacted by NAR and NVAR all the time. But it’s in the form of impersonal direct mailers that are advertising vendors, products and services. Ben and VAR seem to actually care about what we as members think. Needless to say, we were very pleasantly surprised!
I could have stopped with just that quote from real/diaBlog. As the market shifts, Associations are going to have to offer more; they are going to have to try harder (lest they become irrelevant). Kudos to Scott for seeing the need for hiring Ben, and best wishes to Ben as he moves forward proselytizing to the troglodytes. I for one look forward to continuing the conversation on and off-line.
What follows is Part One of an interview I did with Ben:
What prompted Scott/VAR to hire you?
Only Scott could answer that definitively, but from our conversations, I think he senses that the landscape of the real estate industry and association membership is changing. The traditional ways of communicating with and engaging members are unattractive to many new entrants to the REALTOR ranks. In order to stay relevant to these people, VAR (and all associations, really) need to adapt. I feel very fortunate to have been the right person in the right place at the right time. I was very happy in my role as member relations director for the Virginia Society of CPAs (VSCPA), but VAR presented an opportunity to rapidly step up my work in new media and the social web right here in Richmond, so after just a few conversations with Scott, it very quickly became obvious that this was the right job in the right place at the right time.
What are some of the tools you will be using to communicate with members?
Well, so far I’ve used LinkedIn, facebook, instant messenger, Skype, chat widgets that REALTORS have installed on their web sites, and the telephone. I am a huge believer that technology is an enabler of (not a replacement for) face to face community, so “in real life” contacts will be very important. I’ve been working on a blog for VAR’s upcoming annual convention and expo. Our Director of Government Relations, Martin Johnson, and I are considering a text messaging channel for upcoming elections and the General Assembly session, so SMS could be something we roll out pretty soon. There is a facebook group for VAR members, and a LinkedIn group will be forthcoming as soon as they begin taking requests for new groups again.Â I’m also intrigued by white label internet browser toolbars and similar technologies like thin desktop alert applications (think along the lines of Southwest Airlines’ alert application, called Ding).
What excites you about this new position?
I have been doing social web and new media work in a limited way for VSCPA and in a volunteer role for a long time. I’m excited to step up my work in this arena and actually do it as part of my day job! I’m also excited to be working with REALTORS. I made a lot of good friends in the CPA community, and I can already tell that REALTORS are going to be an exciting community to be involved with. As best I can tell in my first two weeks on the job, REALTORS seem to have a bit more flexibility in their time than CPAs (many of whom are paid based on the number of hours they bill per year). As a result, engagement in an association like VAR seems to come a bit more naturally, provided that the activities are congruent with their interests. And while I was able to support CPA issues, I think the issues that REALTORS stand for are more personal and more in line with my beliefs. The VAR staff is top-notch.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow morning and Part 3 on Thursday morning.