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Following up on the discussions from the Multi-Housing World panel about interacting with Online Communities, here is an interesting post from Alexander van Elsas.   I know this is an old post, but it was relevant to the discussion we had about the value of advertising on social networks.  Here is the issue with the multi-family housing industry I am finding:

1)  I referred to Internet Listing Services and SEM as “Traditional Advertising” in our panel. In the case of the apartment industry, this is far from the truth.  Over one billion dollars is still spent on print advertising, mediums that were affective in 1999.   Though these mediums are essential for C properties and still may drive leads to others, the effectiveness is low and cost/lead is high.

2)  The overally industry will be a generation behind. Though there are significant advertising opportunities outside of ILS’s or SEM, those slow to adapt an online ad strategy will not be able to utilize the value of social media.

That being said, here is another interesting post about the actual value being provided to consumers of social networks.

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I was recently invited to speak on a panel, Online Communities, by Steve Lefkovitz, president of Joshua Tree Consulting and the AIM Conference (a very well organized and progressive conference).  The panel included Ben Zimmer of Property Solutions and Israel Caranungan of Bozzuto Properties.

The conference had a diverse group of attendees from vendors to developers, but the show room seemed to have more remodeling/rehabbing companies than usual.  Our audience for our panel was a room comprised of vendors, property managers, and developers.   Here are the main highlights from our panel:

1)  Online Communities, soical networks and social media provide for very targeted advertising channels. There is a niche online community for every imaginable person, from MMOs to Pet Lovers. Furthermore, online communities are not limited to just younger tech-savvy individuals.  The majority (80%+) of internet users are either reading blogs, watching online videos, or in a social network.  Last, certain online communities segment the market for you through their common interest groups.

2)  If you can identify your value proposition and audience, you can reach prospective renters more effectively. All apartments are not created equal.  Some properties have different competitive advantages over others, whether it is location, price, amenities, environment, or marketing.  If you can identify which characteristics satisfy your target market, you will be able to more efficiently advertise online.  Israel provided an example of one of his properties that is near the subway station, which is convenient for young professionals.  So Bozzuto is able to more effectively advertisement to young professionals via Facebook and emphasize the properties convenient proximity to the subway.

3)  Retention and customer service are increasingly more important with social media forcing transparency. By joining the conversation or being available to address issues, property managers are able to build trust, receive feedback in real-time, increase retention rates, build brand, and become the sounding board as oppose to other social media websites.  Using social media outlets is not for everyone, but those who can effectively execute and consistently interact will reach more renters.

Overall, the audience was very reception and interactive.  Though a great deal of the information did not apply (because most of the attendees were either builders or our competition), the message was well received.  Here are my slides from the panel:

Taking the lead from Google and Slide.com, we decided to push the website live before all the bugs have been worked out.  Here was the debate:

Pros:

1)  Get early feedback about the idea, layout, content, and functionality.

2)  Test functionality, servers, and load speed in a live environment.

3)  Keep momentum external and internal.  Clients, users, competitors, and investors want to see something, even if it is not perfect, and our developers, sales, and team need to know we making progress.

Cons:

1)  Bloggers like Scoble may write that he really loves our website and let the world know, just like these two articles titled, Startups: your web site sucks and I reward innovation with positive reinforcement and support.

2)  Competition may copy our idea and funtionality and launch in the cities we have not reached yet (Though this will happen regardless).

3)  Press, customers, clients, and investors may not be able to see through the small bugs and view the idea as faulty, and not just the functionality.

Most people say you only get one chance at a launch, but I disagree.  With a value-added service that is sustainable, we will have plenty of opportunity to help renters.  Our model, product, client-base, and users will change a thousand times before we finalize our vision and product, so it is important to get that feedback early and often.

So I know the site has bugs, but we need feedback, thoughts, opinions, advice, and even the rare “hey, I like it”.  Here is our new slogan, RentWiki.com – building what our users want, but you have to tell us first.

There has been some interesting discussions about who to select as your early adapters.  This hits me close to home because we are currently deciding our specific launch strategy and how that relates to early adapters. An article by Robert Scoble touches on the importance of early adapters to the success of any project, and an article by Alexander van Elsas discusses how Silicon Valley early adapters can be a quick way to trap your startup into failure.

For RentWiki.com, our early adapters and early contributors are the key to our success and growth.  They will determine our content, features, functionality, and scalability.  However, we much be aware of the minority voice that is tied to early adapters.  We are trying to help movers find great neighborhoods and avoid bad ones.  And our end mission is to provide a vehicle for people to share their personal stories and knowledge of neighborhoods… a simple review site would probably suffice.  However, early adapters (myself included) want a service above and beyond what is currently available.

So the question remains, should our early adapters be the Silicon 100,000 or less mainstream internet users?

It’s been a while, due in part because I’ve been trying to get RentWiki.com launched by September 1.  However, I just got back from my sister’s wedding in Belize, on a secluded beach resort.  You are probably saying to yourself, “wow, that sounds like a very relaxing and fun time.” Normally it would be.

I think my generation of internet users are so attached to their daily (or minute) routines of checking email, it becames stressful not having access.  You feel naked without your blackberry, iphone, or in my case, crappy Motorola Q (damn verizon contracts).  During a period of 3 days, I was overwhelmingly stressed with no having an internet connection and access to email, that I could not enjoy the wedding.  But why is this.

1)  Expectation of responsiveness – Email has become similar to a text message or a phone call.  I expect a response within minutes, not hours or days, and others expect the same responsiveness from me.  I used to get in fights with my real estate business partner Ryan Johnson for not responding quick enough to Gchat.

2)  Information exchange – Without email, chat, twitter, or blogs, I felt disconnect from the world.  I had no idea what happening with my family, friends, technology, the olympics, the presidential campaign, and even wars.  And it was definitely a foreign feeling picking up a newspaper to get information.  Today, it seems that everyone is on top of breaking news, and it is almost a competition to see who has the most current events knowledge.

So the question is, when will you even be able to relax in a beach location free from email and the internet? For me, probably never.

Teresa and Tom

Teresa and Tom

Look at Spiderman’s shirt.

Amateur blogger Leora Zellman has announced on her blog that she is going to be selling ad spots on her body at tech conference.

But Eric, this is nothing like prostitution. True.

But is this similar to a stripper that profits from people staying at her body? Not really that close, but the principles are the same… people are not interested in your mind, but in your physique.

Sure, guys are pigs, tech dorks are very unsocial, and have a difficult time talking to girls (why do you think Geek Brief is so popular).  And most importantly, I am all for taking advantage of business opportunities.  So I do not blame Leora, and I actually think this is really smart…captive audience, newsworthy, and has great WOM attributes.

But if this proves to be very profitable, will every semi-attractive female start selling ad space?

I thought that woman who sold ad space on her pregnant belly at the super bowl was unbelievable. This isn’t that bad, but what’s next?

On a side note, I’ll get a tatoo of any startup across my chest, rip off my shirt at the next SF tech conference, and scream like the Incredible Hulk the .com, for a small fee of $10mm

Did you ever get criticized for some­thing you tried that worked out? When we pioneered customer reviews, it was incredibly controversial. I got letters from publishers saying, “You don’t understand your business. You make money when you sell things. Take down those negative customer reviews.” We’ve never done anything of real value that wasn’t at least a little bit controversial when we did it. But if you want to be a pioneer, you have to be comfortable being misunderstood.