Dustin and The Notorious R.O.B. are discussing the pros and cons of on-line comments about specific listings.  This is a good extension of my posts from a week or so ago about how consumers choose agents.  The basic question I was asking in those posts (how do consumers choose agents today?) is the question I think is most important here: How do consumers discuss listings today?

The question being addressed by Rob Hahn (The Notorious R.O.B.) in MLS, Cluetrain, and Social Web — One Step At A Time, Gingerly is a little different, namely how should an MLS allow public comments about listings.  Rob gives good advice when he says “take one step at a time, very gingerly.”  This is good advice because I think the question being anwered (Rob didn’t pose the question he’s answering it) is wrong or at least premature.  As stated above, I think the better question is, how do conversations about listings occur today?

I suggest this question because I see the first gingerly step as modeling on-line conversations about listings the same way such conversations occur off-line today.  The Cluetrain makes the points that “markets are conversations” and the Internet enables new types of conversations, but also critical to the Cluetrain ethos is that the conversations need to be authentic.  I take this to mean, cut the sales talk, and tell me the truth!  Because many corporations and sales people are really bad at being authentic, much of the Cluetrain talks about how the Internet is allowing people to learn the truth by having conversations around and outside of the standard communication channels.  No longer is the slick sales person the only way you’re going to get information about your next purchase.  Now you can Google whatever you want and learn more about the product than the sales person likely knows. You can engage with other consumers who’ve purchased that same product and you can hear their experiences, good or bad, and get informed by them directly.

Importantly, however, the value of recommendations from others about generic products is far different than recommendations about a home.  First, the most obvious difference is that there are not many people who have experience with any particular home.  Often, a home has been owned by only a few families.  The most authentic conversations could be those with the owners, perhaps the previous owners, and the neighbors, but, unlike on-line recommendations for generic products, these aren’t conversations likely to happen off-line and so I question whether these conversations would develop on-line either.

The next tier would be conversations with other buyers who visited the home and wanted to share their opinions regarding the home.  Importantly, I think “visited the home” is key here, because this, again, is a pretty narrow set.  We’re not talking about some unknown person calling himself Bugs Bunny trolling through a web site and looking at pictures of the house and offering their opinion. Again, this is where conversations about homes are different than generic products.  The sphere of authentic knowledge or facts necessarily is far more limited.

Importantly, conversations about the neighborhood and general vicinity are far different than conversations about a particular home.  More people can have experienced the neighborhood and developed authentic and useful opinions than about a particular home.  Again, the Cluetrain is about finding or creating new pathways to the truth and that’s a far different thing than changing the definition of truth to include a bunch of opinions from people who really have no basis for providing an opinion about a particular home.

You may have noticed by now that I’ve been using the term “home” a lot because I think it’s critical to remember that we are talking about someone’s home here.    This is very personal.  Authentic conversations respect that.  I believe this is one of the core values an agent brings to the table for buyers and sellers; they are able to be respectful of the personal attachments each party may have and insulate them from conversations that may be hurtful.  This doesn’t mean hiding the truth from them, but simply being understanding of their very deep and personal feelings about their home — treating them as human beings and not a punching bag, which I think is what the Cluetrain is all about.

I do think there are great opportunities for authentic conversations on-line about particular listings and, as Rob suggests, starting gingerly is best.  Some of these conversations are already occurring on-line through showing systems that allow the agents to share comments with each other and their clients from particular showings.  Expanding on these systems is an obvious way to extend the conversation.  What other ways do you think authentic conversations can be created about specific listings?

3 Responses to How Do Consumers Discuss Listings Today?

  1. Brian Larson says:

    I’m curious whether negative feedback might not be valuable to listing agents and sellers. It seems that listing agents are constantly struggling to get feedback from showing agents. Among other things, they can use that feedback to urge the seller to make important changes.

    I can envision a system where the showing agent rates the property using Likert scales on several characterisitcs (cleanliness and condition of finishes come to mind as examples) as well as pricing. They might also be invited to provide free-form comments on the same specific categories. There are so many interesting and challenging decisions the site builder would have to make: Do you show individual reviews or aggregated scores? (There are W2.0 sites that take varying approaches.) Do you allow listing broker to have a say over whether individual free-form comments are displayed? (Again, some sites do this sort of thing and others do not.)

    The key is that such sites are likely to exhibit emergent qualities, which makes it difficult to predict whether and how they would work. In other words, we really need to try it to see how it works – that means taking the business and legal risks associated with the effort without really knowing the quality of the results.

    Mike, maybe you should put all those developers you have who are plagued with too much free time on this :-)

    -Brian

  2. Tony Arko says:

    We have been soliciting comments on our listings for a while now. Check it out. Completely unsensored comments. We have never had to delete a comment. http://www.realdiablog.typepad.com/blogback/

  3. [...] How Do Consumers Discuss Listings Today? This is one action toward designing the future. [...]

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