2010 July 27
Sadly, in the U.S. the term “MLS” isn’t a registered trademark that only Realtor®-owned MLSs can use. Which means that in the online world, everyone wants to use it.
Why? Because consumers have come to understand that those three letters represent the gold standard for accurate, up-to-date property information.
Sites like eLookyLoo.com advertise themselves as a ‘free MLS listing site.’ So does FlatFeeListings.com. So does MLSOnline.com. Google it and you’ll find over 70 million references to “MLS” listing sites. What do they have in common? The answer is that very few are actually true MLS organizations—the rest are impostors.
How do we take back the term “MLS”? How do MLS’s continue to be recognized as THE source for reliable information?
The answer is that those of us who operate real MLSs take back the name by applying to have it assigned to us as a top-level internet domain (.MLS). Then, we will control who gets to use it! When new domains are issued in 2011, we want to be ready with “.MLS” as a domain name that only recognized MLSs can obtain.
Join the MLS Domains Association today and let’s Take Back Our “MLS”!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
July 16th, 2010 | Author: Sharon Hill
The MLS Domains Association project, created by 15 MLS groups in the US and overseen by Bob Bemis of Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, is making some headway since we last talked with them. Local publishers should be aware of the .mls URLs already spoken for.
The ones we know of so far:
Austin Board of REALTORS, has claimed the following URLs:
Carolina Multiple Listing Services, Inc., in metro Charlotte, NC will have these sites:
First Multiple Listing Service, Inc. in metro Atlanta will own:
Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. , covering DC and nearby areas of Maryland and Virginia, has claimed the following URLs:
Illinois’ Midwest Real Estate Data LLC will now own:
Multiple Listing Service, Inc. of Wisconsin, dba Metro MLS has signed up to own:
My Florida Regional MLS, has claimed the following Florida sites:
Realcomp II, Ltd. of metro Detroit Mich. will own:
REALTOR Association of Greater Ft. Lauderdale, FL has claimed:
Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota, Inc. is to be owner of the following URLs:
Southern California Multiple Listing Service will own:
Triangle Multiple Listing Service of Raleigh / Durham, NC, will be owner of:
On the MLS Domains Association site there’s an excellent video by real estate attorney / consultant Brian Larson that walks visitors through the mission and the process to apply for an MLS domain.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Jul. 12, 2010 - Management Case Study
An AE friend writes: “Wow, have we got a little tempest in our Technology Committee teapot! Our Committee has been meeting for a year to discuss revisions to our association website. The committee wanted a change—the site needs a facelift. They considered lots of options, one of which was having an open house feature for the public. Then Spring came, the market started to rebound, and the Tech Committee lost interest in the project. The open house idea was abandoned. But last week, lo and behold, an open house feature appeared on a committee members' website. Seems he is entering the information of all the open houses being held, and using his IDX feed to populate the program with data. The Directors want to go after him for violating the IDX agreement: they are really angry. What to do?”
There are a couple of interesting questions here, aren't there?
My first thought is, what's the reason for the Directors' anger? Lost opportunity? Envy? An open house program for the association was, after all, an idea the group theoretically discarded. Should that mean it's forever buried? If an idea is thrown away by a committee, does that mean it can't be used by an individual member?
The next question: is there a conflict of loyalty? Is the committee member breaching the community trust by saying, “Y'all (it's a Southern association) didn't want to do this, but I can make it work”? Should the member just let the opportunity go by, even though he sees the possibilities?
The AE's question is, “What do I do now?” The situation has occurred, the member has a successful open house feature on his brokerage site, and it's attracting interest. Association members may even benefit: the public likes the idea of having all the open house information in one place – it's convenient and will help people organize their Saturday home tours. But the association leadership seems to be calling for blood. “Let's see if he's in violation of the rules,” they say. “Let's fine him, or pull his IDX privileges. Let's invoke a penalty!”
As Clay Shirky puts it, "Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream. The problem wasn't the ice cream, it was the group."
Unfortunately, that's often the role Realtor associations play. We see ourselves as the keeper of the rules and our power is in the punishment—fines, penalties and violations.
Often, punishment is the principal form of behavior control. It's easy to impose, requires little original thought, and is a source of non-dues income. (“Keep those late fees coming, friends!”) The organization is the adversary to its members: how many times has an AE walked into a broker's office to be greeted with “What did I do wrong?” AE means Association Enforcer?
What might be a more holistic approach, particularly in this case situation? How about saying, “Thank you for showing us how well that idea would work for everyone. We'd like to grow it by putting home tours on our association website: we think we'd have even better cooperation from all the members and we can put some resources behind it to advertize and enhance the program. But we'd like to buy it from you, and publicly recognize your innovation and contribution.” In an earlier blog, I wrote about encouraging innovation in an association: certainly this example provides an opportunity to do just that.
The final area that needs comment is this whole idea of designing a web page by committee. Yikes! I know, I know -- you think you need a standing committee on technology: it's an important aspect of today's well-managed association, right?
A Technology Committee can be a bad idea.
Often, association Technology Committees are often comprised of are a couple of people who are willing to spend a lot of time feuding over the relative merits of operating systems (Mac vs. Windows), a couple of smart phone aficionados, a Facebook fiend, and the parent of a kid who's trying to start a computer repair business. They have good intentions and vigorous opinions, but not helpful knowledge. In the case study example, designing a website is not an activity for FSBOs and amateurs: an association needs professional help to articulate online objectives and engineer optimal results.
All this translates into some operational suggestions:
Change the vague Technology Committee to the more specific Website Work Group.
Hire a professional to construct a preliminary design using the Work Group's objectives
Incorporate the Open House idea into your site, recognizing the innovations of the member who embraced it
The key is concentrating on the solution, and not the punishment. And, of course, in constructing governance in which members must think strategically, rather than micromanaging details.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
Does your e-commerce business have them?1. Answer customer emails within 24 hours. Successful e-commerce businesses have a 8-12 hour response time for customer queries.2. Be upfront about prices and shipping costs. Cater for the low attention span of Web customers - they want to know what they will be paying before they click "add to shopping cart."3.Have a valid SSL Certificate.4. Make it easy for customers to find your products - let customers navigate your site based on size, price, category, shipping destinations etc.5. Give information about products - Have detailed product descriptions, and sharp images. Photograph your product from various angles so customers can get a detailed view.6. Get your spellings right. Proofread again and again.7. Encourage Impulse Buying - Have a 'Best sellers / Most Popular' list or maybe a 'Recommended Products / Other customers also bought' list.8. Mention your contact details - If you have a brick -and -mortar store, give it's address. If not, mention your location (city, country) clearly. Have your phone number listed on each page. Customers like to know they can reach you easily by phone in case of any problems.9. Make it easy for them to buy - Have a short checking out process, and make it easy for them to enter their details. Accept multiple payment options.10. Customer service matters - Send order confirmation and thank you emails, inform customers of the status of their order before they ask for it, ship immediately, and have a strategy in place to pacify customers in case of delays, lost or broken shipment.
These tips are good for Association websites as well: Answer your emails, tell the truth, send confirmations and thank-yous....always good for customer satisfaction!
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Jul. 3, 2010 - Association Management Lessons from the Public Sector
The Young Foundation released an interesting and useful report this week: the title is “Capital Ideas: how to generate innovation in the public sector.”
The title caught my eye: “public sector innovation' seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. Often the public sector is motivated by consensus building, not problem solving—and that's a problem that's common in membership associations as well. “Let's send out a survey” is a refrain often confused with doing real work. “What the members want” becomes the slogan for inaction, rather than accomplishment, and associations spend more resources on achieving group good feelings than on effecting significant progress in achieving their missions. (I'm reminded of a Realtor organization I once worked with that had a bylaws requirement that the budget required a quarterly progress report and an approval vote of the membership. That's right: QUARTERLY. Needless to say, the association had little time and resources for anything but this process.)
How can a membership organization make timely strategic decisions about its future? How can it anticipate member needs, perhaps even in advance of member awareness of these needs? How can associations encourage innovation and commit to change?
Some of the answers are described in the “Capital Ideas” report. The entire report is available by clicking on the link, but here's a summary of the key ideas:
1. Identify priority fields for innovation: This is important. Associations need to begin any program to build capacity by identifying the key issues facing the association. These are the Big Questions, the two or three huge elephants in the room. There may be only one over-riding issue, by the way, and that's fine—often it's more than enough. The point is, put the Big Question on the table, and don't get sidetracked by minor concerns.
Let's say your big question is “How do we remain sustainable when we are rapidly losing membership?” No doubt an organization might have many secondary questions, but let's say that's the main one. There's one looming guest in the room at every meeting, and that's the elephant--your central issue.
2. Open up the space for ideas: Having identified the Crucial Question, the next step is to create the space for solutions. Some thoughts: encourage contributions to the answer—from staff, from the Board of Directors, from the membership including affiliates. Look inward for your resources. Often its the front line people who have solutions. Make time in the Directors' agenda for strategic discussion, and Big Question issues at staff meetings. (Google expects its staff to spend 20% of its time in innovation and creative problem solving.) Yet another idea: establish a solution team of innovative thinkers within your organization.
3. Finance innovation: The 'Capital Ideas” report suggests that 1% of a budget be set aside to finance innovative ideas. This fund might be used to reward ideas from staff, offer incentives to members, or fund the further study and implementation research of new ideas. To continue our example of the association which is rapidly losing membership and dues income, let's assume that one of the solutions is to generate non-dues revenue. Your association embarks on a campaign to solicit ideas from members and staff. You fund your effort and offer incentives for ideas, and you also have the resources you need to implement the winning solutions.
4. Fix incentives: Too often associations reward people for dutifully doing the same old, same old things. We stick a gold-filled pin on the traditional member-of-the-year, and we thrust a plaque at the 25-year-member for just breathing and paying dues. But do we reward innovation and great new ideas? Usually not.
What associations need to be saying is, “We welcome innovation.” And it can't be just a one-time deal. The greatest incentive organizations can offer is ongoing respect for, and action on, new ideas. Saying, “Great idea! I'll take it to the committee, who will then send it to the Board of Directors, who will then include it in the budget, and we'll get it accomplished sometime next year” just isn't enough.
5. Change the culture: Innovation has to be supported from the top: the Board of Directors needs to commit to change by soliciting new ideas, understanding how to make strategic decisions which will lead the association toward its goal, and by funding and supporting creative solutions.
NAR's Game Changer program is an excellent example of how this idea can work. NAR recognized that changes were needed at the local and state association level. Who better, NAR reasoned, to understand this need than front line staff and leadership? As a result, the “Game Changer” competition was born: “Submit your best ideas,” NAR said, and we'll fund them for you. We'll then make the results available to other Realtor associations to use as they strengthen their capacity.”
That's a cultural shift for NAR. In my 30 years as an AE, I've been the recipient of a lot of Fed Ex parcels from our national association containing posters for nationwide programs like “American Home Week”, family togetherness, and shiny new membership pins. Good efforts, maybe,but all are programs conceived at the top of the leadership pyramid and bundled into packages which arrived unexpectedly in the middle of a morning where local association staff is busy collecting dues or holding a professional standards hearing.
With the Game Changers program, the flow was reversed. “You tell us” was the message. Of course there were lots of associations who were non-participants the first time. “It's just another goofy idea from NAR,” I heard someone say. “I've got too much busy work to do to be dreaming up new stuff.” Now, however, it seems that everywhere I go someone says something like, “Is NAR gonna do this again? We've got a great idea!”
The point here is than culture change takes time, and needs reinforcement and consistent effort.
6. Grow what works: That's the final step of this process. Of course, the corollary is:weed out what doesn't work. ( Sometimes that's more difficult: “You WHAT? You're eliminating million dollar sales awards? But I always get one! How could you eliminate it? I have all these plaques on my wall!!! How will I finish my collection?” )
Of course, not every innovation will work. Creative organizations must be prepared for less than perfect results. However, the ideas do work can be cultivated and enhanced, and shared or sold. One of the final steps of the Game Changer program was to package the completed programs for re-use by others—resulting in a treasure chest of new programs for other associations.
Effective associations need to become better at generating great ideas from within and from beyond their boundaries. The “Capital Ideas” report sets out a series of techniques to generate promising ideas using five themes:
Unleashing the creative talents of association staff and members
Setting up dedicated teams responsible for promoting innovation
Diverting a small proportion of association budgets to harnessing innovation
Collaborating with outsiders to help solve problems
Looking at issues from different perspectives to notice things you wouldn’t otherwise
The full Young Foundation report is well worth reading. Association management professionals will find it filled with thoughtful strategies and useful advice.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
If you were releasing an animated summer blockbuster starring Steve Carell called Despicable Me, what domain name would you choose for the promotional web site? Despicable.com? Nope. Someone called Shai Silberman registered that name – in 1997! How about DespicableMe.com? Might make sense, and it turns out Universal Studios, which owns Despicable Me’s maker Illumination Entertainment, does in fact own DespicableMe.com. But the winner is:
Despicable.Me. (Check out the trailers – looks like a fun movie! Film comes out July 9 or 10.)
Given that the studio owns the .COM for this film’s name, why would it use a ‘non-standard’ top-level domain like .ME? (The country code for Montenegro, though foreign registrations are allowed on it.) Probably because .COM domains no longer make sense. The .COM at the end of a domain name tells you nothing about the site you are visiting. And it just requires you to type more characters. Choosing “Despicable.Me” allows the movie company to promote a web address that is the title of the movie, and nothing more.
This type of address is called a “domain hack” (See Wikipedia entry for more detail.) It combines a country-code TLD (.me), which happens also to be a short word in English, with another English word to create the web site’s address. No need for a .COM.
Probably early next year, ICANN will open the door for hundreds of new top-level domains on the Internet. Many of these domains will have semantic value – i.e., they will mean something. Consumers (and Google) will expect the site at JohnSmith.Law to be a lawyer’s site – much more so than the site at JohnSmith.com. The semantic content of new TLDs will tell consumers and search engines which sites they want. In time, .COM will probably gradually become irrelevant.
MLS Domains Association believes that MLSs will want .MLS addresses as this transition occurs. The Association also assumes that MLSs won’t want someone else (think the American professional league for soccer) to get .MLS and then sell “left-over” domains for real-estate-use to companies that aren’t MLSs . Your MLS should sign up now to help this effort.