REALTORS INFORMATION NETWORK
Training and Publishing Plan 12/24/95
Billy Chee, 1993 President of the National Association of REALTORS® summed it up in two comments.
Any online system to be used by REALTORS® must have instant applicability. They must know how to use it and it must be easy for the REALTOR® to fit into what they are already doing.
Billy has also stated on numerous occasions that the level of REALTOR® computer literacy is low. During the alpha and beta testing of the RIN software, we learned that even those who are fairly proficient computer users will have some problems in adapting to and dealing with this online service at this point in its development. One of the worse things RIN could do would be to deliver the software and let the consumer determine it is "under powered" or "too cumbersome" when in fact it is not; but because they have not figured out the easy way to perform a function, they abandon the software. All of us who are users know what I am talking about. Our experience at the pilot locations also shows us that:
Not everyone who signs up actually bothers to login after the first login.
Those that do, quickly lose interest and their online time rapidly decreases.
Less training equates to less participation online
The conclusion is obvious: software delivery and training must be headed down parallel runways.
The successful weaning of REALTORS® from their current sources of information and products and moving them to accessing information and products in an online environment (and the RIN online environment) will require much more than the sale of software. An "online mentality" and awareness must be developed. This will require training in the use and business applications of the software (Training Plan) and then an ongoing link or "conversation" with the user (REALTOR®) in an open dialogue and "conversation" in those areas that affect their businesses and their lives (Publishing Plan). This "conversation" (RealTalk) will "keep them engaged" with RIN. It is said repeatedly that REALTORS® are "people people" and that real estate is a "people business".
It is important to note that the only product on the RIN network that is an interactive, people oriented product (other than email, which is more service than a product) is RealTalk. Properly resourced and managed, this will become the number one attraction on RIN and the driver of all the other product offerings.
Under this Training and Publishing Plan, RIN offerings will be so rich in content and value that the REALTOR® would never consider moving their business to the competition. The "conversation" (RealTalk) will also (credibly) point the user to other products and services available to them through RIN. One thing research has shown us is that with REALTORS®, there is a desire to learn "what to do next".
Training in technology and use of the RND is essential to the success of RIN. The customers (REALTORS® ) must be taught the basics of technology and use of the RIN Network Desktop (RND), followed by the more advanced learning required for the use and access to the GeoData product. Courses must go beyond the "how to install and use email" to "how do I use this in my business" (to help me make more money and/or help me become more productive).
The current level of computer literacy of RIN's customer base is elementary to non‑existent. Training must also include the motivational aspects required to change the culture of the user from one that depends on the telephone as the primary communication device to one where the computer competes with and hopefully becomes the primary communication device in the business of the customer. A prestige must be developed in those who are trained. This will be accomplished through the RIN Certified REALTOR® (RCR) Program. Properly resourced, training has the potential to become a significant revenue stream for RIN. If done properly, training becomes a marketing vehicle for RIN and for RealTalk.
Training will draw an audience and there are many companies that currently fund trainings in the real estate industry. These companies would be (are) interested in funding RIN training programs. Industry related companies such as lenders and title companies as well as technology companies, both hardware and software companies, and communications companies, that currently spend marketing dollars to be in front of a REALTOR® audience.
An example of a powerful strategic alliance in RIN's educational program would be RIN, NAR, Microsoft, MCI (AT&T), and IBM (Compaq, Gateway, Motorola, etc). This Strategic Alliance will provide the sponsorship and dollars to pay for what RIN must do anyway, train and be involved with the REALTOR® as they learn. As sponsors of our programs, these strategic partners are in front of their potential clients, in an interactive, learning environment. It must be recognized that education is the "programming" around which advertising can be sold. This is a critical aspect of this Training and Publishing Plan and the potential source of major marketing dollars for RIN.
Training Program will be divided into the following initial areas:
I. Rollout Training ‑ of initial users in current rollout areas
II. Certified Trainer Series ‑ to produce a faculty of RIN Certified Trainers (RCT)
III. REALTOR Technology Skills Enhancement Series ‑ for coveted RCR Designation
IV. Curriculum Development ‑ REALTOR Technology Empowerment Series
V. Additional Programs and Revenue Sources ‑ Computer Based Training (CBT), Video, Direct TV, Live presentations
The first aspect of the training program to be implemented will be in concert with the rollout at the stated rollout locations. It is here where we will refine our marketing efforts for mass distribution in the second quarter of 1996. Instructors have been trained (completion of the training will take place in Honolulu) and are strategically located geographically.
The first "Team" of instructors are also Moderators on RealTalk. We must make RIN "personal" and using Moderators as trainers gives the REALTOR® user base a chance to start in the "conversation process" with a human being, in person; a conversation that will then be moved online. This gives us a dual benefit from the Rollout Training. It is beneficial to have Moderators in front of as many REALTORS® as possible as often as possible, to build that following. Trainers must be skilled in building followings. Our Moderators have been chosen because they have these skills and because they have loyal existing followings.
The training plan also calls for the development of a Certified Trainer Series and a REALTOR® Certification program. These are revenue generators and our initial conversations with NAR staff indicate an interest in the project. NAR's involvement in the certification process is beneficial to RIN in a number of ways. First, experience and distribution, and secondly, it keeps NAR in the loop and involved with the ongoing success of RIN. It will help us build allies within the NAR staff, a staff that is presently less than 100% supportive of the RIN efforts, and can be..
In summary, the initial training venue serves as a marketing and sale venue and the potential of providing a revenue stream as well. Multiple purposes are accomplished, conserving resources and creating a cost effective method of software distribution. Secondly, the funding can come from outside sources and even provide excess revenue for this RIN profit center. Lastly, a coordinated, well thought out and consistent training message will keep the user coming back for more, because they will truly understand the value of RIN and the content it brings to them. Rich content does not happen all by itself. It is a process that requires specialized skills and administration. This is covered under the Publishing Plan.
Publishing and managing discussions and information (content) in an online environment is a developing art form. Most online experts will tell you that the keys to the success of an information network is the logical flow and maintenance of the timely and pertinent content and additionally (of equal or even greater importance some argue), something known as "community". Community is the key to accomplishing the cultural shift necessary to move a body of people from "off‑line" to online. In today's world of "information overload" and unlimited Internet choices, the REALTORS® Information Network (RIN) has a unique opportunity to electronically publish the information and ideas REALTORS® need to maintain the competitive edge in business and in their lives.
Key to the success of the publishing plan is the National Electronic Publisher. This is not a clerical publishing position but a hands-on executive position. The Publisher (with the aid of a publishing staff) continually works to insure continuity of all modules on the RIN Network Desktop. This can only be accomplished by adherence to an overall Network Publishing Plan. "Text without context is pretext". To look at each RIN product module separately is to view them out of the context and may not give an accurate picture. While this plan focuses primarily on RealTalk, it does bring into consideration necessary links to the other product modules. The six essential ingredients in the Publishing Plan are:
I. The Publisher
IV. Educational and "publishable" products
V. Related RIN Modules
VI. Links to the Training Plan
It is proposed that the role of Publisher be filled by a separate corporate entity, the Real Estate Electronic Publishing Company (a current corporate structure has been set up for this possibility). This will further remove RIN from many of the yet to be determined liabilities of online publishing (copyright infringement, defamation, anti trust). RIN will have the option of becoming a stockholder in this entity, now or at some point in the future. Another option would be to hire a Publishing Team either as independent contractors or as employees. These issues need to be further discussed. The Publisher is tasked with knowing about all the content, on the private network side as well as the Internet side of RIN.
When it comes to online services, content is king. At the heart of this plan to provide top quality content to RIN's business and communication network are the National Electronic Publishers, a team of whom are arguably considered the most highly qualified individuals serving in this capacity on any online service in the world. RIN's Electronic Publishing Team of Saul Klein, John Reilly, Mike Barnett and Jack Harper have over 100 years experience in the fields of real estate, communication, law, and technology (see resumes in Supporting Documents Section). Together they lead a group of nationally known real estate personalities and subject area experts, who serve as Moderators, or discussion group leaders.
In order to insure that content is current, accurate, and responsive to the immediate needs of the user, procedures have been set up to evaluate existing discussion corners, create new ones, and stimulate increased participation. The current structure of RealTalk is as follows:
16 "Corners" (technically these are known as banners)
26 "Discussion areas" (books)
160 "Discussions (threads)"
Each area is monitored by an appropriate subject area expert, and the overall content is reviewed numerous times daily by the publishing staff. Moderators and publishers serving the dual roles of Moderator/Trainer, will give RealTalk the marketing boost it needs to take off during the rollout period. Even Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton have to do a book tour to get people to buy their books. Not only do we need to motivate them to buy, we must motivate them to read (substitute "use", get online, participate). This requires interaction.
In addition to the on going discussions, action plans have been drafted to create and implement a series of online seminars using expert panelists on hot topics and forums on "hot products". A rich feature of these seminars is the ability to tap the wealth of knowledge of the audience, many of whom add a fresh perspective to the expert's discussions.
Also planned are online interviews and seminars with top industry personalities, including authors of leading edge books (e.g., John Tuccillo). In some cases, technology vendors will pay a fee to be interviewed online and have the ability to explain the advantages of their products in direct dialogue with the consumer. Further content is made available by maintaining a software library for downloading helpful shareware and freeware.
Recognizing that content is only valuable if it is easy to find and use, RealTalk will develop online features to facilitate the task of filtering down the information relevant to individual users; for example, use of the ticker tape screen; a splash screen for highlights; a "personal alert" system. The most important user tool will be an efficient Search function, to identify by key words those topics appearing throughout the RealTalk discussions,Library, and even RINmall. As a supplement to the RIN Training program, RealTalk will encourage online discussion of user problems, issues and shortcuts ‑‑ demonstrating how to use RealTalk to solve a problem and obtain free advice.
Sources of Revenue
1. Online time charge ‑ Publishers (and Moderators) will perform internal marketing activities to promote usage of E‑Mail, Library, GeoData, RIN Mall, Info, Look‑Up, and News through our direct contact with the user in RealTalk. A user who questions "How can I get my prospecting on track" will be advised to go to the RIN Mall and take a look at the Top Producer Product to increase their productivity and get them on track (or the XYZ product to help them reach their goals). When a user asks for advice on "how to build a killer listing or buyer presentation", the Publisher will explain the process of creating powerful GeoData based packages.
2. Software and Hardware (product) Forums - Imagine the value to a company like Top Producer in being able to host a Top Producer seminar in RealTalk for a week or two. Participation in the seminar would be promoted through Email, icker, and potentially the Splash Screen. The vendor companies would be willing to pay a handsome fee for the opportunity to discuss their latest products to such a targeted and large audience.
Publishers will continue to identify opportunities for value and revenue. The goal is to enhance the users experience and provide additional revenue for RIN whenever possible. Such opportunities include a series of RIN sponsored publications, such as training manuals and technology newsletters.
3. Seminars. We anticipate hosting several monthly seminars in RealTalk. These seminars will be a more formalized version of the regular RealTalk discussions, with the added value of featuring a "celebrity" or "expert" guest speaker. Many of these people hold live seminars and are recognized speakers within the industry. The REALTOR® will usually pay a fee to attend these live seminars, where they do no more than sit and listen to the speaker talk about a topic.
In the online seminar, the user will still pay, yet we anticipate that the fee will be lower, due to amortization over a larger audience than can be accommodated in a live forum. Additionally, the user will be able to interact directly with the guest, through posted messages. This will add the value of making the seminar more directly geared toward each specific user's needs. The seminar dialogue then becomes a content resource for the Library or perhaps future publishing efforts (e.g. edited version available for a fee on RINTalk). All Seminars will be free in 1996.
4. Publishing - Sale of actual content to MSN/AOL/Compuserve, or "sell" our publishers and moderators time to other services (to participate and enliven their programs, or perhaps, re‑write their programs).
5. Web Site Sponsorship ‑ Because the RINTalk web pages (separate from the rest of RIN's web page)are visited by both consumers and REALTORS® , there is an ever‑increasing value in offering page sponsorship to many types of companies. Title Companies, Lenders, Home Warranty, Attorneys and more.
The major business objective of RINTalk is to take advantage of the WorldWide Web to disseminate information about RIN to the widest audience in the least expensive manner. It is the link to the vast number of consumers on the Internet.
RINTalk showcases to the online world the exciting events happening on RealTalk(and other modules of RIN's closed business network) ‑‑ for example, the expert roundtable seminars, interviews with key figures, and fast‑breaking hot topics.
Such highlighting of "mini‑discussions" will illustrate why a real estate licensee should subscribe to RIN (after first becoming a REALTOR®) and why the consumer should prefer to deal with a RIN‑assisted REALTOR®. RINTalk becomes a useful tool in marketing RIN to those already on line and who are likely more impressed with electronic marketing than with standard print brochures. RINTalk can promote the RIN Presentation Team who will be conducting key seminars and presentations across the country‑‑with information on profiles, schedules, and interactive requests for appearances.
The acceptance of computers and online communications have paved the way for a variety of educational offerings including online seminars for a fee to narrowcasted groups, downloadable computer based instruction programs with or without state mandatory continuing education credit, books/booklets, software, power presentation programs, etc.
While RealTalk will regularly have free online seminars, there is a market for narrowcasted seminars, especially on specialized topics ‑‑ for example, dealing in commercial properties in Russia. Typical live seminars require substantial commitments of travel time and money for participants ‑‑faculty and students alike. People are recognizing the value in being able to listen to high‑profile experts, and pose questions to them and engage in dialogue, all from the comfort and convenience of one's computer desktop.
The seminar business has been big business ‑ online seminars will take this to the next level and we are on the ground floor of this new business. Many states are updating their education regulations to permit computer based instruction as an acceptable alternative delivery system to live classroom hours. There are obvious benefits to students and school administrators. Courses can be for CE credit , for specialty designation, and for pure information purposes.
As our Moderators expand their national reputation, opportunities will arise for them to develop computer based instruction programs under our direction and development expertise (requires a Course Administrator/Acquisitions Editor). In some cases, computer based instruction can be combined with live classroom presentations. The marketing of these courses will be thru RealTalk, RIN Mall and RINTalk, as well as to our ever expanding data base of prior students. RealTalk will be able to develop its own products such as Year‑End highlights.
The Publishers will create new ways for authors of real estate information to publish their material as electronic booklets and downloadable software. Traditionally, talented authors have had to decide between giving their copyright to a national publisher in return for a very low royalty (below 10% of gross revenue after discounts to trade stores) or going the self‑publishing route in which they had to contend with inventory, marketing and fulfillment issues. With electronic publishing, overhead costs are severely reduced (no printing, binding, postage, returned books, etc), thus increasing percentages of profit for both author and publisher.
Related RIN Modules
The Publishing function extends to other RIN modules, especially Library, LookUp and, to some extent, RIN Mall. There is a need to have a common "look and feel" to all items in the Library. Even though there is a need to publish state‑specific information on a state‑by‑state basis ‑‑ there must be a structure against which the user will be able to perform efficient searches. The searches will fail if applied against multiple formats of data and text. Publishing is required here, to the level of a publishing‑capable programmer.
Although RIN will be able to draw upon many NAR sources for library content, the Publishers can add significant value to this content area, feeding information to the library from all standard and some non‑standard sources; creating strategic relationships with outside sources of information; Legal Reviews, Real Estate Educators and Authors, Motivational Providers and so on. Under these relationships, these source providers will receive visibility to the RIN user base, while RIN then provides this as value added content to its users.
RIN has an opportunity to take advantage of what Bill Gates refers to in his book, The Road Ahead, as a "positive feedback loop". The forces that are in play and those that can be brought to bear will create a synergistic marketing plan that will insure the success of the RIN launch, the Training Plan, RealTalk, and RIN in general.