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Inside Information

The National Association of Realtors creates an engaging online experience with the help of experts — its own attendees.

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For nearly 10 years now, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has hosted unique on-site content from blogging attendees at its annual REALTORS Conference & Expo, in addition to professional video interviews with speakers and special guests — all free of charge.

NAR began offering online coverage of REALTORS in 2010, when the financial downturn made it difficult for some members to attend. NAR decided to livestream the majority of the event, shifting between select sessions and filling time around the edges with live talk-show–style interviews. “It was truly live that year,” said Matthew Lombardi, NAR’s vice president of conventions, “a very ambitious endeavor.”

Although the livestreaming didn’t continue beyond 2010, a program called Conference Live has — presenting a virtual window into REALTORS via attendee blogs, video interviews, and photo montages. (Conference Live also earned NAR a nod for “Best Social-Media Initiatives” in Convene’s 2012 Best in Show awards.) Much of that content comes from select “featured attendees” who post about their REALTORS experience in a range of areas: tools, technology, economy, sustain-able building, emerging markets, and interest rates.

They also showcase conference special events like NAR’s volunteer projects for Orlando’s Habitat for Humanity, sharing updates and images across social-media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. The attendee correspondents are asked to submit a minimum of three content pieces during the conference. Their participation is unpaid, in exchange for the exposure they get to the REALTORS community.

“Our featured attendees come from a range of content and backgrounds,” said Allison Fitch-Markham, marketing director for NAR’s conventions division. “We strive for diversity in who we select. We’ve had some since the beginning [of Conference Live], and we try to find new ones every year.”

One of the higher-profile featured attendees is Michael Bull, a commercial real-estate agent with a broadcasting background who creates video interviews with fellow attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. “He brings his own broadcast equipment and he has an easygoing way that gets people to chat,” Lombardi said. “Most people are not at that level.”

Using volunteer attendee talent is critical for keeping down the cost of Conference Live, which is coordinated by the two-person team that handles the marketing for NAR’s largest meetings from the organization’s Chicago headquarters, and also uses the expertise of three paid production partners. As a result, it’s far less expensive than the original livestreaming experience in 2010, which was funded by a separate association-wide initiative “to bring benefits to our members during a difficult economic time,” Fitch-Markham said. “That funding was not available after 2010, so we had to rethink Conference Live from a different budget perspective. This year’s [2016] project is roughly 45 percent the cost of the project from 2010. Investing in the right people to work on the project has been our biggest reason for success.”

 Two more ways that NAR has streamlined and strengthened their coverage:

• NAR  on-site reporter Traci Mitchell Austin used to begin her coverage the day before REALTORS Conference & Expo began, as the show floor was being assembled — lighting, carpets, booths, an entire village marketplace going up, plus the excitement of thousands of people rushing in when the doors opened. “But we got away from that pre-show coverage,” Austin said, “because the speakers were so phenomenal that we couldn’t get it all in.”

• NAR no longer films the entire presentation of its extraordinarily popular chief economist, Lawrence Yu. Instead, Conference Live features a short interview with him after his session. “He’s a visionary, and they hang on his every word,” Lombardi said. “But we found out when we recorded his sessions, we were not getting a lot of views. It’s tough to hear 90 minutes of an economist on YouTube. Instead, we switched to a few minutes of highlights after he’s done speaking, a recap. They love that media clip.”

Nichole Bernier

Nichole Bernier is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts.