Just as you'd probably suspect, a conference for real estate professionals focusing on social media in no way resembles the International Builders' Show or PCBC.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm a California-based public relations and marketing specialist--sometimes known as a flak, although I'm better at my job than that. I've carved out a niche in my business by developing a client base that includes a number of builders and developers. I use social media as part of the PR and marketing programs I develop for my clients, and in the rapidly evolving world of Web 2.0, I have to continually be on the leading edge when it comes to knowing how to effectively use social media for my building industry clients.

So, recently I discovered RE BarCamp. The "RE" is for real estate and the "bar" in BarCamp is a techie term that carries some humorous connotation that we laypeople would hardly get. At its core, this event was a free, user-generated conference dedicated to all things social media but tailored to the real estate professional. But calling it a conference is really a misnomer. Having attended one last week in Los Angeles, I'd actually call it the anti-conference. No suits in sight, plenty of cool hair styles (depending on your idea of cool), a large number of nerds, and more information on social media than I could possibly digest in one day--all taught by attendees; topics and speakers were chosen on the spot just before the individual programs began.

I got there at the mind bogglingly early hour of 7:30 a.m. (I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to make it through LA traffic on time), and there were way more sessions than my weary brain could take in by the time 5 p.m. rolled around. Among topics ranging from Blogging 101 to Mobile Marketing to Using RSS MLS Feeds, I found most useful sessions for me were Social Media: Survival Skills and How Twits Lay Golden Eggs, or Twitter 102.

David Gibbons (@davidgibbons on Twitter) of Zillow.com led Social Media: Survival Skills. I found him to be a really funny, smart guy who I'm guessing would be super fun to meet for happy hour. But when it came to getting serious, I think the most critical point he made--and one that I've noticed many builders across the country completely ignore--is that the hard sell is way out of place in social media. It's all about the soft sell, building conversations and relationships over time. People who go online are looking for help and information, so start by giving them what they want. Then, once they become friends with you over time, they'll give you permission to sell to them in a more direct manner.

He also talked about being hyper-aware that anyone can read what you write online, so if you wouldn't say it in real life--or IRL for social media pros--don't write it online. Don't exaggerate, always be transparent, and have your facts straight before you write anything. And, it's best not to write about topics that could offend, say religion and politics. If you're answering an online post that you perceive as an attack on you or your company, write a first-draft answer, step away from the keyboard, and go back and edit after you've had a good night's sleep. One other point I thought was especially helpful was that the only appropriate response to a troll or someone who unreasonably attacks you is to ignore him or her.

How Twits Lay Golden Eggs was spearheaded by married couple Nicole Nicolay (@nik_nik) of MyTechOpinion.com and Reggie Nicolay (@Cyberhomes) of Cyberhomes.com. They were uber-attractive and hip, so naturally I figured I'd learn lots of cool things from them--and I did. The highlights were that it's really important to have a plan so that, first, you don't spend all your waking hours tweeting (it does get addictive) and, second, what you're writing adds value to your company. They suggested making a list of topics each morning and then scheduling the tweets throughout the day (maybe three or four tweets a day). Make sure you set yourself up as a "trusted advisor," so that the people who follow you build a relationship with you. Their tips on how to achieve this include:

* Be Authentic

* Share your expertise (in a soft sell kind of way)

* Share your passions (both personal and professional)

* Tweet about local events

* Share helpful links and resources

* Learn about the people who follow you so your responses are more personal

These are just a few of the highlights of the day. Needless to say, the experience was so chock-full of takeaway that I'll definitely be looking for the next local RE BarCamp to attend. They take place all over the country, so you can look for one in your back yard by going online at www.rebarcamp.com. And if you're still skeptical, you want to get an idea of why these events are so popular, check out "Why RE BarCamps Work" at http://rebarcamp.com/pdx/?p=74.

Carol Ruiz is principal/PR for Culver City, Calif.-based red rocket LA, a marketing and PR agency focusing on the real estate industry. Ruiz can be reached at cruiz@redrocketla.com.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.