At a Hofstra University breakfast symposium Tuesday, some attendees typed furtively on their BlackBerrys while others had their PDAs out in the open, where their breakfast plates had been.
It was a fitting activity for the symposium topics: how social media is a must in this digital age for real estate developers and how the AvalonBay Communities' plan in Huntington Station fell apart after opponents spread their message through Facebook.
"It is everything today," panelist and state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) told the 170 attendees. "It is the way people decide to communicate to each other."
He turned to the other panelists, saying he checked their Facebook pages.
"Adam, you have 12,000 friends," the lawmaker said to Adam Isserlis, director of digital media at Rubenstein Associates public relations firm, who smiled. "Mitch, you went to Kabul in 2009 and rented a house," Fuschillo said. Mitchell Rechler, managing partner of Rechler Equity Partners, nodded.
Social media was billed as a way for developers to guide the public conversation and build relationships with strangers. Several developers have Facebook pages on specific projects, but they acknowledged they're largely static and look like ads.
There was a sense that the old way of getting projects approved - lobbying influential leaders - is paramount, but social media novices Tuesday said the old and new ways must be balanced.
Even though social media fans say such tools will make building on Long Island easier, developers said the process here is hard enough without having to set up a Facebook or Twitter account. Said Russell Matthews, executive vice president for the Garden City-based Albanese Organization, "It's something else to manage."