Millions of teens flock to Web sites like MySpace to chat with friends and share their lives with the world. Although they’re not likely to be gabbing online about “American Idol” and young celebrities, a rising number of real estate professionals are discovering the benefits of social networking.

Real estate pros are gravitating toward social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook – grownup versions of MySpace – to market themselves, cultivate industry contacts and, in some instances, carry out deals. Social networking is their electronic equivalent of happy hour or a business gathering. The Web sites have evolved into virtual hubs for trading business leads, financing advice, and industry tips.

Now, three entrepreneurs have launched a social networking site called MyDealBook.com that’s tailored to the real estate sector, including developers, brokers, investors and bankers.

MyDealBook.com debuts amid a surge in social networking. In
March, the number of unique U.S. visitors to Facebook jumped 70% from March last year to 35.5 million, according to comScore Media Matrix. LinkedIn saw its number of unique U.S. visitors soar by 388% in March to more than 3.5 million.

Walter Conn, CEO of Los Angeles-based private real estate investment firm Figueroa Capital Group, boasts online connections with about 1,200 members of LinkedIn, arguably the most popular social networking site among U.S. businesspeople. Conn estimates he has doubled the number of his LinkedIn connections in a year's time.

More than half of Conn’s business leads now come from LinkedIn exchanges, he says. Through his LinkedIn profile – which lists his career history, educational background, networking activities and other details – Conn snagged a client that is raising about $25 million in equity. Conn even has recruited two employees through LinkedIn.

After using the site for three years, he has made it his primary advertising and branding “voice” in the marketplace, rather than relying heavily on direct-mail, event sponsorships and other marketing techniques. “For the time I’ve put in, it beats the heck out of cold calling and doing other things,” Conn says.

Ryan Slack, CEO of MyDealBook.com, argues that general sites like LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t adequate for the needs of real estate professionals, which is why he and business partners Mark Schacknies and Nima Negahban started the real estate site.

It offers profiles and email capabilities geared to real estate, and job, event and deal postings, with tools unavailable on LinkedIn. MyDealBook.com also allows users to easily locate people in specific segments of real estate, such as architecture, appraisal and development, according to Slack.

MyDealBook.com complements PropertyShark.com, a real estate data site where Slack was CEO. MyDealBook.com kicked off this month with a ready-made base of users – PropertyShark’s 330,000 registered members.

Slack acknowledges that commercial real estate professionals, who generally favor a face-to-face approach to business, tend to be “late adopters” of technology compared with other business groups. That’s why MyDealBook.com purposely lacks the flashiness of sites like MySpace, he says.

“We’ve tried to take out a lot of the jargon and dumb down a lot of the Web 2.0 things – bells and whistles that you would normally find on a social networking site that are, in fact, confusing to … someone who’s less familiar with the Web,” Slack says.

Brian Sperry is familiar with the Web networking sites. A retail adviser at commercial real estate firm Sperry Van Ness in Irvine, Calif., he has posted profiles on MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, but leans toward LinkedIn for business purposes. More than 20% of the 1,000 or so brokers at Sperry Van Ness are on LinkedIn, he says. Sperry says LinkedIn members interested in working with the real estate firm have reached out to him, thanks to his last name. His father, Rand Sperry, co-founded the company.

While Brian Sperry can’t directly attribute any deals to his LinkedIn activity, he says the site enables him to associate with people at companies who are not key decision-makers, but do have access to those decision-makers.

But social networking sites aren’t for everyone — including many key executives.

“Most decision-makers don’t have a presence there,” Sperry says. “Usually they’re older, and they’re not going to consider jumping onto a social networking site. A lot of them just don’t have the time for it, or the interest.”