What Facebook's Open Graph means for real estate marketing

Real Estate Tech Review

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It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, adding a little "like" button to Web pages. We’ve all seen star ratings and "Diggs" and thumbs up and all of that. So why is it a big deal that last week Facebook announced that it was spreading its "like" button out to the entire Web and calling it an Open Graph?

Because now the things people like are being aggregated in one place. Putting all the things customers like in one central place, where they are being easily and automatically shared with their friends via wall posts, etc., really magnifies the importance of a "like" to marketers.

Socially, I think we use other people’s likes and dislikes as a sort of short-hand to figure out if we want to know more about them. Sort of how you might find yourself perusing items at a dinner party of an acquaintance: What sort of books do they have? What sort of magazines are lying around? What’s in their music collection? We use these objects as clues to whether we might like them or not.

We take an interest in what others are consuming or choosing to own and display. Some content people have is mildly polarizing and causes discussion. Some content is super-polarizing and might make people uncomfortable. And other content is so benign that it’s pretty much ignored.

The problem with most existing ratings systems is that their impact and importance is typically in a silo belonging to someone other than the person who is doing the rating. Giving something a "thumbs up" on a ratings site doesn’t carry any social benefit for the user.

Instead, the thumbs up serves as a sort of public feedback for the site publisher. This is true of pretty much all ratings systems out there: they don’t benefit the person doing the rating nor do they communicate anything to the friends of the person doing the rating.

I’m sure many of you have a trusted adviser for some sort of media that you like: a friend you ask about new music to listen to, or books to read, for example. That person probably reads more than you or listens to more music than you and you trust their judgment.

Is a property the same thing as a book? Or a blog post?

So what does all of this have to do with real estate marketing online? All of the people reading this who are on the sharp end of the real estate profession — the agents, the brokers, the franchises — are marketing something that is, when reduced to content for the Web, pretty much the same as a book or a piece of music.

Homes are obviously "liked" quite a bit and for a wide variety of reasons (architecture, location, neighborhood, price, size, features and so on). Many of you have websites featuring houses and have added features to your site for people to indicate that they like some of them. For example, they want to be notified of changes, or save them to a list of property to look at, etc. …CONTINUED

Here’s where the trouble begins, of course. Facebook’s Open Graph is for letting your audience manage their likes on the Facebook website. You don’t have much control over that. It’s sort of like an even further abstraction of the old "do we force a user to login in order to search our property database" conversation.

And just like the forced-registration conversation, the answer will depend on your needs.

If your largest business challenge online is reaching customers, then it may make sense for you to outsource your preference engine to Facebook. If your audience likes a property and indicates as much via Facebook’s Open Graph, then your real estate content has the potential to reach that audience member’s friends — extending your reach.

On the other hand, if you’re reaching a large enough audience already, it might make sense to maintain control of the preferences of your audience while you can. Facebook is always great about getting data into their system.

They don’t have a very good track record in terms of getting that information out. If you want to be able to convert leads based on their preferences, then you’ll want to watch as this develops — very, very closely.

Those of you not on the sharp end of real estate sales — aggregators, vendors and consultants — this is going to hit you, too. Many of the aggregators have ratings systems built in, similar to real estate agent, broker and franchise sites.

Vendors who make those sites will be getting inundated with requests to add the Open Graph to their products. Consultants, you’ll have to guide your real estate clients through the details of why, when and how to implement the Open Graph.

It could be a simple as, "Oh yeah, sure, let’s just add this little ‘like’ button just like we added that ‘ShareThis’ thing." But it’s probably worth devoting some thought to how this will fit in, strategically, with your business goals.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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