Editor’s note: The following is a guest perspective by Brad Selby, head of product for Roost.com.
By BRAD SELBY
If you’re a business, Facebook is the place to be. It has the scale, and it has the channels.
Of course, the days of cranking up the "K-factor" (popularity) on your sweet new quiz game with notification spam are over. But if you have a real business — if you’re a Realtor with value to offer clients — Facebook is the single best place to spend time.
Let’s dig into how Facebook works and how Realtors can take advantage of it. Unlike the 20,000 other articles out there on social media, we’ll get into specifics about how to understand the platform and become more sophisticated about efficiently building business.
It’s been a couple months since f8 (a social Web conference), and most of us social media real estate folks have gotten our heads around the big changes. But I see tons of people who are not optimizing their Facebook presence. This is an exciting time to work on and with Facebook.
The site is weaving new concepts and channels (open graph, social relevance, EdgeRank) in with established channels (search). And understanding this convergence will take your social media effort from a hobby to a real driver of incremental business.
At a high level, it’s simple: Just like those pervasive social games you see in your feed (MafiaWars, "the ‘Villes," etc.), you can take advantage of viral loops unique to Facebook to build notoriety.
And by raising your voice both on and off of Facebook, you will meet new people, convince them you know your stuff, and move them toward a client relationship.
The "viral loop" and you
Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook as a personal dashboard. And what’s the main use case? They look at their newsfeed and navigate through threads. Bobby changed his relationship to single? I "thread" to Bobby’s profile and check out the sadness. Then maybe I see a post on his wall of a picture of an otter doing cute things with its little hands. I thread to the photo to enlarge and check out the adorableness.
I head back to my feed and see "The Top 10 Biggest Lies in History." I click through to the social media spam "goodness." There you have it: People see things in their feed, click through to check them out, and then come back to their feed. Yes, people engage in-feed and send messages, but feed-and-thread searching is the main activity.
But how about the feed story, "Tom likes Gary Smith Realty"? Wait, I need a real estate agent, and Tom’s the smartest friend I have. I need to check out this Gary Smith and maybe later drop Tom a note about him. So I check out Gary’s page and see some smart posts.
I go to his website and it has a solid blog and an IDX-based (Internet Data Exchange) search. Gary has his act together. He also has a Facebook "Like" button on his site, so I "Like" him. I’ve now signed up to Gary’s feed of information, and my friends now know that I like Gary since the story appears on my wall (and maybe in their feeds).
Gary’s getting all sorts of notoriety from someone he hasn’t even met. This is the wondrous and powerful viral loop: You hear about something, you find it valuable, and you share it. This is how YouTube videos go viral, but Facebook is even better suited for it (hence the hyper-growth — and subsequent wild valuations — of social gaming companies). But now Gary Smith is going viral, if in a more modest, and less obnoxious, way than "MallWarsVille." (And Gary hasn’t had to raise $366 million to do it.)
Facebook is growing up
At this point it’ll start to get old referencing mafias and farms and frontiers. But it’s crystal clear that Facebook’s channels work. It’s also crystal clear that Facebook wants to clean up its streets. They’ve systematically clamped down on the communication channels that viral apps use to market themselves.
(Really, a viral communication channel is any means within an app that lets one users request something from lots of their friends at once.) Facbook’s theory on clamping down on mass-invite viral channels is that your newsfeed will be filled with relevant, interesting content while precluding noise, which will make Facebook a valuable utility for you forever.
While this is bad for viral apps, this is great news for small businesses trying to get the word out on the simple principles of scale and content value.
To use Realtor Gary Smith as our example again: Gary isn’t looking for 100 million fans or friends. He’s looking for 500 or a couple thousand fans, and from that pool will precipitate Gary’s next clients. To get those fans, Gary has to demonstrate value by posting interesting links, making insightful comments, and engaging with people in appropriate and positive ways.
Facebook loves this small-scale, high-value human interaction. Gary is adding value to the community; Gary is not spamming people. And if Gary gets spammy, people will "unfriend," "delike," or hide his drivel. But the more people who respond to Gary, the more he goes viral, i.e. his social graph shares his content to people he doesn’t (yet) know.
And the more he gets in front of friends of friends, the more his audience develops. Now, let’s think about the nuts and bolts of how to get tons of people to join your audience, share you with their friends, and pay you lots of money to buy or sell a house.
Inside development, outside support
At the moment, there are two spaces online: "Inside Facebook" (not to be confused with the blog), and "Outside Facebook" (or "on-network" and "off-network," if you prefer).
Inside Facebook is anything you do on the facebook.com domain. This is where you check your newsfeed, engage with posts, and thread around through profiles trying to find that high school classmate.
"Outside Facebook" is your blog, website, whatever. (And I’ll assume you already have a Fan Page on Facebook.)
If you have a presence off of Facebook, as many people do, you need to do a handful of things to support your audience development efforts. Often overlooked, these will help you to prevent potential clients from falling through the cracks:
1. Use a "Like" button on your website.
This is practically old hat by now, but make sure to add a Like button or Like widget to your website, and make sure it’s connected to your fan page.
When visitors arrive at your site or blog, they can click the button and sign up for the stream of information you create on Facebook. This is the critical action for you to stay top of mind with them and have the opportunity for "shares" among their friends.
Using the Like widget, fans can even view on your website which of their friends also have "Liked" you, which is a powerful social endorsement tool that will raise your fan-to-customer conversion rates.
Even better news is that the widget is very easy to install. Facebook generates a blob of code, and you or your Web guru can just pop it in a static portion of your site, such as your header or sidebar. (If your Web developer tries to charge you for more than an hour of work to implement this, fire him or her!)
2. Use a Like button for your blog posts.
This is a similarly simple idea, but the distinction from the above Like widget is important. If you have a blog, each post should have a Like button. That allows visitors to Like your individual posts, which will show up in their feeds on Facebook and get you some eyeballs. (The above Like widget signs users up for your content stream, while Like buttons for posts just get them shared.) This is also not difficult to implement.
Some Realtors have added Like buttons to listings. We’ve found this less useful, since we’ve seen no data that users actually want to declare their interest in a particular house to their social graphs. It doesn’t appear to be the right type of content and dynamic for sharing.
3. Open Graph markup.
Open Graph has gotten less attention since its announcement, but this metadata markup protocol will become important in the coming year as Facebook makes a run at Google with its search product.
Facebook search will be an increasingly powerful channel for discovery since it will return social relevance information (who among your friends liked or commented on your keyword) along with the traditional keyword-based search indexing (not coincidentally, courtesy of Microsoft’s Bing).
Without getting bogged down in the theory, OG is code you put on your pages to tell Facebook what it is: Is it a page about a movie, or is it a house, or is it a business home page? Among other things, this allows Facebook to properly render your page when someone encounters it in the Facebook search box.
Also, if you connect it to your fan page, we suspect that it strengthens your page in search results as well. These tactics ensure you’re getting viral juice out from your website visitors.
Brad Selby is head of product for Roost.com.