So Facebook had its big messaging announcement yesterday. What does it mean for real estate technologists and social media gurus? The short answer is: A few new tools for integrating your communications channels.
But those of you who have been reading my column know I like to dive deeper than the short answers. I want to review some of what makes Facebook work (and sometimes not work) for real estate professionals, and then explore the new messaging features.
What does Facebook disrupt?
A lot of attention is paid to how Facebook ranks compared to Google in traffic or engagement metrics. While that’s interesting, I think it’s a sideshow. Facebook doesn’t yet disrupt the human behavior of having a question and asking it — that’s where Google is focused.
But in terms of communication, Facebook is a large disruptor. E-mail-length communications, chat, short-format status updates, location, photos and so on are core to the Facebook experience.
Facebook disrupts things like newsletters, e-mail and bulletin boards, and basic and long-standing Internet communications media.
The Google vs. Facebook sideshow is perhaps most relevant in terms of Google’s Gmail business. Beyond that, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Real estate professionals gravitate naturally to Facebook as a marketing platform because they tend to be familiar and comfortable with sphere-of-influence marketing.
Facebook as sphere-keeper
One of my big takeaways from the Real Estate BarCamp, which was scheduled just before the start of the National Association of Realtors conference in New Orleans earlier this month, occurred while listening in on two real estate professionals discuss what was working and not working with social media and other online tools.
It was a small session and very conversational, like a BarCamp should be, and one of the guys was talking about how it was great for him — he could track sales and listings directly to mining his sphere via Facebook.
The other guy wasn’t getting anything out of his use of Facebook. And it wasn’t for lack of trying or for measuring. He was genuinely just not getting any sort of business value out of his time using Facebook.
One of these guys was older. The other guy was younger. Want to take bets on which one was having success and which one wasn’t?
The older guy was rocking his Facebook usage. He’d loaded in all of his past customers from his 30-plus years of experience in real estate. He was able to connect with many of them. A reliable stream of business was coming his way based on his ability to mine his sphere.
The younger guy didn’t have 30-plus years of customers to reconnect with. He had his college buddies and his family. His college buddies probably aren’t in the market yet and maybe won’t be for several years.
Having grown up in the digital era, this younger guy knew all the tricks and features and how to use Facebook. But he didn’t have a common prerequisite for Facebook success: a sphere of influence/friends.
And Facebook, for all of it’s "Like" buttons and groups and fan pages and whatnot, isn’t really the greatest or most natural tool to grow a sphere.
Yes, yes, there are the neighborhood cheerleader tactics, like the 365 meme, and those things do rock. But at its core, Facebook is about maintaining connections that are already meaningful.
Just as Google will always make changes that increase the relevance of its search engine results (and the ads that are sprinkled around them), Facebook is always going to focus on ways to help make communication with existing connections more meaningful.
For sphere marketers, Facebook is an exceptionally convenient tool. For sphere growers, perhaps a little bit less so.
How does Facebook’s announcement fit into real estate marketing?
The recent announcements around Facebook’s messaging platform included the following:
- One inbox to aggregate e-mail, text, chat and Facebook social tools.
- You can get a Facebook.com e-mail address.
- People who are not on Facebook can communicate with you via your Facebook inbox if you get a facebook.com e-mail address.
- Messages are threaded based on the person you’re communicating with instead of time or subject line.
The purpose of this aggregation is to get all of your communication activity into one place: Facebook. There is currently not a way to get your message activity out of Facebook (via IMAP or Facebook API). They say it’s on the way, but it doesn’t exist today.
This does help solve a real problem: Does my customer prefer e-mail or text? If your communications with your customer are via the Facebook messaging system, then you can make messages however you like and your customer can receive them however your customer likes.
I’m not sure what will happen if someone gets one of my long e-mails via text. We’ll find out.
If you’re especially good at using Facebook in your real estate practice, maybe turning Facebook into your primary source for communication would be a useful thing to do.
But I would be uncomfortable giving up my primary communications channel to an entity over which I have very little control. Without a means to get the messages out of Facebook, I’d definitely hold off on that.
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think the messaging announcement has a significant impact on the day-to-day activity of marketing via Facebook. Some things will be easier and smoother. You’ll have slightly less friction communicating with people you are already connected to.
You’ll have a more sensible archive of communications based on people instead of time. If you use Facebook as a replacement for e-mail newsletter distribution, being able to publish to non-Facebook users will be a bonus.
But you still can’t get that communications stream out of Facebook and into your own systems for archive, backup or business use.
Until that’s operational I’d continue to be careful about using Facebook as a primary communications channel.