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If the first thing you do when you meet an old friend for lunch is whip out a copy of your newspaper advertising, you’re probably doomed to failure when it comes to Facebook.

Contrary to popular belief, social networking is not advertising. It’s not even marketing. Yet by the looks of what’s still happening these days online, too many real estate agents think social networks require the additional fertilizer in the form of their (beepy) listing information.

And in the worst possible format: Scanned images of their weekend newspaper advertising.

It’s the biggest “huh?” since the Chia Pet. It’s strange – given the power of social media to support hyperlinks, blog postings, video clips and even instant chat – that real estate agents think the best use of social media is as another “mass mailing” tool for boring property advertising. How does polluting their prospects’ screens with old school advertising contribute to the housing recovery?

Then there’s the  abuse of the medium: sending advertising emails in social networks, filled with open house dates and classified-newspaper style ads with abbreviations like “2BR/2BA LG FM RM,” no photos and sometimes not even a hyperlink. Why send this stuff to people who live hundreds of miles away from your listing and didn’t study Latin anyway? It’s doubtful this creates fond thoughts – perhaps the very opposite – of their decision to become your friend online.

Much of the industry has never learned to prospect.  Prospecting means building relationships, earning trust, and understanding the needs of each potential customer individually. Instead, the persistent concept of success for sales people is to advertise:  yell, scream, and spread around as much mundane information about housing as possible, without any connection to the recipient’s actual needs and wants. Property information which, in all likelihood, the consumer already knows all about. Do they really, really, really need an agent cluttering their news feeds with this stuff?

Makes you wonder: Would the dinosaurs have tweeted?

Ironically, the same people spreading advertising all over the social space are the same people who complain about “spam” in their inbox. I even suspect they are the same people who voted for the “Do Not Call List” because they were fed up with telemarketing – verbal advertising – calling them during dinner time. Some of them might even be recycling advocates, satisfied that they have cut down on postal paper waste by converting it to email and social media pollution instead.

But the knee-slapper of social media silliness is the scanning and posting of printed newspaper ads onto their walls. Hmmm. If nobody’s reading it in the actual newspaper, just what makes one think that prospects are going to click the image online, then try to zoom and squint their way through the blurry scan?

Yeah, I can see Gen Y first time home buyers doing that on their smartphones….

Social networking is prospecting. Repeat after me: it’s prospecting. Not advertising. You might need to repeat, rinse and repeat this idea. It’s about making friends and influencing potential customers. It’s like meeting them in a coffee shop, supermarket or golf course. It’s like having a phone conversation with a past client to maintain awareness and gently solicit referrals. Social media is an outlet for contributing valuable content to people’s understanding of the marketplace. For listening. Asking. Watching. It’s the “hi, thinking of you” comment made on other people’s walls. It’s even the basic “I’m having a good day, hope you are too,” status updates that, while not rocket science, keep us in our sphere of influence’s minds.

None of which is advertising.

Most of all, social networking is not a life support system for cave paintings or newspaper classifieds.