Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

Let’s Not Ruin Social Networking

A month ago, I received the strangest email ever: An agent in LinkedIn blasted an email to her connections announcing her next open house. Sadly, it was little more than a cut-and-paste of the abbreviation-dumb newspaper ad she probably also ran. No photos, nor punctuation. Not even a hyperlink. More recently, a steady-stream of Facebook invitations have been arriving,  with impersonal introductions like, “If you know someone who needs a REALTOR in AnyTown, USA, send me your referrals!” Oh, sorry; I thought you wanted to be my friend. But the abuse reached a tipping point yesterday: It seems some virtual tour vendor has made it “quick and easy” to mass-post your tours across multiple networks at once. Oh, goody: REALTORS are about to have no more friends.

It was enough to make me scream, No, No, NO!

If this is how REALTORS plan to use social networking, then disconnect me now. I don’t need to connect with more people fishing for referrals. Or posting their listings on my wall. I’m not even in the market for a home. And if I were, I’d know how to find listings on my own. In the meantime, get me out of your stream of drivel. Stop dripping your listings, open houses and self-aggrandizement to me.

I don’t really care.

Nothing will more quickly prove agents don’t get social networking than polluting their networks with mass-blast advertising. It’s been tried before. It’s called SPAM. Just because it’s on a social network, and not in your email, doesn’t make it any more desirable.

Contrary to popular belief, social networking is not an advertising forum. It is not a Web 2.0 replacement for postcards, listing sheets or newspaper ads. I’d even argue it’s not even a marketing channel, at least, not in the traditional sense of posting pictures of bedrooms and toilets. But don’t be confused! Social networking is about . Especially the kind that are based upon relationships and trust.

But social networking won’t create sales built on campaigns of one-click spam advertising.

If you sell widgets, like books, tickets or seats, then your sales strategy is built around advertising to anyone who can click-and-fulfill such needs online. Real estate, however, isn’t sold the same way as hotel rooms or computers online. Blasting out listings is barely one step away from miracle-medicine spam.

When you sell a complex service that mixes high finance and high emotions, blast advertising doesn’t work. The research is clear: Whether it’s a postcard or an e-blast, advertising doesn’t trigger buyers to buy homes, or sellers to select a broker. Real estate isn’t a click-and-fulfill sales transaction. Complex sales require significant customer relationships, not shopping carts and credit cards.

So why are so many REALTORS hell-bent on smothering social networking in a deluge of e-crap? It’s already getting messy. The only good news is that consumers can de-friend such spammers with one quick click.

News flash: Consumers do not need your help finding listings. They can search your site, aggregator sites and the other places REALTORS ignore, like for-sale-by-owner sites, to find all the homes they want. They can find them faster than the floor-duty agent can log into MLS. They can sign up for their own email alerts – if and when they want them. There is absolutely no reason to think the modern and buyers need agents to “make them aware” of listings, price reductions or sales. And more importantly, modern consumers don’t want this stuff plastered all over their MySpace or Facebook walls.

Stop treating consumers like drips. Start treating them like customers.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the research. Your handy copy of the NAR Annual Survey of Home Buyers and Sellers describes why people bought homes last year. (For the million-or-so REALTORS who don’t even know this study exists, here’s what it says.) The research says people bought homes because of life-changes, not ads that popped in front of their face. Consumers found the homes they bought primarily on their own. By searching for them online. Not from an ad – in the newspaper or online.

On the seller-side, consumers listed their homes with agents they already knew one-third of the time; and with agents referred to them by friends the next third of the time. They even “secret shopped” agents at open houses, then selected them to list their own home, another fifteen percent of the time. They hardly listed their homes with the agent who sent them their mug-shot on a postcard or in an e-newsletter.

None of this is to say advertising isn’t important. There are things to advertise – to make people aware of your company, your services, the marketplace. But there are channels for that – like your website or search engine advertising. Such advertising is already well accepted by consumers. They accept those ads in return for a desired service, like using a search engine.

They do not, however, accept your advertising plastered all over their private social wall.

Consider this: There’s a reason why Facebook and LinkedIn actually aren’t making money from their systems. Most normal people would leave – and almost certainly wouldn’t join – networks that were nothing more than pages and pages of ads. It has been tried before. Remember NetZero and Juno? Consumers ultimately opted to pay for internet service. Remember pop-up ads? They are gone today, too. The real estate industry should be careful not to lose their own customers these ways, by inundating their social networks with open house announcements, property flyers, virtual tours and air-brushed agent photos.

Left unchecked, it could be the fastest sob story on the web: How real estate gained and lost a lot of friends online, in record time.

It doesn’t mean you can’t generate business on social networks. There are plenty of social networking success stories. None, however, have to do with anyone who looked up an old friend and demanded, “Connect with me and buy my listings!” Who does that in real life, when they meet an old friend or catch up with a relative? Is the first thing you say at a party, “Do you need an agent?” Is every holiday card accompanied by a “Send me your referrals!” post-script?

It’s time for the real estate industry to focus on customer relationship management. Social networking offers the best opportunity to build and maintain these relationships. We can put the high-touch back into the high-tech and move away from processing people into databases and marking them for death-by-deluge with advertising. Just treating people as people, not prospects, would change everything. That’s what most social networking already is. A backyard barbecue with friends, not an endless loop of late-night infomercials. People talking to each other, about normal things, maintaining relationships. They know what each other does for a living: one friend is a plumber; another a computer technician; one is a REALTOR. When they need any or all, they simply click to find them or ask friends to recommend one.

It happens already in offline life; it can happen online, just as easily.

But you can’t manage your customer relationships if you don’t have any friends left. That’s exactly what’s going to happen if every status update or recommended link or posted photo is yet-another of your ads. People just won’t stand for it; they don’t have to. They will disconnect from the real estate industry and never look back. They might even become fans of a Facebook page called “Why REALTORS don’t get it.” Goodness knows they could post a good many listing photos to make such a case.

The opportunity for sales through social networking is tremendous. It’s already happening – as simply as a “glad to catch up” becomes a “by the way, we’re thinking of moving.” Unlike our credibility on real estate websites, polluted with bad data, poor photos and fish-eye virtual tours, maybe for once let’s not ruin a good thing, by killing our social networking credibility with one-click blast advertising.

– M

  • FWIW, when I DO put a listing link on my wall, I always reference WHO the seller is because my friends often know the seller. For example, ” I’m selling Bob Smith’s mom’s house… thanks for the referral Bob (high school class of 82). Click below for the virtual tour.
    Joe Montenigro
    REMAX Home Team

  • FWIW, when I DO put a listing link on my wall, I always reference WHO the seller is because my friends often know the seller. For example, ” I’m selling Bob Smith’s mom’s house… thanks for the referral Bob (high school class of 82). Click below for the virtual tour.
    Joe Montenigro
    REMAX Home Team

  • Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more and have sent the link to my colleagues to get the word out.

  • Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more and have sent the link to my colleagues to get the word out.

  • It seems that our local board ethics guy has to remind the members every year about etiquette but it still doesn’t stop the shallow strategies of spammers.
    I feel sorry for those lacking the ability to form real relationships. I also have a suggestion for them; they’re in the wrong business and should leave quietly without damaging their own reputation or our profession any further.
    I hope to see this posted on LinkedIn and ActiveRain (Localism) soon. I’ll be interested to read the commentary.
    As always, great stuff Matt; thanks.

  • It seems that our local board ethics guy has to remind the members every year about etiquette but it still doesn’t stop the shallow strategies of spammers.
    I feel sorry for those lacking the ability to form real relationships. I also have a suggestion for them; they’re in the wrong business and should leave quietly without damaging their own reputation or our profession any further.
    I hope to see this posted on LinkedIn and ActiveRain (Localism) soon. I’ll be interested to read the commentary.
    As always, great stuff Matt; thanks.

  • Matthew, wonderful post. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I have been “defriending” REALTORS right and left from my social networks for the exact reasons you detailed. I don’t know why they don’t get that it is intrusive, rude and demeaning to the profession to self-promote in a social setting.. My head exploded a couple of weeks ago when I read a REALTOR’S “who do” plastered on my wall? Didn’t she think, that if I knew someone who wanted to buy or sell that I would personally contact them? This is a well written piece and I am going to circulate it among the dwindling number of REALTOR friends that I may have.

  • Matthew, wonderful post. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I have been “defriending” REALTORS right and left from my social networks for the exact reasons you detailed. I don’t know why they don’t get that it is intrusive, rude and demeaning to the profession to self-promote in a social setting.. My head exploded a couple of weeks ago when I read a REALTOR’S “who do” plastered on my wall? Didn’t she think, that if I knew someone who wanted to buy or sell that I would personally contact them? This is a well written piece and I am going to circulate it among the dwindling number of REALTOR friends that I may have.

  • Ruth Savino

    “Just treating people as people, not prospects, would change everything.”
    …. what a concept! Reminds me of another great one!, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  • Ruth Savino

    “Just treating people as people, not prospects, would change everything.”
    …. what a concept! Reminds me of another great one!, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  • Matt – Amen Brother, Amen. I have been suggesting that our agents discuss their real estate business about once in every 10 posts – and even then, just along the lines of a family they had the opportunity to help or a new development that they visited or had the chance to show. The incessant “Rates are great. Who do you know that wants to buy or sell” is ridiculous…especially when 96% of their “friends” are fellow agents!

    LinkedIN groups are getting just as bad – people posting their listings and looking for referrals by posting “discussion” posts and Twitter is quickly becoming the equivalent of the “Washroom Attendant” at your local bar. I know you’re there and I know you might want something from me but just let me come in here for what I wanted. I don’t need any outside pressure judgement or breath mints. Oy!

  • Matt – Amen Brother, Amen. I have been suggesting that our agents discuss their real estate business about once in every 10 posts – and even then, just along the lines of a family they had the opportunity to help or a new development that they visited or had the chance to show. The incessant “Rates are great. Who do you know that wants to buy or sell” is ridiculous…especially when 96% of their “friends” are fellow agents!

    LinkedIN groups are getting just as bad – people posting their listings and looking for referrals by posting “discussion” posts and Twitter is quickly becoming the equivalent of the “Washroom Attendant” at your local bar. I know you’re there and I know you might want something from me but just let me come in here for what I wanted. I don’t need any outside pressure judgement or breath mints. Oy!

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks to all of the positive responses; I am glad there are so many people who see the opportunity – and the danger – if we don’t really think through how we use social media! – Matthew

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Thanks to all of the positive responses; I am glad there are so many people who see the opportunity – and the danger – if we don’t really think through how we use social media! – Matthew

  • This is a fabulous article. You are right on!

  • This is a fabulous article. You are right on!

  • Kim Sullivan

    great one!!

  • Kim Sullivan

    great one!!

  • Larry Jebsen

    I think the article was as one sided as those realtors who only speak of business. I agree, only hearing of business creates “name Ice” , where someone comes across your name and their eyes slide right by your post. But friends,past clients and aquaintances will recognize that you are giving every opportunity to advertise your sellers listing. Yes, buyers will look on-line. This is on-line. If I just listed a house and posted a tour-this may be where the buyer sees it. Don’t be one dimensional online-have relationships, be transparent,brag on your kids, show pictures of graduation,babies,office parties, church picnics and new listings. Be proud of it all. Let people see all of you. Don’t exclude what you do for a living.

  • Larry Jebsen

    I think the article was as one sided as those realtors who only speak of business. I agree, only hearing of business creates “name Ice” , where someone comes across your name and their eyes slide right by your post. But friends,past clients and aquaintances will recognize that you are giving every opportunity to advertise your sellers listing. Yes, buyers will look on-line. This is on-line. If I just listed a house and posted a tour-this may be where the buyer sees it. Don’t be one dimensional online-have relationships, be transparent,brag on your kids, show pictures of graduation,babies,office parties, church picnics and new listings. Be proud of it all. Let people see all of you. Don’t exclude what you do for a living.

  • You know, my local city just had a local bloggers get together and we have a site that is all of our local blogs together. I am one of two agents that feeds into the site. The other agent, a rookie blogger, posts her listings and open houses. It did not go over well with the rest of the group for the very reasons you mentioned here.

    At the blogging meeting we did talk about how to integrate commercial blogs into the Salemites site without being spammy. It is a HUGE issue.

    I have other local agents on twitter who just follow me and post nothing, or only post their listings. I am an agent and this irritates me because I too can look up what I need on the MLS. Some agents just don’t know how to stop.

  • You know, my local city just had a local bloggers get together and we have a site that is all of our local blogs together. I am one of two agents that feeds into the site. The other agent, a rookie blogger, posts her listings and open houses. It did not go over well with the rest of the group for the very reasons you mentioned here.

    At the blogging meeting we did talk about how to integrate commercial blogs into the Salemites site without being spammy. It is a HUGE issue.

    I have other local agents on twitter who just follow me and post nothing, or only post their listings. I am an agent and this irritates me because I too can look up what I need on the MLS. Some agents just don’t know how to stop.

  • Matthew,

    Excellent post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a Realtor and a Facebook user, but I know where to draw the line with spam. I used to be more willing to befriend another Realtor on Facebook, but not so much anymore. To many agents just use it for self-promotion and don’t add anything of value to the conversation – get a life.

  • Matthew,

    Excellent post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m a Realtor and a Facebook user, but I know where to draw the line with spam. I used to be more willing to befriend another Realtor on Facebook, but not so much anymore. To many agents just use it for self-promotion and don’t add anything of value to the conversation – get a life.

  • Larry Jebsen

    And if work is part of your life-share that too. the trick is to have who you are and what you do be a part of the conversation. Don’t just “post” your listing. Ex. “I saw so and so, I went______ and I listed a cool house on Dover street. Great Day. ” That is my life and I’m going to talk about it.

  • Larry Jebsen

    And if work is part of your life-share that too. the trick is to have who you are and what you do be a part of the conversation. Don’t just “post” your listing. Ex. “I saw so and so, I went______ and I listed a cool house on Dover street. Great Day. ” That is my life and I’m going to talk about it.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself! Just did 2 programs on the ‘defemation of characters’ showing up on Facebook….and all of the Code of Ethics violations to boot! How in the world people don’t understand ‘social’ is beside me….they’re REALTORs for goodness sake! One post on facebook in response to one of those “here’s my new listing” posts….said “Quit blasting your friends with this stuff…it’s social … not business!” Again…couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself! Just did 2 programs on the ‘defemation of characters’ showing up on Facebook….and all of the Code of Ethics violations to boot! How in the world people don’t understand ‘social’ is beside me….they’re REALTORs for goodness sake! One post on facebook in response to one of those “here’s my new listing” posts….said “Quit blasting your friends with this stuff…it’s social … not business!” Again…couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • Matthew –

    I can only speak of Facebook, as I’m not too active on Twitter or LinkedIn. I only see 1 or 2 percent going overboard. I pay attention to how my Realtor friends use Facebook and have found that most interact with other Realtors, not their clients. Maybe they have a listing that they want to share with their fellow agents, or have a marketing tip to contribute.

    The problem lies with not taking the time to learn how to use the tools Facebook provides to selectively post to the proper audience. Every post, link, photo, message doesn’t have to be broadcast to everyone on your friend list.

    You are dead-on when you say that it’s about building relationships. You don’t have to post your content every day, several times a day. It’s more effective participating in the dialogue that’s already out there. Thank your friends for sharing their link, comment on their photos, even if it’s just a thumb-up “like”.

    And most importantly, when you have something to tell someone, message them if you’re not sure they would like to share it with the entire world.

  • Matthew –

    I can only speak of Facebook, as I’m not too active on Twitter or LinkedIn. I only see 1 or 2 percent going overboard. I pay attention to how my Realtor friends use Facebook and have found that most interact with other Realtors, not their clients. Maybe they have a listing that they want to share with their fellow agents, or have a marketing tip to contribute.

    The problem lies with not taking the time to learn how to use the tools Facebook provides to selectively post to the proper audience. Every post, link, photo, message doesn’t have to be broadcast to everyone on your friend list.

    You are dead-on when you say that it’s about building relationships. You don’t have to post your content every day, several times a day. It’s more effective participating in the dialogue that’s already out there. Thank your friends for sharing their link, comment on their photos, even if it’s just a thumb-up “like”.

    And most importantly, when you have something to tell someone, message them if you’re not sure they would like to share it with the entire world.

  • Hey Larry, I completely agree with you. I too weave my real estate happenings into my posts. ‘Get a life’ was probably the wrong phrase to use. Rather, share your life & thoughts. Reveal something about yourself instead of just posting your listings/open houses/contracts. That gets boring & redundant and doesn’t build relationships, which is what social networking is all about. Now, if you have a separate FB page (separate from your profile), then I think it is totally appropriate to have a section on it to show your listings & open houses.

  • Hey Larry, I completely agree with you. I too weave my real estate happenings into my posts. ‘Get a life’ was probably the wrong phrase to use. Rather, share your life & thoughts. Reveal something about yourself instead of just posting your listings/open houses/contracts. That gets boring & redundant and doesn’t build relationships, which is what social networking is all about. Now, if you have a separate FB page (separate from your profile), then I think it is totally appropriate to have a section on it to show your listings & open houses.

  • Agents generally are looking for the easiest and fastest way to get business; I understand this premise, but I realize that usually things that are easily gotten have no or little value…a relationship has tremendous value well beyond the next deal.

  • Agents generally are looking for the easiest and fastest way to get business; I understand this premise, but I realize that usually things that are easily gotten have no or little value…a relationship has tremendous value well beyond the next deal.

  • Michelle Martin

    Thank you for this piece! It’s one of the most insightful assessments of an ever-rapidly growing problem in the real estate industry I’ve read. I have been discussing this very issue just this week with several colleagues. Though it’s been mostly said above, I too agree that I don’t want (nor do I want my past clients) to read about how many listings Broker X took today, how many offers he/she wrote, and worse, how many people attended their open house today, yesterday and tomorrow! The whole picture can’t be told in a twit or a wall post —- so may I have done the same or more, but there is not where they’ll hear about it, or ever. I want all of my clients to feel they’re important — building relationships, one at at time. Thank you for validating my recent concerns! Onward to our next topic!

  • Michelle Martin

    Thank you for this piece! It’s one of the most insightful assessments of an ever-rapidly growing problem in the real estate industry I’ve read. I have been discussing this very issue just this week with several colleagues. Though it’s been mostly said above, I too agree that I don’t want (nor do I want my past clients) to read about how many listings Broker X took today, how many offers he/she wrote, and worse, how many people attended their open house today, yesterday and tomorrow! The whole picture can’t be told in a twit or a wall post —- so may I have done the same or more, but there is not where they’ll hear about it, or ever. I want all of my clients to feel they’re important — building relationships, one at at time. Thank you for validating my recent concerns! Onward to our next topic!

  • Paul

    Don’t know how I missed this post…but it is terrific. The social media craze has been embraced by REALTORS who in turn, screw up the potential benefits almost immediately…I am going to retweet and re-post this for a while, hell, I am even going to make a paper copy, which I rarely do…

  • Thanks, Paul! It was one of our more popular ones. There are two related ones, too – Social Network Dinosaurs and What’s the Point of Social Networking that are in the same thought process.