Washington Land

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Real Estate Brokers Shouldn't Be On Facebook and Why You Should Never Hire One Who Is

The mainstream idea in today's Real Estate marketing is that you should be using Facebook and it is relentlessly promoted to Real Estate Agents. I receive spam on almost a daily basis trying to sell me on a seminar, webinar, book or even a continuing education class on using Facebook to promote your business. You may wonder why someone would need a seminar or book on how to use social media, but many Real Estate Agents are not very tech savvy. However I have never seen anyone question the efficiency or a single study done showing how well it works. People are doing it “just because everyone else is.”

The basic premise is that there are so many people on Facebook and you can advertise at them for zero cost so even a single additional sale would make it worth it. However, in reality Facebook is not free, it costs your time, posting status updates and interacting with others, as well as the hidden cost of letting Facebook collect data on you. Facebook's product is not it's webpage, it is YOU.

I track all my advertising dollars and if a certain advertisement or advertising medium does not sell houses, I quit spending money on it. But Facebook on the other hand is “free.” I was on Facebook for 4 years and made posts and interacted with others as part of a set schedule, spending around 30 minutes per day. In this time I sold zero houses on Facebook. So that is 730 hours that I could have spent doing something actually productive. Even if my results were not typical and you assume I sold one house at an average commission of $5000, that is $6.48 per hour, less than minimum wage and that doesn't even include any of the labor for doing the actual work selling the house. So any Real Estate Agent who invests their time Facebooking is either still experimenting to see if it's useful or they are telling you that their time is worth less than minimum wage. Would you pay thousands of dollars in commission to someone who values their own time at less than minimum wage?

I have never spoken to another Real Estate Agent who has sold a house on Facebook. I have never spoken to a client who has bought a house on Facebook. Ask yourself, how many houses you bought on Facebook? Likely it is zero. How often do you even shop for houses on Facebook? Again, likely zero because Facebook is not a site people go to for house shopping. Facebook's website is geared for entertainment and fun. Some businesses like restaurants or entertainment businesses probably do good on Facebook but that is because when people are looking at Facebook they are looking for entertainment. A friend of mine runs an online tackle shop and posts fishing pictures, which fishermen generally find entertaining and it will immediately result in sales. He posted a picture of me with a fish I caught on his Facebook when we were out fishing and later that day he called it a $600 fish because it generated that many orders. However, there is nothing entertaining about Real Estate, it is a dry technical subject, not that it isn't important, just that it isn't entertaining. About as entertaining as you can make it is, landscapes and architecture pictures, which while people may like for an aesthetic quality, it doesn't make them rush out and buy a house.

The only people you need to market houses to are people who are shopping for houses, not the community at large. This is why I focus my internet advertising on Real Estate sites where home shoppers are looking, organic search results or paid search placement to find the buyer at the exact moment when they are looking for a house. This is targeted advertising and since I keep track of what ads and sites sell houses, I know it works well because the proof is in the numbers.

So why do Real Estate Agents use Facebook even when they know it doesn't sell houses? The answer is image advertising. Personally I do not spend any money on image advertising as I think my work and sales record should speak for itself—unless it is just ancillary to an ad designed to sell the house, for example I might put my picture on the bottom of the flier but the flier's primary purpose is to sell the house, not to sell me. It is very rare for Real Estate Agents to not spend any money on image advertising, in fact most Real Estate Agents I speak with spends 70%-90% of their budget on image advertising. What agent would you rather hire, one who spends 100% of his budget on advertisements designed to sell your house of the one who only spends 10%-30% of their advertising budget trying to sell your house? Facebook is entirely image advertising and any Real Estate Agent you find there is the common garden variety that spends the majority of their time and money marketing themselves, not the houses they claim to be trying to sell. There are many Real Estate Agents who are so narcissistic that they will plaster their face all over billboards without even considering how many houses that billboard will sell, they just want the fame.

Image advertising works based on the principle of repetition. Psychological studies have found that if just one person repeats the same opinion three times, it has a 90% percent chance of converting three different people in a group to hold that opinion. "I'm a great Real Estate Agent. Did you know, I'm a great Real Estate Agent? Everyone knows that I'm a great Real Estate Agent." That's how TV ad, politics and conspiracy theories work as well. It's a sleazy trick. I have more respect for my clients to stoop so low and prefer to market to people rationally by persuading them to exchange value for value. While repeating "I'm a great Real Estate Agent" works because there is not much resistance, one agent or another doesn't matter really to most people, simply repeating "Buy this House. You should buy this House. Just buy this House" does not work because people actually put much more thought into that decision because it matters deeply to them. Shouldn't you hire someone who knows how to market effectively without using cheap tricks like repetition, which don't work as well on big decisions like houses?

Facebook doesn't even work that well for image advertising. In the beginning of the news feed, it would just show all the posts in chronological order and you had a chance someone might scroll past your image advertising. Now however, Facebook has rolled out the Top Stories which filters out boring posts like Real Estate Agent image advertising. Since Top Stories is the default setting now, most people leave it set to that due to the status quo cognitive bias. Also, with the recent updates to the mobile app, you can no longer even change it off the Top Stories. So any image advertising that Real Estate Agents think they are doing on Facebook is largely invisible to their audience anyway. Furthermore, unlike your own website, you can't put tracking hmtl code to even see the metrics of your advertising if you even wanted to. Would you hire someone who is so ignorant at marketing they can't even tell when their messages are not even being seen?

The vast majority of Real Estate Agents I have seen on Facebook are also violating licensing laws. Most of the time these Real Estate Agents are advertising on a personal page without any supervision of their Broker and/or without their licensed business name disclosed. Both of these are violations of licensing laws. If you are posting image advertising on Facebook, every single post needs to disclose the office name as licensed. How many Real Estate Agents do this on Facebook, virtually none. However this is an issue that the State is cracking down on and the Auditors at the DOL definitely look into. Furthermore, brokers must approve all advertising of their agents, how many of these agents run their posts by their broker before they post? I'd say very few. Would you hire someone who is so incompetent that they can't follow the laws that apply to their own profession?

The vast majority of Real Estate Agents, again those using personal accounts, are also technically in violation of the Facebook terms of service. The terms explicitly state “You will not post unauthorized commercial communications” because they want to be paid advertising fees for any commercial communications. These Real Estate Agents do not pay Facebook advertising for their personal pages doing all this image advertising so they are breaking the terms of service they agreed upon to use Facebook's service. This of course does not apply to paid ads on Facebook, but very few Agents pay for ads, they just image advertise on their personal page for free. Would you hire someone who was so unethical that they break their agreements and cheat companies out of money just because they think they can get away with it?

Having a business website or even a Real Estate Agent website is a necessity in this business but this site should be your own site that google and other search engines drive traffic to. Much of Facebook is actually hidden from most search engines, hidden from the very buyer who are activily out searching for a house to buy right now. If you don't believe me do a search for houses in the town you live in and go through the results until you find a link to Facebook. Facebook provides traffic but it is low quality. Facebook posts actually reach a tiny potential audience of your friends list but my own website reaches a potential audience of the entire world.

If you have your own site, you own the site, building up a business page on Facebook is like building a house on leased land. I don't recommend you do that with your house and I don't do that in my life or business either. Facebook is constantly changing it's policies and terms of service and on your website, instead you are in control. The changing terms of service issue is even more significant when you realize that most Real Estate Agents are already in violation of it before it even changed. As mentioned about the Top Stories algorithm, that policy change caused a large decrease in traffic from Facebook to your business but that is a change in the past, what effects will unknown future policy changes have?

Don't get caught up in the hype, you as a Real Estate Agent do not need Facebook for your business. Unless of course you are on there begging your friends and family for referrals, which I have seen. I never grovel for business or rely on family and friends to drive my business. People seek me out for my expertise selling certain types of property in certain geographic areas. I don't need to bug Aunt Mildred for a referral so I can get a cut from her agent when she buys a house.

Quite frankly Facebook does not add value for my clients and by not being on it automatically makes me unique because I am not simply doing what everyone else is doing for no good reason. This is why I deleted my Facebook, the costs of using it exceeded the value you really get out of it. The long term benefit to using Facebook to sell houses is exactly zero both to the Agent and the client. That's OK because it is not what Facebook is designed for but it is a reason we Real Estate Agents should stop misusing it.