It seems you can hardly pick up a magazine, read a Real Estate blog or news article, go to a Real Estate conference, attend a training class, or just talk with your colleagues, without the topic of Facebook or Twitter coming up.

In fact, it’s not just our Real Estate industry. Facebook and Twitter dominate cultures around the world when it comes to online activity and social media.

The question is raised and discussed over and over – what is the role of Facebook and Twitter for REALTORS®.

There are certainly lots of opinions on this subject. It goes from writers and consultants saying every REALTOR® should be on Facebook or have a Facebook Business Page, to articles which warn REALTORS® to “unfriend” their clients, or the cover article this month in REALTOR® magazine, which says “Are you over-friended – Social networking’s point of diminishing returns”.

What is the typical REALTOR® to do?

I can certainly give you my perspective. As I mentioned in a recent post, after spending almost 25 years in the hi-tech world, for the past 10 years I have been an active full-time residential real estate designated broker and brokerage owner. I supervise, manage and mentor around 60 residential REALTORS® on a day to day basis.

Also, my perspective is that the typical REALTOR® already has a lot on their plate. Sellers, Buyers, Escrows, Spheres, Email, Documents, Contracts, Forms, Digital Signatures, Transaction Management Systems, Photos, Videos, Listing Syndication, Websites, Leads, Lead Management, Advertising, Marketing, Continuing Education, REALTOR® designations, RPAC, local community, state and national issues,Office Meetings, Floor Time, Open Houses, Short Sales, Foreclosures, their broker and so on.

The last thing REALTORS® need is a diversion that will consume their precious time and money, and not produce results. Anything new introduced into their business must be easy to learn, easy to use, and have a clearly measurable return on investment within a reasonable time frame.

In my experience, 10-15% of REALTORS® have the time, patience and knowledge to deal with the back and forth evaluation, dialogue and discussion about what to do and what not to do with technology and tools. Not only with Facebook, but with the constant barrage of technology being recommend to or pitched to REALTORS® today.

The rest are often times left feeling confused and further behind everyone else. They get that glazed-eye look 5 minutes into the discussion or presentation. I think writers and presenters should be cognizant of this. Mind you, these tools and technologies are impressive in the right hands. But they are not an undiscovered magic potion that every REALTOR® is missing out on. They are like other tools in our business, where if used correctly, and with significant time and expertise invested, can produce results.

So, my first advice to a REALTOR® is to make sure they are up to speed with the 3 Key Technologies for REALTORS®, which I laid out in a previous post. I consider those technologies critical for any REALTOR® today.

Now, what about Facebook and Twitter?

First of all, Twitter.

Twitter is revolutionary. Twitter IS, as we speak, changing our culture in how news and information is published, disseminated and consumed. The information can be breaking news, such as the recent protests in Egypt, public figures, such as celebrities, politicians or athletes, communicating with their fans, organizations  (such as NAR, Google, your local REALTOR® association) publicly communicating on any topic, and traditional news sources using an alternative path to disseminate information. And much more.

Twitter removes ALL publishing procedures and barriers from those with something to say. It is refreshing and liberating, yet dangerous at the same time.

What is it’s role for REALTORS® and their business?

Answer: None

I cannot see any expenditure of time for a REALTOR® to tweet that would produce a good return for their business.

The only exception would be the rare case where a REALTOR® has something unique to say, and an existing audience that wants to hear it. Tweeting about your local real estate market does not cut it. Some are trying, some misuse it. Let them. There are far better things a REALTOR® can spend their time on. IMHO.

[Twitter can be used as an effective way to blog authors to promote their blog, and for readers of the blog to be kept apprised of changes to the blog (instead of RSS). Google “WordPress Twitter Plugin” for more info on that]

But, that said, you can use Twitter personally. I use it daily. I FOLLOW, not tweet. I use it to keep up with the world around me. A lot of info can be passed in just 140 characters. I don’t need to read a whole article. I follow my local paper, I follow NAR, I follow AAR, I follow Google Apps, I follow WordPress, I follow writers, musicians and artists I like, I follow the Wall Street Journal and Walt Mossberg, I follow software companies I like or use, I follow my local MLS (with updates on new features, downtime, etc), and so on. I follow over 76 people or companies right now.  Yes, I have to wade through some garbage posts, or needless retweets or self promotions, but on the whole, it’s  good use of time. I can check my tweets on my cell phone, iPad, or any computer, so it’s convenient.

If so inclined, Twitter is a very useful and efficient way to keep up with the world around you. You can personalize to just follow the information sources you want to.

So, in summary on Twitter.

  1. A very important part of our culture today.
  2. For REALTORS®, no value in tweeting.
  3. For keeping up with the world around you, following the news sources of interest to you, personalized to what’s important to you, Twitter can be very useful.

Now, on to Facebook

Facebook is a phenomenon, and another revolution. It was even the subject of the recent Oscar-nominated best film, “The Social Network”. I love the response from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder and CEO, when asked if “The Social Network” would have any effect on his company, Facebook.  Zuckerberg replied, “We build products that 500 million people see… If 5 million people see a movie, it doesn’t really matter that much.”

Latest statistics (supplied by Facebook) are

  1. Launched in 2004, reached 1 million users by the end of that year.
  2. Today over 500 million active users
  3. 150 million active users in the United States
  4. 50% of  active users log on to Facebook in any given day
  5. Average user has 130 friends, connected to 80 community pages, groups and events, and creates 90 pieces of content each month

In other words, this is a widely used website, where people create lots of their own content and interact with each other every day.

Should a REALTOR® be on Facebook?

Answer: Absolutely

Good chance people you know are on Facebook – people you went to school with, people you grew up with, people you used to work with, people you once showed homes to or listed their home, and so on.

Being on Facebook would be like being able to stand outside the grocery store, and while everyone in your social network are coming out with their groceries, you have the opportunity to stand there, in one place, and say hi, how was that vacation, congrats on the new grandkids, that was a great game last night, and so on. It makes it easy to connect with these people.

The nice thing about this, is once you get setup on Facebook, Facebook will do a lot of the work for you in establishing or reestablishing these connections.

Look at it this way – we each have our own unique social network. People we worked with in the past, went to school with, grew up with, as well as our friends and acquaintances today. It is not competitive. That social network is yours and yours alone. Facebook helps you connect and stay connected with all those people.

There is another benefit. NAR Research says that on average, every person will know 4 other people in a given year who will buy or sell a home. So using Facebook to connect with your social network can produce additional benefits as those people connect with other people they know, who might need a REALTOR®.

Facebook then allows you, the REALTOR®, to easily connect with people you know, or knew in the past, and make sure they all know that you remain an ACTIVE REALTOR® in your area.

Here are the 4 steps I recommend for doing this;

  1. On your Facebook account, and first thing, setup a List called Personal. Go to Account -> Edit Friends -> Create a List to do this. The friends in my personal list are family, relatives, and very close friends. I would also create lists for “ClassMates”, “Business Colleagues”, “Real Estate Associates”,  “Friends”, and so on. It will help you organize your Facebook friends later on.
  2. Second, setup your privacy settings under Account -> Privacy Settings.
    1. Pay special attention to who can see photos you upload, status updates, and your different profile sections.
    2. I use the following Customized Privacy Settings;
      1. Bio and Favorite Quotations, Website -> Everyone
      2. Family, Relationships, Interested In, Religious and Personal Views -> Personal List
      3. Posts By Me, Birthday, Places I check in to -> Friends Only
      4. For photos, I have some set to Everyone, some Friends Only, and some to the Personal list. By default, all photos and mobile uploads can only be seen by my Personal list, then later I can decide if I want others to see it.
      5. Note: I would not set any privacy level to “Friends of Friends”. You have no control over who your friends add as friends.
  3. Once you have your Security settings set, now edit your profile.
    1. Click on the Profile link in the upper right hand corner, then click on Edit profile.
    2. Put in all the info you feel comfortable with (remember, you control who sees what via your privacy settings). But be sure to put in places you have worked in the past, and places you went to school.
    3. Make sure, in your Bio, that you state you are an ACTIVE REALTOR® in your area, and include a link to your website. That is who you are!
  4. Finally, start sending some friend requests. Go to Account -> Edit Friends, and there is a link on the left hand side that says ‘Find Friends”. On this page, Facebook will let you find friends using your email contacts, and also  suggest friends for you based on the number of Mutual Friends. You can also click on “Other Tools”, and find friends based on the schools you attended and the previous places you worked. When you add a friend, you will have the opportunity to specify what list they should go in. Be sure to do this for each friend.

Now you have your Facebook account setup.

After that, I recommend 1 hour a week of Facebook maintenance, part of your “Prospecting Time”, broken up into two 30 minute segments (put it in your calendar – “Facebook Update Time”).

What you are going to do in each of these 30 minute segments is;

  1. Respond to new friend requests. I recommend you add everyone that has a mutual friend. But, don’t add people you have no idea who they are, or have no mutual friends. When you add a friend, be sure to put them in the appropriate list (Personal, Business Colleagues, Classmates, etc). That way, based on your security settings, they will only see what you allow them to see. You will also see Friend recommendations that Facebook puts on your home page. This is where Facebook is constantly working FOR YOU, to find you friends.
  2. Send out 10-20 new friend requests each time you login, using the “Find Friends” tool mentioned previously. That way you can continue to proactively build your friend list, and hence more people you can connect with and make aware your are still a REALTOR® in your area.
  3. Like or Comment on your Friends posts. Each time you do this, you get some mind awareness with your friends. It’s like that example of standing out in front of the grocery store, seeing all your friends walk by. The more you can Like or Comment on a friends post, the more people will be reminded of you.
  4. Post some content. No real estate listings please. Post information about what you are doing in your life that you feel comfortable in sharing. It can contain an occasional reference to your work, but should really be about you. Let your friends know a little bit about who you are.

So, my Facebook recommendation.

  1. Definitely do it.
  2. Take about an hour to setup your account, with the right lists and privacy settings.
  3. Then budget two 30 minute segments each week to post something of interest, add new friends, and like and comment on your friends activities.

Many others promote doing your own Business Page more on Facebook. A Business Page is where a REALTOR® can then promote their business, their listings, solds, testimonials, and so forth (which you cannot do on your personal page). Is it worth it? It takes more time, and will likely involve additional expense as well. Will it generate new business? How much more will it do than the plan I’ve outlined above? Worth the additional time and investment? I am not saying no. I just am not sure.

I recommend you start with the plan above. Not a lot of time investment, certainly within most REALTORS® expertise, and has measurable results. After following these steps, you should see results in the form of contacts with people you haven’t contacted before, and maybe better connections with your existing sphere (that are on Facebook). If you are successful with continually adding friends, this will also raise your visibility amongst all your friends, contacts and people in your community. Not a bad thing for a REALTOR® to do. Give it three months – see if it improves your connection with your sphere, adds more people to it, and ultimately brings you more business.

That’s it for my perspective on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you have found it interesting.

Respectfully yours,

– Ed

[Note: One thing about Facebook: they are constantly changing they way they handle privacy, profiles, and lists. So depending on when you read this, something may have changed. For instance, they just introduced “Groups”, which are like Friend Lists, but different. I continue to use Friend Lists by the way. Keep that in mind in case  something is different in Facebook from what is said in this post. It’s a challenge for anyone to keep up.]

[Note: Ed will be speaking this week at the AAR Winter Conference in Prescott on Cloud Computing and Real Estate. ]