I’m not sure what to make of Todd Carpenter’s “Speaking of Real Estate” post, “Will Social Search Change the Way Consumers Find Real Estate Agents?“
His overall point is that in the future, consumers are likely to use social media to find real estate agents, and that sites today — he mention how Trulia is integrating Facebook — are beginning to take advantage of that.
But I’m not convinced.
First, Carpenter makes the all-too-common error of using the term “social media” to refer simply to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In fact, “social media” has been around much, much longer than that — e-mail lists (“listservs”), message boards, and chat rooms are all social media, and they’ve all been around since before the Internet got the public’s attention.
What he’s really suggesting is that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn specifically might change the way consumers find agents. Speaking of REALTOR.com for example, he says this:
Having acquired SocialBios.com earlier this summer, the possibilities for how [REALTOR.com] will use it point to the importance of making sure your Facebook and LinkedIn profile pages are as complete as possible.
And he talks about Trulia adding Facebook recommendations:
When consumers recommend an agent on Trulia, that recommendation can be easily shared on Facebook for the consumer’s friends to see.
There are two obvious problems with this argument — that is, the argument that Facebook/LinkedIn will play a significant role in finding an agent.
First is the issue of geography. An agent recommendation is only helpful if you’re in the same place. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook friends are scattered far and wide — many are high school and college buddies or friends from old jobs. That’s the beauty of connecting through the Internet. So if my friend Tommy in Phoenix recommends an agent, that’s not going to do me a lot of good.
Further, I think Carpenter overestimates the value of this kind of “social” recommendation. He writes:
Imagine a future home buyer choosing to do business with you because you both “like” the same coffee shop on Facebook, went to the same school, or because you did business with relatives they never talk to, but stay connected to via a social network.
Doesn’t it seem a bit far-fetched to think of someone saying, “Wow, you like Coffee of Doom too? Hey, can you recommend a Realtor?” A restaurant, maybe.
That doesn’t mean consumers won’t use their online connections to find an agent. But they won’t be doing it in the way Carpenter envisions, using friends and old school buddies.
Would you choose someone to help you with a $300,000 purchase because your college friend “liked” her on Facebook? What if you went to a suggested Realtor’s site and saw she has 2,561 “likes”? Is that enough of a recommendation for a savvy consumer, who will realize that a good portion of those come from friends, family, and co-workers? (Almost 36 million people “like” Justin Bieber. Does that make his music good?)
Savvy consumers will use social media to find Realtors. Many already do — but we’re talking about local message boards, recommendations on sites like Angie’s List, Better Business Bureau records, and so on. Do a Google search on the phrase “Realtor recommendations” and you’ll see results from many, many places, from StreetEasy to Berkeley Parents Network to Yelp.
In other words, it will be — as always — word of mouth that drives clients to you. Sure, Facebook and its ilk will be part of that, but only part, and probably not a big one at that. They are too big and too general; local and topic-specific sites are much more likely to make a difference.
So is there any value to collecting “Likes” or “+1s”? Sure — it can’t hurt and it may tip someone who’s on the fence in your favor. But if you spend too many resources focused on the hot social media of today, you’ll miss more opportunities than you gain.