You can’t avoid it anymore. It’s everywhere you look. Television commercials for all sorts of products tell you to do it, magazine ads feature the logo and the promise of benefits if you will just do this one thing. Every one you know is there already and recent events in the Middle East have shown the power of it’s ability to bring people together.
I’m talking about Facebook of course. And more specifically I am referring to the ability of brands and products to entice people to become fans. Watch television and you will see that almost all of the major brands ask you to “find us on Facebook” by displaying a link to their Facebook fan/business page. Magazine ads do the same. And once you do get to the page, many offer special incentives if you will only “Like” their page.
Why the shift to Facebook? Since it’s inception in 2004 as a way for college students to connect with each other on campuses across the country, to the Obama campaign in 2007 and 2008, to events in the Middle East of recent days, Facebook answers a basic need in all of us to connect and to be heard, to share and to belong to a community. And once embarked on the Facebook experience, most find it irresistible.
Many wise people have shown the “proper way” to use this social tool so that the experience is maximized without being intrusive. Others have ignored the advice and gone down the road of “broadcasting” their message indiscriminately, only to find out that the community quickly walls them off. Facebook is after all a social platform.
But, it’s also a business. And as a business, it needs to survive. Given that Facebook has over 140 million active US users, and has amassed a huge database of knowledge about those users, it was natural for them to offer other businesses a way to tap into that database. And so the Facebook fan page (business page) came into being.
Once a business could have a presence on Facebook they wanted to be able to customize that presence. Facebook offered two methods. A business could offer an “application” that could be used to attract customers. Think Farmville, Mafia Wars and so on as examples of how applications were used. This required a substantial investment in programming and was beyond most.
The second method that Facebook offered was the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) application that Facebook developed and offered for free to owners of Facebook fan pages. By using FBML, page owners could produce custom “tabs” that could mirror their existing web sites, create give aways, contests, promotions and much more. You may even have one of these. But FBML had limitations that were hard or impossible to overcome.
In February, 2011, Facebook announced that it was going to “deprecate” FBML on March 11th 2011, and stop supporting it after that date. (NOTE: The date has been moved to March 18th, 2011) Existing FBML custom tabs are going to survive into the future, but Facebook encouraged page owners to switch to a third method of customization known as iFrames.
The switch to iFrames was bemoaned by many at first, but as days passed after the announcement, it became apparent to me (and many others) that this was a smart move for Facebook AND the owners of Facebook business pages.
Those of us in the real estate industry should be familiar with the process of “framing” another web site into our websites. We did this in the early days of IDX property search, and many still employ this method to bring listing search into their websites.
With the new Facebook iFrames capability, you can create content on your company websites that is Facebook compliant (more on that later) that can be brought into your Facebook business page as a custom “tab”. (Tab is in quotes because the tabs have disappeared in favor of a new navigation scheme…and I don’t know what they will be called going forward, so it’s tabs for now).
In order to utilize the iFrames feature, you will have to create a Facebook application. This sounds a lot harder than it actually is, and there are many creditable resources both on and off Facebook to help you do this. It’s quite likely that your existing web developer can do this for you. Or I can. (Shameless plug for my services here!)
There is an opportunity for a brokerage that is looking to the future to capitalize on this and produce Facebook compliant content for their agents. Please consider the need your agents have to market themselves or their (your) listings on Facebook. Both of those are perfectly acceptable on a Facebook fan/business page, but not on a personal profile. But, how is an agent going to be able to write the content, host it on a web server, create a Facebook application and link it all to their Facebook business page? Oh, and continue to list and sell real estate at the same time.
A few will be able to do this, but most won’t and as a result, they will be at a competitive disadvantage. As the main stream media and major brands continue to influence the public to “find us on Facebook” the expectation will be that ALL businesses (including YOURS) can be found on Facebook. Will they find you, your agents and your listings in a custom designed page that “speaks” to your brand and values? Or will they find your competitors? It’s up to you.
Here is the action that you need to take now. Not tomorrow, and not after endless meetings with your top producers, board of directors and stake holders. Get started now because things move very quickly in this new connected world and you may find yourself playing catch up instead of taking the lead.
So, contact your web developer (if you are happy with them, that is!) and immediately commission a redesign of your agent’s existing profile pages. You know, the ones at http://www.YourRealEstateCompany.com/JohnAgent and have each one of them designed to be no wider than
520 810 pixels. Because that is the width that fits in a Facebook iFrame without having to use horizontal scroll bars. Then do the same with your important company message web pages.
Once you have done that, you can go to your agents and offer this tremendous marketing tool to them. You can have someone in house learn how to create Facebook applications for them so that they could use the pages you designed and hosted for them.
If you do this before your competitors do, you’ll have a recruiting and retention advantage. And as a side benefit to you and the consumer, you will be able to ensure that the brand and the message are properly presented. (If you are hosting the content on your web servers you can control the appearance, message and access!)
I’ve presented a simplistic view to you, as there are more requirements from Facebook on iFrame implementation, and you will want to learn more. But, don’t put this off! Someone in your market area has already hired me or someone like me to help them develop strategies and tactics to use iFrames and Facebook to reach the consumers that you both want to find.
Or, you could just keep paying for horribly expensive and ineffective newspaper ads in the hopes that the old days are coming back…