But the portals and the technology that drives them are now more than 15 years old. And over the past three years, the game they changed has started to change again. It’s possible the portals are about to be disrupted themselves.
Fifteen years ago, the idea that buyers could go to one place online to see every property on the market in any suburb you chose was absolutely revolutionary.
Buyers no longer had to jump in the car and visit the suburb to check out local real estate agent shop windows or get hold of a local paper.
All the information you needed was in one place, and you could look at it at whatever time suited you – 9am, 9pm, 2pm, 2am – on your desktop computer in the comfort of your office or living room and send a message of inquiry. It was a huge improvement in the old way of doing things, removing pain points and making property hunting faster and more convenient.
But two new revolutions have occurred over roughly the past three to five years – the social revolution and the mobile revolution. The two are interconnected as the conversion of our mobile phones to mobile computers that are always on and always with us in turn enabled the social revolution with apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Messenger, LinkedIn, Pinterest and WhatsApp to dominate our lives.
And it’s apps like Facebook that are likely to dramatically change the way we ‘do’ real estate again in the very near future.
Facebook claims to be a company based on “human connection and bringing people together”, the recent REIQ Tech Day was told. Its mission is to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”.
There are 2.01b people on Facebook every month and 1.32b on Facebook every day. Facebook is the eighth most-used feature on any mobile phone and in addition to the mothership, there are 1.2b on Whatsapp, 1.2b on Messenger and 700m people on Instagram each month – all part of the Facebook family.
The only thing bigger than the Facebook community, the conference was told, is Christianity.
Facebook also has a second mission – to “democratise advertising” by making it easy and affordable for every business – especially small businesses – to reach customers by giving them access to the same tools that big business has traditionally dominated.
This is where the threat to the portals happens.
Because Facebook is not really just a cool entertainment app that allows you to see photos of friends new babies, hashtag all the blessings in your life, rage against the latest political upset or message your husband with a virtual cat on your head (or is that just me and my guy?). Facebook is a major big data play.
Every interaction we have with Facebook captures information about us as individuals – our likes, our passions, our friends, key events in our lives, our behaviour, how we feel, our recommendations, who our friends are and their likes, passions, events and behaviour.
Every interaction builds up a more and more detailed picture of us individually which is what makes the Facebook advertising algorithms and their ability to target so powerful. We don’t really see or feel this. When the algorithm is doing its job, the result is simply more content that we’re genuinely interested in.
There is absolutely no need to ‘spray and pray’ your advertising as a business in Facebook. If your ideal customer is a 36-year-old woman with two primary school age children who loves shoes and wine and drives a four-wheel drive and works part time and who lives in a three bedroom house, you can find her and thousands like her and target your message exactly to her.
Knowing this, if you’ve got a beautiful four-bedroom house in her area with a walk-in wardrobe, wine cellar, great kid friendly outdoor area with a pool and large garage that would be perfect, you can easily target advertising directly to her (and her friends).
It doesn’t matter that she’s not on Realestate.com.au or Domain.com.au looking yet. It doesn’t matter that she may not have thought (as far as you’re aware) that she should move up.
You can plant the seed in her mind. You can show her what’s possible through Facebook targeted advertising and encourage her to move from a passive buyer (one who has not thought about buying or selling at all) to become a researcher or an active buyer or seller (one who decides that now is the time to act).
This is part one of the strengths that Facebook has over the portals; using it you can target people and move them into your contact funnel before they have even decided that moving is the right decision for them. You have the power to target and influence their behaviour.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Part two of Facebook’s strength is only now starting to be witnessed. As Facebook’s ability to capture and process data about us accelerates at speeds that are truly mind blowing, its capability for predictive analytics becomes ridiculously powerful.
Soon, Facebook won’t just be able to target people because they match a profile of someone who might be interested in buying, selling or renting because you select them. Soon, Facebook will be able to target people because their behaviour on Facebook and its associated apps, signal that they are actively engaging in behaviour that pre-empts buying, selling or renting behaviour in addition to their profile.
This behaviour may include things like renovating, finding tradespeople, reaching out to real estate agents, buying paint or asking friends for real estate recommendations, – the possibilities and their combinations are endless.
In such a scenario, you’ll get recommendations on who to target based on data that’s defining what they’re likely to do next, not options they’ve chosen, or things they’ve already done.
And that leads us to this new world order of being able to target people based on their profile, behaviour and a likelihood of intention much higher up the sales funnel, rather than waiting for a potential customer to go onto a real estate website and make an inquiry.
Which leads to the question of why do you need a real estate portal – a special place to go to find a property to buy – if properties that need buying will serve themselves up to you just when you’re starting to think about the possibility of moving?
In this new world, the power any real estate portal can wield diminishes and the value proposition to a portal customer is impacted.
Why should I put so much of my advertising budget into reaching people who are actively in the market looking, when I can put the budget into Facebook and target both those who are actively looking, and those who are passive, but whose behaviour indicates that with the right property, they could change at any minute? No wonder the portals are worried.
So how as a real estate agent do you get yourself ready for this next exciting stage? Here’s four things you can do:
1. Get serious about social now
Social is no longer something the receptionist can do in her spare time, or have your teenage kids help you as a hobby.
Make it someone’s job in your business to understand thoroughly how targeting works in social media, who your target audience is for the different types of properties you sell and services you offer, and set aside a small budget to start practising the best ways to reach them and the content that works. Upload your database to create a matching audience in Facebook.
2. Learn about geo-targeting and targeting by property features
Kick it up a notch by learning about advanced topics such as geo targeting (X people matching Y description within Z km of my office) and targeting people by property features which you know are in demand, or which signal they may be interested in making the next move.
For example, people in their 50s who have owned their properties for 20+ years may be ready to downsize, or be looking for an investment. Families in 2 bedroom apartments may be looking for 3 bedroom houses or larger apartments. Ask yourself, “If I was this person, what kind of information in my Facebook feed would I find interesting?”
3. Improve your content
Social media is about human relationships, community and helping – it’s about being useful, not boastful. And Facebook advise that your content needs to be striking, and get attention quickly – in the first three seconds, otherwise it is scrolled past.
Evergreen content on how the property market works, tips for buyers and sellers and walking people through the process of moving are all ways you can connect with people while also establishing yourself as an expert who knows their stuff.
A constant stream of properties for sale will only be appreciated by those who are actively looking (in which case they’re probably on a portal already) but an occasional inspirational property well targeted as part of a broader spectrum of useful content sends a more trustworthy message.
4. Experiment with different content styles
Writing a post and sticking up a photo is the easiest way to post, but Facebook rewards those who innovate. Video, slideshows and Facebook Live are prioritised by the algorithm which means your message reaches more of the right people for less money.
And don’t forget most people snack on social content while they’re doing something else, so all video should be captioned. No one sticks on earphones so they can listen to a 90 second video on the bus. Whatever you post, make sure you analyse its reach and engagement levels each time so you can work out what works best for your audience.
So if you’re one of those agents who rage against the portals, don’t despair, a change is coming. But it also means you’ll need to change your behavior.
Real estate is just one of the hundreds of consumer experiences that Facebook and the social universe is completely opening up right now. There is plenty of opportunity for real estate agents who get stuck in and recognise the opportunity – but just like 15 years ago, fortune will favour the brave.