BY TEKE WIGGIN, MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2013.
As Facebook continues to roll out Graph Search, some marketing experts are saying that the potentially revolutionary search engine may prove to be a valuable tool to real estate professionals who use social media for marketing purposes.
The feature could empower real estate agents in two ways: by helping consumers with shared friends and interests find them, and by enabling real estate professionals to hunt down buyers and sellers who, due to shared friends and interests, may be unusually receptive to the agent’s overtures.
Facebook reportedly introduced Graph Search to hundreds of thousands of additional people in February. That’s a signal that the company is moving closer to making the product available to all 1 billion claimed Facebook users.
Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith thinks “anybody who’s in the business of building relationships” stands to gain when that day arrives, and real estate agents are a prime example.
“You literally can drill down into granular data, which has only previously been available through advertising,” she said.
Just how granular?
Smith, who’s part of the group of Facebook users that already has access to Graph Search, recently searched the following using Graph: “Friends of my friends who live in San Diego, California and who are female Real Estate Agents and who like Spirituality.” The search turned up five results that met all those criteria.
In that search, Graph filtered results based on people, places and interests (it also can filter photos).
Screen shot showing results of Facebook Graph search for Mari Smith’s “friends of friends who live in San Diego and who are female real estate agents and who like spirituality.”
That targeting capability holds obvious appeal to consumers, said Amy Vernon, a New York-based social media expert — they may use it to hone in on real estate agents who share friends and interests and who work in the regions where they want to buy or sell homes.
“You can see who the mutual friends are and reach out to those people and ask about that person,” said Vernon, general manager of social marketing at tech startup Internet Media Labs.
Google already offers personalized searches to Google Plus users. Those searches may dredge up professionals who are in a user’s social sphere.
But Graph is armed with more personal information than Google Plus, according to Smith, who lives in San Diego, Calif., and is the author of “The New Relationship Marketing: How to Build a Large, Loyal, Profitable Network Using the Social Web.”
Screen shot showing “personal results” for Mari Smith when she conducts a search for real estate agents in San Diego using Google.
“It’s gathered an inordinate amount of data, and now they’re adding search on top of social,” she said. “Whereas Google just doesn’t have that. There aren’t as many people over there. They’re not as active. And people don’t have as many connections.”
Given this, Smith and other experts say it’s likely that many people may embrace Graph as a way to track down vendors. The best thing brokers can do to profit from such a development is to make it easy for consumers to find them, experts say.
Start by turning all of your privacy settings to public, Vernon said. That way more users will be able to find you using Graph based on all of the information about you on Facebook. Then be sure to clearly identify yourself and your profession on your Facebook profile, Vernon said.
Agents should load the “Work and Education” field with multiple titles that people search when looking for an agent, such as “real estate agent,” “Realtor” and “broker,” Vernon said. And they also should be sure to link to their work’s Facebook page in the section, she added.
“Use a few different phrasings so that the likelihood of your coming up in a search is greater,” she said.
Though it’s unclear if Graph processes all profile text when performing searches, Vernon and Smith said it’s still advisable to squeeze industry phrases into other profile sections too.
The “About You” and “Favorite Quotations” and “Basic Info” sections represent some opportunities to potentially enhance your profile’s SEO with key phrases. If Graph isn’t already mining those sections for searches, it almost certainly will in the future, Vernon and Smith said.
Another way agents can tiptoe onto more search results pages is to “like” pages that reflect their interests. The more pages users like, the more probable it is that users will stumble upon them when performing interest-geared searches. But be discerning, Vernon said.
She noted that a search of “Realtors who like marijuana” turned up scores of names for her. “Look, if you’re in a market like Denver, maybe that’s a plus,” she said, chuckling.
While Graph Search is likely to help many agents attract more high-quality leads, is also gives them some ability to hunt them down. And down the road, the search engine could enhance that ability.
For now, Graph does not appear to crawl users’ status updates and timeline posts when generating search results. Consequently, it isn’t intelligent enough to perform searches such as “friends of friends who are selling their homes.”
Facebook spokesperson Jessie Baker declined to comment on possible plans to eventually equip Graph with the ability to turn up search results based on users’ timeline content.
But Smith said that the capability is “absolutely coming,” and with it, the potential for agents to hone in on homebuyers and sellers who have provided strong indications that they could use a real estate agent.
For now, agents can only use Graph to find people who are more likely to be buying or selling homes than others, like divorcees, Smith said. But later, she added, users will probably be able to find people based on key phrases that appear on their timelines, if their timelines are public.
“The pushback will be crazy,” she said. “But that is basically what the deal is: You post anything to public, it’s fair game.”
Baker emphasized that Graph Search respects privacy settings.”Graph Search makes finding things easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook,” she said.
And she noted that Facebook’s message tool, which agents would use to contact leads they might find on Graph, uses an algorithm and looks for “social signals,” like friend connections, when determining whether to deliver a message to a user’s primary message box or the user’s “other” bo