Facebook Promotion: It’s all about the status updates!

Facebook is rolling out all kinds of changes to Fan pages today… but it wouldn’t surprise me if the MOST interesting change flies under the radar for just a bit.   What is the most interesting change?  The one I’m seeing is that you can now buy an ad for an individual status update!

Here’s the screenshot I get when I click on the “promote” button:

For those of us following changes to Fan Pages, this really shouldn’t be a surprise (I actually mentioned this change when talking about the future of Facebook at a recent Leading RE conference in Vegas)… But here’s why it’s interesting.

When thinking about how to approach Facebook marketing, it’s all about Status Updates!   I got some polite ribbing from the Roost guys at the same conference when I mentioned that agents should just roll their eyes at SEO and/or Tab “solutions” when on Facebook, but I’ll stick by my guns on this one.   Don’t bother with any Facebook unless you’re planning on doing the hard work of generating status updates that will get people to interact.   Anything else on Facebook is just work avoidance.

Why are status updates so important? This has to everything to do with Facebook’s recommendation engine, or as I like to call it, NEO.   Again, I’m gonna stick by my guns on this one as as well and say that going forward networking engine optimization, or optimizing content for the social networking algorithms, is going to become a huge industry similar to SEO today.  So, if you want to get an idea of why these “promoted posts” are such a big deal, it has everything to do with the ability to get more activity on your status updates… even if you have to pay for it!

UPDATE

I went ahead and bought an ad to point to a FB status update and was thrilled to see that by default, FB point ads at the “friends of fans.”

In my early exploration of NEO, I was calling the concept FOF Marketing because the social networks do such a great job helping people reach the “friend of friends, friends of fans and/or friends of followers”, so thought it was a bit catchy… However, I don’t think FOF tells the story behind the concept as well as NEO.

Because favicon love is so easy to give

If you’re running a website, did you give your favicon any love?  Do you even know what a favicon is?

A favicon is simple a mini-logo (icon?) that shows up next to your URL in most address bars. (Favicons also show up on the tabs of browsers and are often included next to articles you write when being pulled by other news sites, such as this business week page about online real estate that pulled the favicons when linking to articles from Rain City Guide and Inman News). and

Here is the favicon I created for 4realz.net: 

In terms of a icon, I don’t like it as much as the 4realz logo that I generally use on my marketing materials:

but it shows up so much better when displayed at a really small size and kept the site’s color scheme. The idea is that people who know the site will quickly start to relate the favicon to 4realz.net.

Before creating a favicon for a different site (not yet launched), I decided to do a bit of research and look at the favicons for a variety of real estate sites. Here’s a peak at some of the sites I looked at:

There are some really good favicons there in that they are instantly recognizable for the website they represent, but just as many are pretty bad… and without the help of a little text, it’d be hard to know what site they represent.

So what makes for a good favicon?

A good favicon is:

  1. Really simple
  2. Limited to two or three colors
  3. Recognizable in place of your logo

However, as the examples form above show, using your logo is almost never a good idea.

For example, the blue/green “Z” house of the Zillow logo, just doesn’t cut it for me at the small size of a favicon.   Ditto for the landscape scenes used by Altos Research and Real Central Virgina.

Something more likely to work is a cute play on the logo, such as the tomato from the Real Estate Tomato, the owl’s eyes of Roost, the explosion from Blown Mortgage, or (I like to think) the rain drop of Rain City Guide.  At the same time, the “R” of Realtor is so recognizable that the realtor.com team was smart to keep their favicon that simple.

Looking through the list of favicons from above, it’s also obvious that the “home” metaphor is way overdone. Phoenix Real Estate Guy, Redfin, The Real Estate Bloggers, Move, HotPads, Estately, Altos Research, and Zillow all feature homes in their favicons…

Create your own Favicon!

So, you’re inspired to create a nice looking favicon for your site.   Here’s how I created the 4realz favicon in a few minutes using nothing more powerful than Microsoft Word (or in my case, Mac’s Pages app):

Step 1: Using a document processer (Microsoft Word will work), create your image. For the 4realz logo, I create a grey circle and put a blue “4” in the center.   If you feel like you need something more complex than simple graphics and simple text, then you’re probably making your favicon too complicated!

Step 2: Take a screenshot of the image

Step 3: Upload your screenshot to Genfavicon, and follow their simple instructions in order to create an “*.ico” image. (as mentioned in a recent hotlist post!)

Step 4: Rename the file “favicon.ico”and upload it to the root file of your server.

That’s it! Once you’ve created one favicon, I think you’ll see that the entire process can be done in less than 10 minutes.

It’s worth noting that in order to have a personalized favicon, you MUST be using a self-hosted website where you can add files to the server.  Folks using blog platforms like ActiveRain and WordPress.com can’t have their own favicon. 🙁

Of course, if you have photoshop you can get way more advanced and create really killer favicons directly from the app, but if you know what you’re doing in photoshop, then you probably wouldn’t read this far!  😉

Finally, favicons are important because they show just how much effort you put into the details.  They’ll never be a big thing (they’re way too small!) and they’ll never bring success to your website, but with a little effort, it’s not hard to create a fun, recognizable icon that will help you make a better connection with your readers.

When a tree falls in the forest…

Been way too swamped with a consulting project lately and haven’t had a chance to blog much (or send out my weekly emails). 🙁

However, that doesn’t mean interesting things haven’t been happening.   Here’s just a sliver of the things that have crossed my path recently:

By the way, this blog post is very similar to the emails I (normally) send out on a weekly basis.    If you want to get a weekly update on what’s going on in online real estate, simple subscribe using the widget on the 4realz.net sidepanel!

The 4realz Interview with Alex Chang of Roost.com

After interviewing Marty last week, I thought it would be interesting to turn to Alex Chang (CEO of Roost) in order to get the perspective from someone entering the real estate search space from a different place in terms of timing, funding and resources…

Roost LogoI first met Alex while we he was setting up shop at NAR (in Vegas) outside of the blogger’s lounge at a table right next to mine. He was holding court with some interesting players in the real estate space, so when a free moment for both us turned up, I introduced myself and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alex not only knew who I was, but that he had a strong command of the players in the RE.net (score a point for Alex!).

A few months later at RE Connect, Alex was nice enough to give me a demo of Roost, and I was immediately impressed. His team is obviously focused on doing one thing right (real estate search) and they have the money and talent to do it. However, seeing as they are relatively new to a fairly crowded space, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that they have their work cut out for them.

Dustin: Can you briefly tell us a little bit about the products and services that your company offers for real estate professionals?

Alex: Roost is an open and inclusive marketing platform for all brokers, large and small. Roost’s goal is to help broker partners drive more business for themselves and their agents in a way that puts them in control. To do this, we provide two services that operate in parallel. First we offer brokers of all types & sizes a powerful, IDX-compliant property search site that they can use at their discretion. Second, we send qualified home buyers to their sites via the Roost.com search engine. Our model is transparent and performance based. The broker only pays for the traffic they want by setting a monthly budget that meets their needs.

Who do you view as your main competition and how do you differentiate yourself?

There are a lot of companies out there doing related things in different ways.

In order to differentiate, we need to appeal to the fact that buying a home is one of the most important life decisions consumers will make. We need to offer a comprehensive, easy, fast and fun way to search for homes. We feel that Roost has cracked the code on providing comprehensive data on top the fastest and most intuitive way to search for homes. That’s our biggest differentiator.

When we think about our competition, we think more about the demands on a consumer’s time than we do about other companies. Between work, kids, home maintenance, etc consumers only have so much time in their day to dream about their next home and actively research it online or off. Roost’s mission is to create an experience that works despite these demands.

Between Move getting $100M, Zillow getting $87M, Redfin at $20M, Trulia at $18M, Terabitz at $10M, and NAR looking to invest approximately $30M through their 2nd Century Fund, there’s a lot of investment money floating around the real estate space at the moment. Do you see this as a good thing for the industry?

Without question. That capital is fueling innovation. And in most cases that innovation is an effort to provide the industry with better/more efficient marketing tools for brokers and better services for home buyers. Ten years ago it would have been about trying to disintermediate the Realtor. But that’s not the case today. The more options Realtors have to market their services, the better. Competition keeps everyone honest and striving to provide better services.

Besides the venture capital money mentioned in the first question, there are also a few big players from related industries who are jumping into the listings game. Such as Fidelity with CyberHomes and HGTV with FrontDoor. Why do you think there are so many companies chasing the listing side of this industry?

I doubt your average adult site would be very successful without the porn. Consumers want access to listings plain and simple. Other bells and whistles around home buying are nice, but when my wife Beth and I sit down to think about our next home, 90% of that time is spent checking out listings of homes we could go visit. I’d imagine that’s pretty common. That’s the focus of Roost and we’re solely concerned with filling that need. And besides, listings one of Gary Keller’s “3 L’s of the Millionaire Real Estate Agent” – so you know they’re important.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the big brokerages are only just beginning to use their websites to create a compelling consumer experience that competes with REALTOR.com. Why do you think it has taken the national brokerages so long to complete on this front?

It’s a question of core competency. It took a long time for retailers to get good at building e-commerce sites which is one reason why Amazon has done so well. Clearly, forward thinking brokers get this and are investing in their own websites. But the bottom line is that building great customer experience online is hard, even if that’s all you focus on all day long. And it’s not cheap. Also, I think it takes a little while to start to be able to measure and see a return from a broker’s site in this industry. So you have to have the appetite to make longer term investments in technology. That can be a tough pill to swallow.

ActiveRain, Trulia, Zolve, Realtor.com and others have created social networks that use real estate professional content in order to better inform consumers and (theoretically) drive more business to these online professionals. Does your company have any plans to either create your own social network or engage in these existing networks? If so, how?

No, we don’t. Our sole dedication is on search and building the Roost platform for brokers. That means we have to say no to lots of other seemingly cool and sexy ideas. I won’t say that we’ll never expand past this focus, but right now, being excellent at search is enough of a challenge and something that we believe the market is lacking.

To date, many of the most successful real estate professionals do most of their marketing off-line. If one of these experienced real estate agents wanted to jump-start their online marketing, where would you recommend they begin?

It starts with your own Web presence. First, create a couple great websites and blogs that get across why you are the best at what you do in some specific ways. Ensure that there are all sorts of ways for consumers to contact you on these sites, and obviously make sure you have some excellent ways for consumers to search for homes on these sites (you knew we were going to say that). Second, get some tools that will help you actually see what return you’re getting from traffic to these sites. Where is the traffic coming from? What leads is it generating? When those are done, find targeted marketing vehicles that send traffic you can actually measure to these sites at budget levels you can afford.

Would it be different for an agent who is just starting out in the business? If so, where do you recommend they begin with their online marketing?

I don’t think it’s a different set of steps for new agents. In fact, I’d say following the above list is even more important for a new agent who may not have an installed referral base.

What do you see as some of the biggest changes coming to online real estate in the next two years?

I see three things on the horizon. First, I think there will be a shakeout of wheat from chaff. Businesses that can’t add real value to both the consumer and the Realtor in a way that proves profitable, are not going to make it. Second, I think there will be a real premium placed on great product. This industry needs to catch up (and we’re seeing that happen). Sites that offer excellent experience will rise to the top. Finally, like many, I think mobile is going to become a huge force in this industry both from a consumer and Realtor perspective.

UPDATE: Joel just published a video interview with Alex on Inman News that is definitely worth checking out!

Greg thinks Top Producer is vulnerable to…

the Zillow machine, but I seriously doubt it…

I 100% agree that someone could seriously improve on the existing CRM products for agents… During our after-lunch conversation this past week, I mentioned that if Trulia really wants to reach marketing dominance some day, they should offer a free, high-quality CRM to agents. But first, they’d need to start thinking of themselves as a company that provides marketing tools to agents, not just as an advertising platform (and interestingly, I get the impression that Rudy is already thinking this way!).

However, I don’t think Rudy is enough to make it happen for Trulia.

Why? Because to call either Trulia or Zillow a “marketing” platforms for agents would be to confuse marketing with advertising. The core DNA of both companies is to build consumer-oriented products and then find a way to integrate agent-advertising into those products. Other than the (very valuable) service of getting agents in from of consumers, I’m yet to see either company make the mental leap toward thinking what should they do to make the day-today business of agents easier or more efficient.

Just as it is in TP’s DNA to build products for agents, T and Z still live in a world of consumer-oriented products. My guess is that some of the executives at T or Z would view the development of pure agent-centric products (like a CRM) as selling-out the consumer experience of their core sites.

Nonetheless, if T or Z (or Roost!), decided to build some agent-centric projects, I’d argue that they’d likely open up some interesting business opportunities and potentially do a much better job endearing themselves to their core advertisers.

And a quality CRM is only one way they could go… CMS, market intelligence, and transaction coordination are three other (obvious) areas where existing agent-centric products are either seriously lacking features or the market is seriously under-served.

But just because the market is starved, doesn’t mean T or Z have any interest in coming to the rescue. As a matter of fact, inertia suggests to me that they are not even thinking about taking on this market and TP executives are right not to worry about Zillow.

(Are you having a hard time translating this post? A key can be found here.)

DotHomes Launches US Home Search Tool

I’m somewhat of a night owl, so I thought I’d have no problem waiting out the U.S. launch of the UK site DotHomes. But it is getting pretty late and the U.S. version of the site still hasn’t gone live. 🙁

However, TechCrunchUK published their story (with the not so promising comment: “The question, is will the US – packed to the gunnels with property search engines and in a sub-prime slump – actually notice?“), so I thought I’d give my analysis based on what I learned from a good, long conversation with one of their co-founders, their press release and a bit of playing on their UK site.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

  • They have slick crawling technology that does a great job indexing home listings from a variety of listing sites
  • They have a well developed one-box search that allows for all kinds of inputs and actually delivers decent results
  • They have a healthy sense of flair as demonstrated by their “I’m feeling wealthy” button

Whereas the recently released search site Roost.com appears to be going for the “kayak of real estate”, DotHomes is clearly going after the “google of real estate”. Like Google, they display only the teaser information on listings before sending you back to the original source (the crawled website) for more information. So far, so good!

However, I’m a bit skeptical this site will generate much interest or buzz in the U.S. for a number of reasons (none of which are fatal, but…):

  • DotHomes is following less than a week after the release of the Roost.com site, which got some great buzz around the RE.net for having a listings aggregation approach that made sense (i.e. get all the MLS listings!).
  • Besides entering a crowded space, DotHomes is also opting for a crawl approach to get listings, which will never compete in either comprehensiveness or timeliness with direct MLS feeds.(although it does allow for more freedom to add other listing types).
  • And finally, I didn’t get the impression that the DotHomes team really understood oddities of the existing US real estate market. Some of the background material they presented made me think they hadn’t really done their homework in terms of really understanding the complex dance of agents, brokers, brokerages and MLS organizations that allow listings to get placed on the internet in the first place.

With all that said, I’ve been following the cofounders of this site for quite some time (including back when the site was called Extate.com). Artemi Krymski and Douglas de Jager are extremely smart guys and I’m sure that after they get some U.S. experience with this launch, they’ll regroup, adjust their tactics a bit and continue to produce interesting products that will keep us talking.

Who gave Roost complete MLS listings?

Roost.com is a real estate start-up that just launched their real estate search site….

I had a chance to meet the Roost.com team at NAR in Vegas and was impressed with them… so I was downright excited when they offered to give me a preview of their site at RE Connect (see comment #1).

During my conversation with Alex Chang (their CEO), he mentioned multiple times the similarities between Roost and Kayak… And I think it is safe to say that they would like to be the Kayak of real estate which would not be so bad considering Kayak’s success (and Eric at TechCrunch notes that Roost even shares a few board members Kayak. I believe they also share major investors…).

Like Kayak, Roost has:

  1. Clean “web2.0” interface.
  2. AJAX “magic” that allows for listings to dynamically change as option boxes and sliders are changed.
  3. A CPC business model that charges the brokers/airlines for hits that go back to their website.

There’s also some real estate-specific goodies, like the photos that open up “inline” and the ability to highlight only specific listings (to be mapped).

However, the real gold is that by teaming up with brokers to display their IDX feed they are able to display complete MLS listings. (The RE/MAX search site provided by eNeighborhoods does something similar, but without all the bells-and-whistles of Roost)

And while Greg is right to highlight the irony of Brokers paying Roost to send leads back to them, he’s also right to point out that “The IDX systems available at a monthly cost in many markets are so poor that Roost may prove to be a potent weapon in a broker’s arsenal.” My take is that if Roost can deliver consumers, then brokers will be happy to pay on a CPC basis… and the reality is that it only takes one broker to give their IDX to Roost for them to enter a new market, so they should be able to expand pretty quickly.

As a side note, I’ve always thought that this approach to getting listings for a real estate tech start-up makes the most sense… and I remember suggesting to Sami that Trulia should take this approach as oppose to going broker-by-broker at our coffee session in Seattle a few years ago. (I don’t care much for the CPC monetization strategy, but in terms of getting listings, it seems like a no-brainer to give a little bit to a local brokers in each market to get their listings.).  However, I can’t blame Sami for not wanting to go down this route since the various MLS’ would have put so many restrictions around what Trulia could do that they’d never been able to release some of the things that they’ve done (like mixing MLS listings with foreclosure listings and opening up an API into their listing information).

Overall, I’d say that the Roost team has done a really good job with this first release! It’s a quality product that delivers as promised.

If I have one knock on the site it has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with marketing. I simply don’t think the site is different enough from existing search sites to warrant continued buzz.   I think they’ll get some great initial pick-up (considering it is a slick site with smart founders and investors), but unless they continue to deliver new features/announcements at a breakneck pace, I’m not sure how they keep people outside of the RE.net talking about the site beyond the next week or so.