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Why are you on Facebook?

January 1, 2010

REALTOR® associations reveal the inspiration and challenges of embracing the world’s top social networking site.

Facebook is the most popular social networking site on the Internet and hundreds of REALTOR® associations are participating for the same reason: two-way communication with members. Through sites such as Facebook, associations are learning more than ever about what’s important to their members. Here’s more from REALTOR® associations on their Facebook initiatives.

Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®
Doesn’t everyone have a Facebook (FB) page? In this day and age, we feel it is a great benefit for us to participate in the media in which our members communicate. We interact with members, exchange information and ideas, provide them with links to timely articles, and post events on our page to enhance member participation through photos and comments. The number of fans we have is steadily growing and extends to more than just our members. We also have members and staff from other associations who participate on our page. Challenges? I have seen other associations that create a FB page and don’t update it on a regular basis, which can only serve to frustrate members. (members: 435)

Columbus Board of REALTORS®
We’re on FB because it allows us to engage in instant and direct communication with our members, which is something they expect. Although it could never take the place of a traditional board Web site, it is a great tool to use in conjunction with the rest of our communication media. Not only that, FB provides a forum through which members can connect to each other. It also fosters a dialogue and feeling of inclusiveness that is not as easily attained by a traditional Web site. Challenges? It is tough to walk the line between remaining conversational and friendly, while at the same time coming across as appropriate and professional. Consistency is also an issue because, while difficult to maintain, it is vital to keeping the membership engaged. (members: 625 main membership, 255 YPN)

Greater Louisville Association of REALTORS®
We’re on FB to communicate with our members more effectively. It is a great avenue for getting out timely info and reminders without making members feeling like we are spamming them with constant e-mails. It allows us to share news and pictures easily and get instant feedback. The news feeds that go out to members’ own FB pages are great for distributing our info so members don’t need to come visit our actual FB page. Our members feel more in control of this medium because they choose to be a member of our group. It is easy for them to use it to communicate directly with us. Challenges? Sometimes someone who is not happy about a situation can post negative comments that everyone in the group sees. (members: 500)

San Mateo County Association of REALTORS®
The real estate community is slowly starting to see the value of social networking and our younger members are looking to our page, not our newsletter, for information. Our page allows us to post information and pictures quickly and interact directly with the members. Also, having a page shows our members that we are using social networking to market our services and benefits to our customers . . . just as we are training them to do! Challenges? We are still finding our way in terms of strategy and rules for the medium so everyone feels that they have some level of control over the message that goes out. Recently, we had a member ask us to take a picture down, which made us reevaluate our rules for posting pictures. We created a social media strategy to make sure that the pictures we post are evaluated for appropriateness to ensure that our members feel we are using professionalism in what we put out on the Internet—especially when it has their faces on it. (members: 250)

New Jersey Association of REALTORS®
We’re on FB to connect with members and let them know about upcoming events; important association, market, and legislative news; and member benefits. It also makes us more visible to the public and allows us to connect with REALTORS® we may not be able to meet in person or contact using other media. We also get honest feedback on events, issues, new products, and services. Challenges? It requires monitoring of comments and can be difficult to garner meaningful interaction with your page. (members: 1,433)

Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS®
I steer members to the FB page as much as possible so they will get used to going there to see upcoming events and other posts. This ensures that we are not constantly bombarding them with e-mail reminders. We have a group page, to which I try to post at least once a day, more if necessary. I find it interesting that I get the most -responses when I write something about the unusual snow we had or some local event that is happening and not so much about real estate itself. Plus, I can immediately correct something
that has gone out in an e-mail blast and post pictures after an event, which is very popular. Challenges? -People do not post on the site itself and the word does not get out to members who are not part of the FB group. It is difficult to post every day and to put in all the events that are available in any given month. It has been difficult to build a sense of community. (members: 415)

Arizona Association of REALTORS®
We’re on FB to communicate timely information quickly, such as an article that’s generating buzz in the blogosphere or an upcoming event. We also use our FB page to encourage constructive member-to-member interaction by posing questions or highlighting (somewhat) controversial topics (e.g. “is social media worth it?”). We can also showcase the fun side of the association with event photos, association-to-member interactions, or light-hearted posts. We rarely put up a post that doesn’t get at least one “like” or comment. Challenges? When there’s no response, it’s a sign for me that either the timing was bad or the content was boring. (members: 1,609)

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
We’re on FB because it’s where our members are. Posts to the wall of our page regularly generate more than 100,000 impressions and Facebook has quickly become one of the top sources of web traffic to our REALTOR.org pages. REALTORS® are on FB to connect with their friends, family, and yes, even their association. We’ve found this channel to be an opportune place to showcase the best of what we have to offer our membership. (members: 46,000)

Saint Paul Area Association of REALTORS®
We think it is important to touch base with the “younger” segment of our membership through this social media tool, although we are finding that it is catching on with our “less younger” members as well. It’s a great way to send updated association information out to members who then receive an alert that something new has been posted. We like using this for our education events, stats, videos, etc. Challenges? It’s one more place to post items and I need to remember to go out to the page to do it! Also, it’s a lot of work to keep content fresh and exciting. (members: 200)

Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®
Simply put, we need to be where our members’ eyes are. If they are on FB anyway, connecting with clients, colleagues, and friends, then we should be there, too. E-mail is great, but if they don’t see our e-mails or don’t open them, that’s a problem. On FB you can begin a conversation and get good feedback. You can share smaller pieces of information that might not be appropriate for a mass e-mail but are still relevant and interesting. You can also reach nonmembers and show them why they should become members, in addition to reaching consumers. Challenges? You can’t limit fan pages to any single audience, so there is the potential that people you would rather not have as fans become fans. And, of course, keeping the conversation going, which means if the members aren’t doing it, staff needs to prime the pump. (members: 1,043)

Missouri Association of REALTORS®
We have five FB groups—Missouri Association of REALTORS®, a YPN group, a local board/association AE group, an RPAC-MO Fundraising Forum group, and a Missouri Business Week (a high school summer business program we offer) page. We maintain these groups because it’s part of our mission to provide venues where our members and local AEs can have open dialogue with each other. Our Young Professionals Network has great participation because these younger members are more likely to participate on a regular basis in this type of social media. Challenges? Keeping content relevant and updated. (members: 371 main membership, 280 YPN)

Do this before you join Facebook
Even though you can set up a Facebook page for your association in just a few minutes, plan before you leap. Establish a social media strategy and social media policies for your association. NAR has crafted social media guidelines—from proper comment etiquette to advice on how to moderate discussions—that state and local associations can adopt (see www.REALTOR.org/pages/eomag.nsf/SocialMediaGuidelines).

How do I know my members are on Facebook?
A member survey of social media usage is an essential starting point before diving in online.

You can also try new services, such as Flowtown.com, that use your member e-mail list to craft reports showing every social network your members are a part of.

Do you need a Facebook page or a Facebook group?

Facebook offers three types of participation: profiles, pages, and groups—although the platform continuously makes changes to how each type functions.

According to Facebook.com, profiles are intended for individuals only. Any association set up as a profile risks FB deactivating the entire profile for not following the terms of use.

Associations can be established on FB as a page (which is similar to a Web site homepage and is meant to represent your association) or a group (which is akin to a listverv in that messages from group members and the association land right in participants’ e-mail inboxes). Associations can also have several pages and several groups for different target audiences. For example, REALTOR® Young Professional Groups are popular.

Groups are currently the most popular REALTOR® association selection. However, pages are gaining popularity among associations because they can be enhanced with applications (such as custom graphics, embeddable flash or video, RSS, and event listings) that help the association communicate with and engage their members. Associations’ pages also are indexed by external search engines, including Google, so they’re easy to find, unlike groups. One plus of groups is that they’re designed to give members of the group more power to communicate with one another. Unlike pages, groups can be private, members-only areas, or open to anyone.