Facebook and Privacy

What is the point of having a network in Facebook if your privacy is set to “everyone” for “everything”? While Facebook has had a fanstastic run-up in usage, they may have made a serious tactical error with their revised approach to privacy.

We have all seen the charts showing the change in share from MySpace to Facebook – showing at once the power of creating a “better moustrap” at Facebook as well as the true lack of any sustainable barrier to competition in the market.

It had always seemed to me that Facebook had orginially developed so many users because it felt “safe” to share private elements of your life to a private network of your friends. If those customers feel tricked into exposing their life to strangers, any sense of brand affiliation will be lost. In trying to

The NYTimes posted a nice summary of these changes in Facebook privacy settings.

Mashable reminds us:

“Facebook is pushing itself to become more public than ever, and that has a lot of potential upsides. However, they should continue to keep users in mind by giving them options to control the information being broadcast.”

Meanwhile, if you have not modified your Facebook privacy settings, maybe now would be a good time to do that…

Apartment Rental and Residential Home Shopping Patterns

Sometimes you can see patterns of behavior and just can’t explain why. In this case we have 2 sites that serve the residential real estate markets – ApartmentFinder.com serving the rental consumers and RealEstateBook.com serving residential home buyers. I know that there is limited overlap in these markets, but what I find interesting is there is a very different set of shopping behavior data that we see between these two destinations. Here below are normalized views of the past 6 weeks of lead data

It seems that real estate shoppers are always interested in real estate information. While there is a gradual decline in demand as the week progresses from Sunday to Saturday, most days are about the same volume of lead production.

TREB leads per day

However, apartment shoppers like to shop during the week – especially at the start of the week. The Monday/Tuesday phenomenon repeats itself almost every week of the year (except holidays).

AF leads per day

If there are any takeaways from these patterns I walk away with these:

1 – There is never a bad time to advertise for real estate.

2 – If you are marketing an apartment rental, time your prgrams to capture that Monday/Tuesday lift.

I am curious to hear any theories why we might consistently see this pattern!

Brand Loyalty and Lifetime Warrantee

When I think about the brands that I am loyal to, most get that loyalty for a broad combination of emotional and feature/benefit connections. I have played with Wilson tennis racquets since I was a kid swinging a wood ProStaff. I prefer Gatorade to any other sports drink because, well, it’s Gatorade. Given a choice between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, I go blue (sorry ATL friends). But I have recently had singular experiences that have earned my loyalty for the forseeable future.

On a recent trip to Atlanta, my 5 year old TravelPro rollerboard broke. The retractable handle would not retract (ugh!). I had to quickly figure out how to disassemble the bag and remove the handle to get it into the overhead compartment. In the back of my mind, I remembered “Lifetime Warrantee” and TravelPro. When I got back to NYC, a quick Google search and a telephone call later I had a return authorization. A walk down the block and my bag was off to Boca Raton to get repaired.

Three weeks later and I am back on a plane. My TravelPro bag is back in the overhead – fully repaired – with a new handle. But more than the new handle it has new zipper pulls (some were bent/broken), new wheels (did not even know I needed them), and a cleaned interior. I don’t think I will go elsewhere for luggage for a very long time.

Sometimes, it takes only one great experience to earn a loyal customer for life.

Yelp for Apartments

A while back we introduced a cool social media integration feature on the ApartmentFinder.com site – any of our advertisers can have their Yelp reviews displayed on their property details pages. All they need to do is let us know and we have integration already built. VERY FEW of our advertisers have signed up for the service.

Geoff Donaker, the COO at Yelp, was speaking at a conference that I attended in December and I mentioned to him that many of our customers were still on the fence with how to deal with review sites. Specifically I told him that when it came to our two company’s integration, no-one seemed to want to be “First”. Both of us agreed that there needed to be more industry outreach in order to establish a comfort level in incorporating these unfiltered consumer sentiments in marketing materials.

To that end, NCI is scheduling for February 5th a joint webinar for anyone of our advertisers to hear directly from Geoff and the team at Yelp about how their product works and their understanding of how consumers use their site. It should be a great educational event, and I am thrilled that we can bring it to the industry.

In advance of that session, I thought that it made sense to describe the WHY behind our integration with Yelp.

1 – For the CONSUMER…

We look at the downstream sites for all of the ILS’s on services like ComScore and HitWise. The rating sites (Yelp, ApartmentRatings, etc.) are always in the top 10. The consumer is actively seeking this information and making them run around to get it does not make sense. Yelp, in particular, does a good job of screening out the bogus reviews so that the review content is particularly useful. We like the way that they can catch a competitor trying to seed bad sentiment and delete those posts. We also like that they can catch businesses that write “pretend’ reviews, promoting themselves. Here is more about the Yelp Automated Filter.

2 – For the ADVERTISER…

We looked at the reviews on Yelp, and they are remarkably positive. I think that it is a credit to the screening algorithms that overly negative, spammy reviews don’t seem to be a significant part of the content mix. According to Yelp, “Yelpers have written over 8 million local reviews, over 85% of them rating a business 3 stars or higher”.

I am very interested to see if we get a big turn-out for the event and most importantly to see what kind of questions our industry has for the guys at Yelp.

Exciting Month at NCI

The interactive team at NCI has been BUSY!  December has a lot to be proud of…

  1. We released our new version of realestatebook.com – tons of cool new functions like a property comparison page, cool new agent profile pages, and simplified navigation.   The designs and features were driven by our web analytics.  Congratulations to Travis, our development team our design team and our IT group.  Great work!
  2. We just released our beta version of apartment finder at beta.apartmentfinder.com.  This radically redesigned site is the work of a great web design team, a core business focus of efficient lead generation and a dedicated effort from Cathy, our development teams our IT teams our web marketing teams and our SEO advisors.
  3. We released our apartmentfinder iPhone app with a ton of unique features.  Congratulations to Melissa and our development and IT teams!
  4. We released our Digital Sherpa offering, our CRE Shrepa offering and rolled-out our Design Sherpa offering. Again congratulations to Melissa, our IT teams, our Sherpa teams and Eric and Adam for bringing these offerings to market.

Since this has turned into a bit of a shout out – just wanted to say that without the focusedd support of Miriam, Frank and their teams in IT, our suppliers and advisers we would never have been able to move this mountain of work…

Talk about doing more with less!  This is a great way to close out 2009.  Time to recharge the batteries for a dynamic 2010.

Real Estate Brands

The real estate market is quite a mess. Volume is down, prices are down, information transparancy is up, brand and broker support of agents is way down, marketing options are increasing, banks are selling many of the homes on the market – with all of the turmoil where are we likely to see winners and losers? It appears that big franchisors are likely at greatest risk right now.

Franchisors like Realogy seem to have the biggest challenges ahead of them. As listings and data has proliferated, brands have lost relevance. As the biggest brands have been financially squeezed, they have reduced their level of investment in marketing, support, systems and innovation. It is evident in the transaction volumes – it was not long ago that the Realogy companies claimed 25% of the total domestic US sides – now I believe that they claim more like 18%. This is while Relogy has expanded the number of brands in its portfolio with the acquisition of Sothebys and the launch of Better Homes and Gardens.

You can see more evidence of trouble in the latest 10Q. For the 1st 9 months of the year, Realogy participated in 719,682 sides. It cost the franchisees (brokers and agents) $257 per transaction to carry the brands. If you think of the brand as being a marketing expense, is this affordable? I have heard that a good rule of thumb is that roughly 20-30% of brokers leads come from brand websites or brand marketing. So the cost per sale moves from $257 per transaction to more like $1,000 to $1,200 per transaction. That seems like a pretty expensive marketing relationship. We know that there has been a defection of some of the better agents to independent brokerages and to smaller brands that take a smaller cut. I would expect this trend to continue. I would say that unless the big brands can figure out how they can lend a real competitive advantage to their franchisees, they will experience a continued erosion of their position in the market. I know that there are a lot of smart people at these companies trying to figure out how to create better brand relevance and leverage the economies of scale they can bring to their customers – I would not count them out. But the chips do seem to be stacked heavily against right now.

Apartment Features

Supply and demand… I took a quick look at two datapoints from November and found a bit of a mis-match. I looked at what features people were selecting in their search criteria; the facets they had selected and I looked at the amenities our advertisers claim in the description of their properties. I am sure that there is seasonality to this demand picture (you are less likely to ask for a pool in November than in July), but it is still interesting data. So, first the demand, here are the relative count of searches with our top 10 parameters selected. I took out the actual count numbers (the scale) so as not to release proprietary data. But it is a very interesting picture – pets & washer/dryer really dominate the demand (after, of course, geography and price).

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The Supply picture is dominated by pools and fitness centers with laundry relatively under represented. While the chart below is just a count of properties with each of these ammenities, the picture is even more curios when you look at is as a % of all properties advertised. For example, 60% of our properties have a pool and sub 50% allow pets. Seems like allowing pets may be cheaper, and could be more appealing than having a pool.

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