how to make money on Facebook

Here’s a financial lesson for anyone who participates in online social media of any sort. It’s a cautionary tale about online privacy; not the stalker-type issues that most people are worried about; instead, it’s about how you have to be careful to reveal too much online about business dealings.  I was catching up with some relatives who sold their house a couple of months ago, and they told me an amusing story that showed how they “made money” using Facebook…on their home sale.

My cousin Stan and his wife Elaine listed their house about six months ago. They had remodeled it and priced it to sell in a market that had been hit very hard by the collapse in real estate prices.  Fortunately, they weren’t in any hurry to sell; the mortgage was paid off, they were already living in their new empty-nest retirement digs, and the old house had no association fees and only minimal costs (low property taxes, some minimal lighting and heat for the winter, etc.)

They finally received a good but not great offer, accompanied by the earnest money check. No issues came up, and the usual back and forth of the negotiating process went on.  Stan and Elaine are older than I am but (like me, I guess) have stayed right on top of “the internets.”  After they received the check – with the prospective buyers’ names and address on it – it took Elaine about 5 minutes to find the buyer on Facebook.  She was simply curious whether they were serious buyers or not.

What did she find? Posts on their Facebook wall about how they had found their dream home.  How they would pay anything to get it.  Links to pictures – gushing comments from their friends and family.  In short, drool splattered (electronically) all over Facebook.  The buyers were even inviting all of their friends over for a big party the weekend after closing.  Elaine found all of this – before the final price had even been agreed on!

As you can imagine, this gave Stan and Elaine (a) confidence that the sale would go through but also (b) a gargantuan advantage in the ongoing negotiations.  Instead of being tentative and worrying about offending the (still potential) buyers, they were able to become far more resolute about refusing any concessions, changes in the contract or even agreeing to make changes based on (relatively minor) inspection issues.  They didn’t become jerks about it, but they realized that they had an advantage over the buyers.  That advantage translated into a financial gain when they were able to push back on every change not in their favor.  Presumably the buyers never knew about Elaine’s visit to their Facebook page – maybe they assumed she was “too old” to be on Facebook – but more likely they simply never thought of Facebook being used that way.  Maybe they just assumed Stan and Elaine were tough negotiators.

Of course, a similar situation can arise outside of social media – I once made the mistake of being a little bit too complimentary while viewing a home with owners present – Bubelah’s done it, too. But we knew they knew in that situation.  Maybe someone more Facebook-savvy than me could tell me that there are ways of monitoring who views your wall/profile/whatever.  I’m not sure I’d trust that, though, because a more tech-savvy person always lurks around the corner, who can hide themselves from that monitoring, and on and on ad infinitum.

Keep your mouth shut online while the deal is ongoing. I can’t think of any reason that blabbing about potential deals online can help you.  From the other party finding out and being annoyed (prices being revealed, locations being outed) to simple financial loss, how can you benefit?  I am not a social media junkie, but I keep a low-key presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (as well as two forums, 48days.net and a blogging forum).  I have learned from Stan and Elaine’s amusing recollections of their home sale that it never hurts to assume that every single person on the planet may be reading your posts/tweets/wall messages, no matter how unlikely you might think that could be, and even the most harmless comments can have effects you couldn’t predict.

photo by kaibara87

38 comments

  • Wow! What a story! And it's sure a great topic for a blog post.

    Not ten minutes ago, I was reading a story in the Times's business section about self-service ads on Facebook. While the gist of the piece had to do with weird and off-topic ads, deep in the story the reporter quotes a photographer who says he invested $1,700 in Facebook ads over a few months and landed three weddings that paid him $3,500 each.

    It's an interesting medium. Personally I haven't gotten into it because it feels like a time-waster, and I'm already pretty talented at wasting time. But maybe those of us who think that way should reconsider.

  • Jo Jo Cocamo

    great post…thats powerful it's funny I've been making money online for a while now but I never thought of facebook as a way to promote my business directly.

  • You say that perhaps the buyer thought Stan and Elaine were “too old” to know about Facebook, or that they hadn't considered it being used in that way. More likely IMO is that the buyer got blindsided by one of Facebook's recent policy changes.

    When Facebook first started, the default for seeing ANY information about ANY user was “Friends only”. Elaine wouldn't have been able to see the buyer's wall posts at all. What changed? Facebook changed its defaults for who can look at information to “Everybody” for EVERYTHING. Unless you go into your settings and reset everything to “Friends only”, your entire account is now publicly-accessible information.

    If that buyer wasn't online-savvy enough to (1) understand Facebook's (not-very-clear) announcement about the changes and (2) go in and fix all the security levels that Facebook reset to “Everybody”, they may very well have thought that they were still posting things only their friends would be able to see.

    This is not to say that I think Elaine did anything wrong; she had every right to go looking for publicly-available information about the buyer. I just don't think you can take it as a given that the buyer was stupid or careless in their use of Facebook. They may instead have been betrayed by Facebook management's relentless pursuit of corporate dollars at the expense of its members' privacy.

    • @Lee: That's a great point, and in all fairness I doubt most of us have the time or patience to put up with the frequent changes in privacy policies for the websites we use on a daily basis. Facebook and Google (Buzz) have both been very intrusive recently. I didn't realize Twitter was throwing out my GPS location when I tweeted from my phone. And who knows how that information is sucked up into other search engines, etc.

      Any way you look at it, I think you have to assume that any personal information given out on the internet is POTENTIALLY viewable by every single person on the internet – it's the defensive way to think of things. It gives me pause when posting on this website, for example.

  • Wow, their actions on FB could have cost them thousands or more. Big Brother may not be watching everything yet but there are eyes and ears everywhere.

  • When M and I walked into the place we are now buying, she did the same thing. Talking about how she wanted it and how perfect it was. I had to shush her to maintain some kind of an edge. Too bad for those people who put all that up on Facebook….that's a HUGE disadvantage to be in.

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  • If I was buying a home, I wouldn't expect the seller to hide underneath the bushes of my current home eavesdropping in to any potential conversations I had about the house I was looking at. I wouldn't expect the seller to interview all of my friends.
    Maybe the buyers thought they had a reasonable amount of privacy. From a legal perspective they obviously don't, but I don't think it's right to be snooping your potential buyers on facebook. To me the real message in your post should be to not look up your potential buyers on facebook because it might put you in an ethical bind of having access to information you really shouldn't morally have.

    • @Dave: You're probably right that the buyers expected privacy, but I'll relate it to another situation. I was once working for a fashion/cosmetics company as a senior manager and a lot of my work involved risk management/competitive advantage, etc. I was on a business trip and passing through Milan, and while I waited in the business lounge two guys sat right across from me and proceeded to have a conversation with each other. They were managers at a competitor's company, and they discussed a subject which was not public knowledge. I was able to write up a memo and shoot it back to our marketing department as an fyi.

      Did they expect privacy? Yes. Did they have a right? No. Once you speak/write/post/etc. in a public forum or location – which Facebook is, for example – you lose the “right” to privacy. Your analogy isn't quite fair. If I lurk in the bushes outside your window, I'm trespassing. If I have a conversation in the neighborhood park that's overheard, well, it's a public place.

      The question of whether it's moral is up to the individual, I guess. If I hacked into someone's email, etc., I'd find that immoral. If I read their tweets on Twitter or posts on a blog or posts on Facebook I just don't see how morality is a question: these are public venues. I know I differ from you on that, but it's like saying that getting information from a newspaper article is the same as going into someone's mailbox and opening their mail. One's legal, moral, expected – the other is illegal, immoral, and breaks the expectation of privacy.

      But interesting to hear the counterpoint, for sure!

    • Dave, your analogy is incorrect. A blog (and Facebook is a form of blog) cannot and should not be considered “private property” in the same way that your house and yard are. If you put it on the web, you should consider it public information, period.

      There are a LOT of cautionary tales out there already about people who forgot, or never understood, that blogs are public. So they talk trash about their job and their boss sees it, or they talk about their sex lives and their parents see it, or in one particularly infamous example, they go into detail (under a pseudonym) about their sexual exploits with political figures they meet via work, only to have BOTH the boss and the lovers see it; consequences ensue. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Cutler)

      The take-home from this cautionary tale should be that it's never a good idea to put sensitive information of any sort in a blog, because blogs are public and you never know who might be passing by.

    • Facebook is increasingly being used to check out prospective employees and CURRENT employees. A guy in my company was just fired for a comment on his wall THAT HE DID NOT WRITE that was shown to the manager object of the comment. IT WAS NOT NICE!
      It is also used to check out fraud in insurance claims – it's STUPID to “friend” folks you don't know!
      I have a facebook account but visit infrequently. I paid attention to the email about privacy and immediately changed everything to private. At this point, it is useless to me.

  • That's interesting, but not surprising. If I had been the seller, I'd have done the same thing. Anyone concerned about privacy and security does not give Facebook their real name, and obviously, most people have no such concerns. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, but anyone trying to exploit me would never find me there. If you simply use an alias, you find yourself very free – and you can find your friends most of the time, since they are not so paranoid 🙂

  • To respond to some folks. Again I understand that legally you have no assumption of privacy on facebook. The sellers did nothing legally wrong.
    However in my opinion it is crossing a line when you look up somebody on facebook that is a complete stranger to you in this sort of situation. Do we really want a society where you have to watch your back all the time? They only looked at their personal page because they wanted information they weren't entitled to.
    Something is wrong when a buyer is getting a raw deal because the seller knows information they shouldn't. The problem is the buyer had info on their facebook page, and to me the blame is easy. Morally the blame is on the seller for eavesdropping into what isn't their business, not on the buyer for failing to anticipate that the seller would be sneaking onto their page.
    I'm sure in many countries around the world it would be considered disgusting what the sellers did, but in USA we have no honor system…most of us just are greedy and want what we can get no matter who gets hurt.

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  • I have many friends who are in the process of purchasing their first home and I've noticed that they announce details about the house they are in contract in on facebook. For one close friend this became a major embarrassment when she realized that her credit scores would prevent her from purchasing the home. All of her 300+ contacts on her facebook, including professional and political contacts could access her wall posts about the purchase process. When things went south it was like watching an online car wreck.

  • I suppose the flip side of this is that they could have put “fake” messages on Facebook… like “saw a house today… not perfect but if the price came down we might take it”.

    • @Joe: You know, that had not occurred to me but you are absolutely right. You could “bait” people if you suspected they might look for you on Facebook. Interesting idea!

  • Wow. That's certainly an interesting story!

    AFAIK, there is no way to monitor who views your Facebook profile. There are apps that claim to allow this tracking to occur, but I think it's a scam.

    The biggest change with Facebook's privacy policy is that now, when they say everyone, they mean EVERYONE. Not just everyone in your network or everyone of your friends.

    This “problem” is easily remedied by changing all settings to “Friends Only”.

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  • We own a small business, when we get applications and we are considering hiring them, we will goggle their name. if we have their email, we do a quick search on there email address also. many big company's do the same thing, it was once in new York times magazine. We got the idea from many of our customers that we have a close relationship with.

    Reason: you can see what the person is all about when there guards are down and what type of people they associate themselves with. it gives you a quick glance of there real character and life. it is amazing what they'll say in a interview compared to what they say on facebook or myspace.
    example: we had some individuals apply for a position that we were actually considering in hiring till we did a quick google on there name and email.
    well there profile came up,some have said on their sight how they like doing drugs and don't give a “blank” what people think about them, some said they have no respect for no one.”” there were a lot of other comments they said which i will not say.
    Well you can guess what happen to there application, it went straight to the trash can.
    We done this many times and it has saved us a lot of time from hiring people who we would not want associated with our company.

    We seen company's actually check there employees on-line. they would actually find sometimes an employee bashing there company, boss, ext,ext, who they work for. some would be talking about how they were looking for another job. then they wonder why they were laid off.lol.

  • Why in the why why why would people make their status updates public? Click the little lock button and make it permanent so that only your friends can see your updates!

    • I was wondering about this myself. You can make almost all your Facebook content private and only show it to people you accept as friends.

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  • I should think this is a success, these people have managed to use the internet to their advantage, there are lots of people who don't know what a browser is.

    Well done to them !

  • Another good reason…….. check out eff.org and look at a recent article posted about how the irs can use social networking sites to find out information on taxpayers! Your private affairs aren't so private.

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  • Hi Steve, This is one of the most useful pf topics I have read recently. I am a CFO of a real estate and investment company and have bought and sold 6 personal residences as well as my share of investment properties. The negotiation is ALWAYS TRICKY!!!! This is a wonderful “heads up” for both buyers and sellers. Wonderful take on the subject!

  • I once used FB to look up someone I was thinking of renting a house from – found out she was in dire financial straits and was telling her friends that she planned to let the house 'go' but needed a renter in there before she could close on her new mortgage. I avoided the place and a lot of headaches.

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    • Wow, I almost reported the e-mail of your comment as spam. Good thing I am careful to not report legit sites with spam comments.

  • Oh, so this is how you make money on facebook! Damn.

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  • Great post. I always enjoy reading about ways to make money on the net. My favorite method to profit with facebook is to advertise my aff links.
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  • What a sad world we live in when one cannot express excitement over finally being able to purchase their dream home, without someone else willing and ready to take advantage of them for it.

    I’d say it’s friends like yours that help to contribute to the greed and economic mess our society is in. How do people live with themselves? Is money the great justifier?

    I, on the other hand, believe that it ought to instead be the Golden Rule.

    • @Sean: Well, then, I certainly hope that the next time you enter into a transaction in our capitalist society that you attempt no gain for yourself. Pay asking price for your dream home, and don’t negotiate or attempt to reduce the price whatsoever. And don’t fault the seller if there’s a crack in the foundation or anything, because you wouldn’t like someone to point that out in a house you were selling. Sigh. Stop bringing religion into a discussion about capitalism – it’s nonsensical.