I just witnessed an social media assassination this week as a real estate developer was forcibly removed from its purchaser formed Facebook fan page – a page formed by and for the buyers of a specific condominium.  [read on for the actual letter below].

To the defense of the developer, their removal was a very difficult decision by the admins.  Although they valued the contributions of the developer, they also recognized that their very presence hindered the community from free speech.  And so the developer got the boot.  And whereas this may  be a tough pill for a developer to swallow – it does not close the door of social media opportunities facing them.

For those who haven’t bought a new condo in Canada, the time from purchase to occupancy can be 2 – 3 years as the developer gains the percentage of sales required to proceed with the build.   Much of the developer communication during that 2-3 year period can be legal – leaving enthused purchasers starved for more information.  They can not wait for ‘meet the neighbour’ night to learn about how to navigate their purchase.    Indeed, having mapped the customer experience for home/condo buying from my recent past, the best areas for engagement go well beyond the actual purchase – which is, unfortunately, the stage where many developers stop spending money on their marketing communications.

Truthfully, lean developers are not easily involved in social technologies and customer engagement.  The process of buying of home – in the sky or on the ground – is woefully complicated and much of the marketing communications is well guarded to protect against unforeseen legalities.  Many companies (indeed some that I’ve consulted with in healthcare) are so afraid of client privacy and regulation that they avoid social networking.   And yet, there is always a route to market.  I’d rather see a well researched, thought out social networking strategy that says ‘do nothing’ then ignore the rising needs and behaviours of the market.

Social networking is wonderful option to bridge the gap but, as many brands have discovered, wading in these waters can be very difficult.   There is a right approach to social media and, as much as I love Facebook corporate fan pages, this isn’t the only place an organization can participate.   Online video, twitter, RSS feeds and the very underestimated corporate blog as plausible options for a developer – and I say this with experience.   Of course, establishing the facebook fan page before your purchasers do is an option that would have to happen well in advance of the first condo sale, I suppose.  But stopping purchasers from forming their own safe haven may be unpreventable.  What is clear – is that the community is alive, wired and engaged and so more marketing engagement would resonate well with this group.

On the side of the community – I do admire the admins below for what must have been a very difficult decision.  The role of the admin is to create a comfortable place for the community to grow.  Usually that means deleting a lot of wall page self promotion but in this case, the stakes were much higher.  And in rejecting the developer, I think the admins send a strong message to their community as well as lessons for the rest of us who manage facebook pages.  A reminder to hold true to the goals of the community and to always keep them in check.

So for those who want to learn more, the assassination went like this… [names removed, page protected]

We wanted to let you know that after much consideration (months) and many messages from group members, we have come to the conclusion that [John Doe] as Sales and Marketing Manager for [noname developer]  and their participation in the group increasingly conflicts with the purpose of the [noname condo development] and Facebook Group by creating a power dynamic, loyalty, and ethical dilemma that is only fixed by their removal.

Many members expressed that they feel the exchange of information is extremely lopsided and that the direct presence of our developer on the Facebook page discourages honest discourse among members for various reasons – including fear of reprisal. With this change we hope all members feel free to contribute to the discussion by posting on the wall and getting involved. In the past week alone, there has been a ton of new information posted on how to save tons on electric bbq’s vs buying from [noname], amenity spaces, group buying of window coverings and of course, discussion about occupancy dates. With pdi’s hopefully starting in x followed by Closing sometime next x, this forum will become even more essential and the ability to discuss issues that are at odds with the developer, in a private group setting, will become extremely important.

We want to stress that this was nothing personal against [noname] and has nothing to do with anything they posted. It is simply a matter of purchaser privacy and the ability to exchange information freely.

We have communicated our thanks and appreciation for all of the information and photos they have contributed to the group and told them would very much like to continue adding their contributions – in the form of photos, updates, upgrades or marketing materials and will gladly post any information they send us on the site.

Sincerely,  The Admins