Are Facebook Groups A Threat to Online Classifieds?

Classifieds are making a comeback in India and trying to fix the broken online classifieds market. But are smaller Facebook groups threatening them?

Classifieds are making a comeback in India. After a lean period, large sites like OLX & Quickr as well as newer startups like Housing.com are trying to fix the broken online classifieds market. From time to time, you’d hear big numbers being talked about.

 Away from all the publicity, small groups are forming on social networking sites to enable peer to peer buying and selling, an area traditionally dominated classified sites like OLX & Quickr.

Sample this:

  • OLX – 60 million/month

  • Sulekha – 25-30 million/month

  • Sulekha Ads & Responses – 35 million/year

Facebook groups and pages like Second to None & Flats Without Brokers clearly don’t have a patch on these numbers. But a small and dedicated set of users are making it a very effective way of sharing information.

So what really makes these pages click among users?

Real Estate Sites in India

The ‘Community’ & Trust Factor

Most moderators agree that what makes a Facebook style classified is the sense of community and trust that it allows users. Pages begin as an idea and a small community, before branching out into their bigger current selves.

Take the case of Second to None (STN), a ‘garage sale’ style FB page that connects over 26k members from across Bangalore. Started 2.5 years ago by Anu Gummaraju and 2 friends, she feels that what makes STN click is the fact that it eliminates anonymity. STN is a platform to sell used goods.

“There is some sense of trust among the users in these pages. Classifieds like OLX, Quikr etc, have anonymous profiles which can be created by just about anyone.” she says. She feels that there is no method to verify a person’s identity and authenticity as a Facebook platform may provide.

Those Who Moderate

But it’s not all about trust. There is a good deal of moderation involved to get things on track, clean and cut through the noise. Any good Facebook group that wishes to grow its user base must have a committed set of moderators to control spam and fake profiles.

The moderators at Flats Without Brokers (Bangalore), are such, especially considering that most owners and tenants seek to bypass the realty agent. “Portals like 99acres, Magicbricks have no proper moderation mechanism, we make sure that no matter how big the group is, that we scan all the threads and profiles for brokers and spam.” says the moderator. The page claims to see and moderate 50% fake profiles of the 250 people who apply to join daily. Most of these groups also depend on user inputs to tackle spam, especially when it reaches large proportions.

The Interactivity

Which bring us to the next point. User interactivity is cited as another reason for the success of such groups. According to the groups, the fact that users can talk to each other, report spam and discuss common issues is something that is unseen in normal classifieds pages. Put Me In Touch (PMIT), an over 26k strong FB page puts the focus on this aspect.

Having begun in 2011, with a member size of 25 people, the page let’s just about anyone search for just about anything they want and ‘put in touch’ with a person/expert/dealer of said product. A classic use of the huge networking and interactivity that Facebook provides, this page is constantly abuzz and mainly functions thanks to the huge member participation.

It has something for a buyer, seller or simply an observer who chooses to window shop. “We’ve seen over 10,000 posts materialise into real transactions. Thanks to the interactivity, we have been able to compile lists like a ‘100 best places to eat under Rs 100, with all the places and ideas being crowdsourced.” says Noopur Raval, founder of the page. But Noopur is not too happy with the way Facebook has limited the growth and user interface of such pages. One of the main reasons cited for Facebook treating groups like a “step-child” is the lack of new-age UIs and syncing with twitter.

The Biggest Reason Why Someone May Still Pick an E-Classified?

What You Look For is What You’ll Get

Let’s face it, while Facebook Groups does have something economical and win-win for everyone, it IS time-consuming and the choice is limited at best. To paraphrase Satya Prabhakar, CEO, Sulekha.com – not everyone is looking for something you are selling, nor is everyone selling exactly what you are looking for.

Classifieds sites offer great search features that make it easier for you to narrow down on what you are looking for. This is a key feature missing on social media groups.

“Say you need to rent a 3 bhk with certain facilities, certain type of kitchen etc. The search using Facebook becomes very difficult. In classifieds you can search for exactly what you want. A critical volume to search given the choice of attributes you want in a product is very important to a user.” says Satya.

The company doesn’t see Facebook [groups] as a threat, he adds.

While Facebook groups are largely limited by the UI of FB groups in itself, being a non-profit means that the worst that can happen to any such group, in light of equally efficient business from the e-classifieds space, is the shutting down of a page. And it also looks like there are 26k growing odd members in each of these groups who are willing to spend time looking if it means eliminating uncertainty.

Classifieds meanwhile, have a more important business lesson to learn in this era of networking – how to build trust, community and interactivity. Sulekha already seems to be taking a cue though, with an active community page that seems to mimic Facebook’s interactivity and now also claim to have listings on their Facebook page. When will the rest use it to their advantage?

Recommended Read: Moving Cities, And How Housing Portals Fail Its Users

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