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Public Social Media Policy: Does Your Office Have One?

Written by Jim Crawford on Sunday, 25 July 2010 7:00 pm
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Have you ever heard the phrase "Restraint of Tongue and Pen?" Well in the new age of the social media craze in real estate it should be clearly understood by all because there are major consequences to what we place in writing and post on the Internet for all to see.

Be careful what you say is sage advice for anyone, and even more so in what you Blog or comment about online. The recent story of a real estate Blogger and his broker being sued by a developer should've reached the ears of many in our industry, but I am sure it hasn't. It should be viewed as a wake up call that we will be held accountable for what is placed online either by ourselves or our agents. Agents need to understand the basics of what we can or cannot put into writing, and then share it with the world. If they do not, they may find themselves in a similar uncomfortable life changing legal event.

What is Social Media? Social media are latest wave of online Medias that include many items such as: Blogging, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, Linkedin and so many more. They add a fluid twist to a static real estate Internet website with a variety of media offerings such as online podcasts, images, videos, and webinars. Unlike a static website they offer Blog topics of choice, and offer the opportunity of dialogue to a readership. Their interconnectivity to other platforms and RSS feeds make these forms of media totally viral.

In layman's terms viral means that means the subject matter can have a very broad reach in an extremely short timeframe. It is a great tool if you are using it with a marketing objective in mind. However, a disparaging comment, a false or a baseless accusation can do a lot of damage in a short about of time, and may even be picked up by a news feed.

The social media and Blogging craze is hottest and latest fad in real estate these days. Like other fads in real estate there are well attended conventions, boot camps, and featured speaker events. The only problem is that most agents really don't understand what it is all about. They pre-occupied with followers for their "Tweets and Twitter" and to gain a greater audience they may put too much opinion and detail online. They pay too much attention to stuff, and not enough on substance for the consumers or readers are really searching for.

"Watch what you say!" The problem with the Internet is the viral reach of what we write about. Our opinion and posts can be easily found globally 365 /24/ 7 and remain online almost indefinitely even if they are lacking in fact or truth. The problem arises for the agent and their broker when someone reads the post and disagrees with your public position that may involve their personal privacy, reputation, and professional image. If a reader feels they have been wronged, they may seek to correct the wrong and hire an attorney to represent their interests because they have every right to do so. The problem for most brokers is they do not have any social media policies in place that may advise their agents on what is appropriate and what is not!

While the main thrust of social media is supposed to increase our online presence, and close us more business…if done incorrectly it can cost us and our brokers a lifetime of pain. First of all not everyone is a writer and secondly most persons do not think before they write or commit something to print. Social media should not be a platform to discuss private details of client's transactions. Nor should it be a place for character assassination of a builder, closing attorney, inspector, or competing agents. Agents in a rush for online social acceptance routinely borrow art, photographs, or copyrighted materials. The problem is that that law does not look at this as "Borrowed" it is theft, plagiarism, and trademark or copyright infringement. There are also severe monetary and punitive damages for the actions of the agents, and their brokers.

It is also wrong for agents will talk about deals online that and break the trust of their fiduciary privilege with their clients. Yet this is an everyday media event when an agent puts in writing something for all to see that is in direct contrast to the real estate laws which we are compelled to abide by...the privacy of the client. There are ethical and legal questions about bad mouthing the competition, bashing a product or service or put in writing something that perhaps only a judge an jury will be able to sort out. Therefore it is imperative that brokers give direction to their agents what they can or should not write about online. It would be wise for them to formulate a social media office policy that try's to cover all the variables for an online marketing presence. A Social Media Policy will put to rest any ambiguity their agents may have and keep the brokers and agents from getting into hot water.

Broker Policy Defines Agent Actions. Brokers are charged by the state to review all advertising of their agents and are responsible for their agents' actions. If an agent discusses real estate, pitches a listing, gives real estate advice to the public…it is an ad and subject to broker review. The Internet, Blogging, or social media are all forms of advertising and are not excluded from the broker's legal obligation. Privacy, trust, and fiduciary to our clients are protected under the law for those that we serve.

Items to be addressed in a Brokers Social Media Policy should include:

  • Social Media Marketing - Web, Blogs, Twitter and Networking etc. Do's & Don'ts!

  • Advertising properties - Disclosure of Licensure and Affiliation.

  • Whose Property can you advertise?

  • Compliance to state real estate license law for advertising

  • Fair Housing laws, and correct verbiage.

  • Copyright laws - plagiarism

  • Defamation of character

  • Fiduciary to clients

  • Identification of licensure and license affiliation

  • Liable

  • Making False or unsubstantiated claims

  • Personal opinion

  • RESPA

  • Slander
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