RISMEDIA, March 12, 2011—There’s no doubt about it—social media has evolved. Social media and social networking have gone from a way to connect with high school buddies and swap reviews about the new restaurant in town, to a powerful and viable marketing platform for business. What’s more, social media is growing and changing so fast, it’s hard for anyone to keep up.
Social media presents a great opportunity for real estate firms to leverage their visibility and reach a vastly larger group of people and, in turn, entice those groups to gravitate toward their brokerage.
Real estate firms can get into potential trouble with social media, however, because most brokers have not yet created strategies or documented plans as they have with traditional forms of marketing. In today’s world, where many like to litigate at the drop of a hat, real estate companies have become risk management-savvy as it relates to traditional forms of communication, staying abreast of the laws and interpreting them for agents. When it comes to social media, however, most brokers and managers are in the same part of the learning curve as their agents. The legal risks surrounding social media are uncharted waters for all of us.
The risks inherent in social media run the gamut from minor embarrassment to seriously damaging your firm’s reputation by simply saying something stupid, inadvertently bashing a competitor, posting incorrect information, bad grammar, inappropriate photographs, etc. That’s why the first step in creating a social media policy for your firm must focus on eliminating the “play time” and focusing on the content put forth.
I’m not suggesting you start over; I’m suggesting you go back and amend some things and make some further additions to your current company policy within the subsets that make sense for social media. Whether you call it your “code of content” or professional responsibilities, make it clear that you expect your team to, at all times, be honest and professional in representation of their company as it applies both to offline and online activities.
You need to talk to your team about posting things that are meaningful and thought provoking in a beneficial way that is respectful of viewers and listeners. They also need to be informed that the sharing of information needs to take into consideration the confidentiality issues of consumers, clients and the company. You need to make sure your associates are including sources and disclosures and disclaimers as necessary.
Use the following guidelines in your social media policy for all employees:
1. Sharing information. Explain what is meant by “posting,” then break that down into content, photography, statistics, etc. As it cascades down, make sure agents are being respectful, that their information is correct and that they are providing sources where appropriate.
2. Ethics. Make sure your policy has friendly reminders not to say something about another real estate agent through a Tweet, post, etc. This can always come back to bite you later on.
3. Legal cause and potential liability, such as antitrust. Make sure the policy clearly states that commissions cannot be discussed through social media. All copyright laws, such as those through Google images, must also be enforced.
4. Disclosures and disclaimers. If agents are expressing views more narrow in focus than perhaps the standard opinion, a disclaimer along the lines of, “My personal views do not reflect the views of the company,” might need to be enforced.
5. Approval of social media marketing materials. Just as you have rules governing newspaper ads and newsletter templates, there should also be policies in place regarding blog sites and websites to ensure they meet company standards.
Be sure to keep your company policies concerning social media dynamic, so that you’re able to make timely changes as the medium evolves. Because of the vast exposure involved with social media, brokers must be more proactive to ensure their company always gets painted with the same brush.
George “Gee” Dunsten, president of Gee Dunsten Seminars, Inc., has been a real estate agent and broker/owner for almost 40 years. Dunsten has been a senior instructor with the Council of Residential Specialists for more than 20 years. To reach Gee, please e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.