Public Social Media Policy - A Must for Real Estate Brokers
By James Crawford
The most recent new story of a Florida real estate agent blogger and his broker being sued for "Libel" by a developer for 25 million dollars is a sobering story of the unintended consequences of Blogging. Brokers need to take very good notes on this story, and form some strategies or office policy to avoid being involved in a mess like this. We must remember that we are real estate agents and are not investigative reporters. Hearsay, innuendo, direct comments and inference may be very damaging to others especially when posted in print or media...then the problem is compounded.
We live in a high tech age and social media is the new buzz word or hottest fad these days. There are conventions, camps, and well attended seminars, but not many of those attending or participating really understand what it is all about. Too many agents are pre-occupied with "Tweets and Twitter" and need to worry more about their actions and online behavior. Social media can include many items such as Blogging, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, Linkedin and so many more. It is the latest real estate craze that is supposed to increase our online presence, and close us more business. The idea is that the public, your network of friends or associates will learn more about you and think of you when they need your services. So far so good? The problem is a few agents may have figured out how to use it effectively while others are out there just blasting away writing about everything. Agents on-line routinely bad mouth construction and name the builder; they will talk about clients and competition while trashing the reputation of others! On any given day... they will put in writing materials that they have copied and pasted from others, and use it as their own, and use copyrighted pictures or photos that they have no right to use. Have you ever heard the saying, "Restraint of tongue and pen?" Well with the advent of viral marketing, social media can magnify their errors on steroids for the entire world to see! The problem will arise when someone they have wronged finds it! Then what?
Some agents will talk about a deal online that they are working and break the trust of their fiduciary privilege with their clients, bad mouth the competition, a product, service or put in writing something that is in direct contrast to the real estate laws which they are compelled to abide by. To compound this, other agents will comment back and forth on the same issue, and the topic can become very volatile.
It is very scary that most agents do not understand their actions may cause irreparable harm to others. Once a blog or comment is in writing, it is fair game for all to read. The Internet is an online platform that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is global in nature. What you write for the most part is also available in archive. So even long after the post is written, it may be retrieved by others. Why is this important to know? Under the law real estate brokers are responsible for the actions of agents that are licensed under them. In most states, a broker is to review and approve all advertising before it is published. The Internet is no different. A Blog by a real estate agent is considered advertising unless the Blog is totally a personal Blog that mentions nothing of real estate.
Slander, libel, plagiarism, defamation of character, invasion of privacy, hate speech, spamming, copyright infringement, violations of real estate law, misinforming the public with wrong or erroneous information or data, violations of Fair Housing Laws, RESPA violations, and making false accusations against others may be the basis of a major lawsuit for a Broker that is unaware of what his agents are writing on-line. This is one case where ignorance is not bliss, but rather a clear indication that the Broker in charge is not fulfilling their responsibilities under the law. Once any of the above has occurred...it's too late to correct the wrong.
Since the Internet is here to stay, it is more important in this day and age that each broker develops an "On-Line Policy" for social media. This will include the "Do's and don'ts" for on-line writing and behavior of the agents that are under the broker and guided by his policy. An on-line policy will lay out the specifics of what an agent can or cannot do on-line. First a good on-line office policy should adhere and comply to all state real estate license law, and state law, the NAR Code of Ethics, but it should not end there. Agents need to use common sense before anything is put into written form, and their broker should be reviewing their Blogs, and on-line activities as they relate to real estate. Agents and brokers need to understand fully that once anything is put into writing it will be their own words that can convict them. If a real estate broker is proactive and develops an on-line policy and then addresses this issue with agents that are under their tutelage the consequences.
Items to be addressed should cover:
- Advertising properties
- Compliance to state real estate license law for advertising
- Copyright laws - plagiarism
- False or unsubstantiated claims
- Fair Housing
- Fiduciary to clients
- Identification of licensure and license affiliation
- Libel, personal opinion
James Crawford ABR, Broker Associate
Atlanta Real Estate Agents, Alpharetta GA Homes for Sale, Atlanta Luxury Homes, Dunwoody GA Homes for Sale, Atlanta Real Estate & Atlanta Homes for Sale, Gwinnett Homes for Sale, Atlanta Real Estate Blog, Cumming GA Homes, Decatur GA Homes for Sale.