It only takes one offensive post on social media to maim the reputation of a business.
Earlier this month, two police offers were shot during a traffic stop in Hattiesburg, Miss. Following the incident, a Mississippi Subway restaurant employee posted a photo of herself in her work uniform on Facebook in an apparent celebration of the killings. The woman, according to news reports, wrote the following status with her photo: “2 police officers was shot in hattiesburg tonight! GOT EM,” followed by three handgun emojis.
A social media uproar ensued, the employee was fired, and the company has been on damage control since the incident. Obviously, the views expressed by the woman do not reflect those of Subway restaurant, but the offensive nature of the post spread like a disease, making the company a convenient target for the backlash of resentment and anger.
Social media has ushered in an era of sharing and connectedness, and with that comes a new set of liabilities for business owners—brokers included.
How do you avoid a situation like the one Subway faced? A panel of broker-owners discussed social media risk management during the Emerging Business Issues & Technology Forum at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., May 14.
The first thing brokers can do to mitigate the risk of an agent tarnishing their business’s reputation—or opening up the potential for a lawsuit— is to develop and enforce a social media policy. That means training agents on what is and isn’t appropriate to write in their statuses and comments.
“These issues are hot and we have to deal with them now,” says Brian Copeland, chief of broker services at Village Real Estate Services in Nashville, Tenn. “Brokerages are behind on this and we’re here to start the conversation.”
Copeland notes that real estate professionals have to adhere to at least four sets of compliance standards when it comes to social media: state real estate commission policies, NAR’s Code of Ethics, their broker’s policy, and the social media website’s terms of service. It’s up to brokers to reinforce the importance of compliance, because their business is on the line, Copeland says.
“As a broker you need to be there, you need see what’s going on and how people are truly handling themselves in [online] situations,” says fellow panelist Heather Ozur of Keller Williams Realty in LaQuinta, Calif.
Posts or comments that attack or threaten other people, language that could be taken as defamation, and statements that reveal information about a transaction are points that should be addressed in a brokerage social media policy. There are also issues related to appropriate use of advertising and intellectual property infringement (for instance, do your agents know how to source photos).
Amy Smythe Harris, broker-owner of Urban Provision REALTORS® in The Woodlands, Texas, says she counsels all her agents on how to post on social media, and has conducted webinars for her practitioners on the topic. “A lot of what we’re facing is agents not posting correct content,” she says.
Agents are also not guiding their clients on what’s appropriate to post in the midst of a transaction.
Harris says she knows of sellers who published a post about a negotiation situation involving multiple offers. A friend of a friend ended up seeing the post and that person happened to be one of the buyer’s agents who submitted an offer.
Situations like that can kill deals, Harris says.
While a social media policy might help, some things are impossible to monitor on social media, Copeland admits. That’s why this issue also relates to professionalism, he says, and if there are agents putting your real estate business at risk online, the best course of action might be to let them go.
“It’s time to say goodbye to your agents who pose a liability,” Copeland says.
Reprinted from realtor.org, June 2015, with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright June 2015. All rights reserved. http://www.realtor.org/