“What you wouldn’t say or do in front of someone, you also shouldn’t do on social media and other online platforms,” NAR advises. “In general, any guideline for offline behavior applies to online as well.”
But real estate professionals may let their guard down online, treating communications on social media as if its casual conversation and forgetting guidelines apply there as well, says Carolyn D’Agosta, GRI, 2016 chair of NAR’s Professional Standards Committee.
A major misconception: Comments made in Facebook groups and other online forums are private.
That’s often not the case, says Ginger Wilcox, chief industry officer for online mortgage servicer Sindeo and Code of Ethics trainer. A group administrator sets a group’s privacy settings, so Realtors should never assume that their comments aren’t viewable by the public. If practitioners discuss commissions or working with difficult agents in Facebook groups, they potentially run afoul of the Code and risking exposing their behavior publicly. And even if the group is private, someone could take a screen shot of the conversation and file an ethics complaint, Wilcox warns.
So what kinds of comments or posts should Realtors try to avoid making online?
Common hazards (Read more on NAR’s Code of Ethics page)
- Venting about another agent.This is a common subject in relation to the Code, says Katherine Lawton, NAR’s manager of Professional Standards and Administration. It’s not smart to air your frustrations about a colleague online because it could violate Article 15, which prohibits Realtors from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals. You can also get into trouble in blog comments by suggesting another agent’s client take a negative action against that agent, D’Agosta warns. For example, “Fire your listing agent and I’ll help you” can easily become an ethics violation.
- Sharing another agent’s listing.Retweeting or sharing another agent’s listing on your social media timeline could constitute an improper advertisement of their listing. It commonly happens when agents visit an open house and, after leaving, post about it on their feeds. You cannot engage in any practice that is inconsistent with exclusive-representation agreements that practitioners have with their clients, states Article 16. Lawton recommends getting a listing agent’s permission – a verbal agreement is fine – before sharing anything about their listing online.
- Watch what you share on personal accounts.Many agents have Facebook business profiles that note their role as a real estate professional and their company. That generally satisfies the requirement of Article 12, Standard of Practice 12-5, that Realtors must clearly identify themselves and their company when advertising online – but a personal Facebook profile may not include those details. Agents who also post listings or advertorial material on their personal page could be violating the Code. Bruce Aydt, ABR, CRB, senior vice president and general counsel for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Alliance Real Estate in St. Louis, says it’s not always clear when a post constitutes advertising. His rule of thumb: If you’re in doubt, include a link in the post to a webpage that displays your company’s logo prominently. That’s especially important on Twitter because you often can’t fit the name of the company in each tweet.
- Commiserating on commissions.If someone is complaining about a commission they received and asking for feedback, it can be tempting to share your own experience. But aside from poor taste, that could reveal confidential financial details about a client if it contains too much detail about the commission, Wilcox says. Article 1, SOP 1-9, requires Realtors to preserve the privacy of confidential information about their clients even after their business relationship ends. You would need their permission first before revealing such details publicly.
Realtors who have questions about online behavior’s compliance with the Code should call their state’s Legal Hotline, Lawton advises. “They are a great resource for all of these issues,” Lawton says.
Agents should also read the Code and familiarize themselves with its provisions, especially Article 12 as it relates to marketing and advertising, D’Agosta adds. “It’s your responsibility to know what the Code says, as well as to know what your state’s real estate commission guidelines are.”
Wilcox says the bottom line is that when it comes to social media, “assume everything is public.”
Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved.
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