Like it or not, you have a reputation as a real estate professional both online and offline. Are you taking the necessary steps to protect that reputation?

The majority of real estate agents have an e-mail account and a Web site. A much smaller number are actively engaged in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and/or MySpace. An even smaller number are blogging. Given that the median age of today’s Realtor is over 50, it’s not surprising that a vast majority don’t understand why participating in these sites is good for their business. Their attitude is, "Why should I care that you are on your fourth cup of coffee today?"

Like it or not, you have a reputation as a real estate professional both online and offline. Are you taking the necessary steps to protect that reputation?

The majority of real estate agents have an e-mail account and a Web site. A much smaller number are actively engaged in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and/or MySpace. An even smaller number are blogging. Given that the median age of today’s Realtor is over 50, it’s not surprising that a vast majority don’t understand why participating in these sites is good for their business. Their attitude is, "Why should I care that you are on your fourth cup of coffee today?"

Protecting your online reputation begins with activating an account on the major social networking sites mentioned above. Whether or not you choose to participate in the online conversation, it is absolutely critical that you complete a personal profile in order to protect your name and reputation. Here’s why.

Recently, an executive assistant shared what happened to one of her high-profile clients. She handles all of his e-mail correspondence because he seldom uses a computer. Obviously, blogging and social media sites are not part of his universe. Because her client did not have a profile on these sites, someone who became angry with him was able to set up a profile using his name. This person then posted information that was damaging to her client’s reputation. It cost them thousands in legal fees to clean up the mess. To prevent this from happening to you, set up a profile on each of these sites immediately. Then, if someone else claims to be you or shares your name, it will be clear from your photo and profile that you are two different people. As an additional precaution, if you have not reserved the URL for your name, (e.g., www.yourname.com), take immediate steps to do that as well.

Gen X and Gen Y clients typically research your online reputation before they do business with you. To see what others are saying about you online, set up an account at Google Alerts. There’s no charge. The system automatically notifies you when and where someone references your name online.

It’s also important to remember that whatever you post online is there for posterity, even if you take it down at a later date. The pictures or the videos that you thought were so funny today can do lasting harm tomorrow.

For example, one of my friends asked permission to shoot a video of me taking a quick survey. He then had me choose between two sets of services and asked which one I would prefer. I chose the set that represented his company because the price was substantially lower. Since I signed the video release before we started, I didn’t think much about it afterwards. It all seemed perfectly innocent. Several weeks later, I received a call saying that I was the "star" of this video and that the competitor referenced in the video was livid. I was appalled because the president of the other company has been a great supporter of our services. I spent the better part of the day tracking down the right people to have my part of the video removed and then doing damage control with the other company. Today, you must be supervigilant about any type of recordings, podcasts or videos that you let other people make of you. …CONTINUED

Another key concern is what you post on your profile. Many people use Facebook as a way to share personal information with friends and family. Facebook and Twitter are now evolving into important tools for business communication. To protect your family and friends, set up separate accounts on Facebook and/or MySpace that are available only to those you personally know and trust. Keep your business and public-facing accounts separate.

On Facebook, you can do more than just connect. You can "poke" other members, send them a beer or ask them to join a cause. While these are fun ways to connect, they can be tremendous time-wasters. Furthermore, each one of these applications accesses the contact information that resides on your Facebook page. In many cases, the applications come from outside organizations. Do you want the information on your home page published elsewhere outside of your control?

One of the most serious mistakes that you can make is to post your birth date on your profile. I constantly get birthday requests and have now blocked that functionality on Facebook. While many of us don’t want to publish our ages, the real reason to avoid using your birthday is to protect yourself from identity theft. If a site requires you to register and requests your birthday, think carefully about whether you really want to use that site or not. There’s a high probability that they are doing "data mining." Data miners collect your personal information and Web surfing patterns and then sell them to other companies.

There’s no question that our lives are becoming increasingly more public. To protect your online reputation, be vigilant about what you do in public as well as online. Big brother’s iPhones and Flipcams are everywhere.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com.

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