We have all read inappropriate status updates from old high school friends or distant family members.

But I am always slightly surprised to read a post from a real estate agent complaining about a client or writing something derogatory regarding an open house … especially when that agent is hosting the event!

Traditional social boundaries have changed. We are now "friends" with co-workers, supervisors and even our mortgage broker. It can be difficult to balance our personal and professional roles.

Is it appropriate for a real estate agent to engage in conversation with a client’s family and friends? Or better yet, what if potential clients are evaluating an agent based on the agent’s conduct on Facebook or Twitter? Professionals should be conscious of their social media etiquette.

Editor’s note: The following is a guest perspective.

By TOM FLANAGAN

We have all read inappropriate status updates from old high school friends or distant family members.

But I am always slightly surprised to read a post from a real estate agent complaining about a client or writing something derogatory regarding an open house … especially when that agent is hosting the event!

Traditional social boundaries have changed. We are now "friends" with co-workers, supervisors and even our mortgage broker. It can be difficult to balance our personal and professional roles.

Is it appropriate for a real estate agent to engage in conversation with a client’s family and friends? Or better yet, what if potential clients are evaluating an agent based on the agent’s conduct on Facebook or Twitter? Professionals should be conscious of their social media etiquette.

Savvy real estate agents use these tools to engage and inform their audience — not to post Farmville scores at 3 a.m. It’s not about checking into the office on Foursquare, a location-based social platform that has gaming elements.

There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage social platforms. But poor behavior does not go unrecognized. For example, a Detroit-area woman was recently removed from a jury for revealing a guilty verdict on Facebook.

She posted this before the trial had concluded. Needless to say, the judge reprimanded the woman and ordered her to write a five-page essay on the right to a fair trial. Common sense can go a long way.

Facebook now has more than 500 million users, with 150 million of them accessing Facebook through a mobile device. Sixty percent of Twitter’s Web traffic comes from outside of the U.S.

We are connected 24 hours a day, and social media presents a worldwide forum. However, navigating these new social norms can be difficult.

To help manage one’s digital identity, I always recommend that our agents create Google Alerts. It’s free and is easy to configure. Alerts are sent via e-mail and you can choose to have them delivered daily, weekly or even monthly.

I also advise them to monitor Yelp and Craigslist on a regular basis. With the viral nature of the Web, reputation management is imperative.

Here are three easy ways to improve your social media etiquette:

1. Develop unique content for each site. Developing unique content for different social networking sites can be extremely advantageous. For example, I prefer to post industry-related articles that cover design, usability and the Web on Twitter.

I also like to retweet insights from the experts. I’ll upload photos via Project 365 to Facebook. This could include photos of friends and family members. I typically do not share photos on Twitter. I also nurture professional relationships and connections on LinkedIn.

2. Utilize Facebook’s custom privacy settings. This is an absolute must. Facebook privacy settings allow you to configure who can see your photos, bio, birthday and more. You can even choose to simply hide content. This will help mange your content and organize your viewers.

3. Don’t be creepy! Know your boundaries. Each relationship is different and should be treated that way. A client may want a professional relationship during the transaction and afterward. They may not want to be social friends.

Remember to stop and think before "tagging" that next photo. Be consistent across the social media spectrum to showcase your expertise and alleviate any unwanted, awkward situations.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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