Last week, I inadvertently tossed the equivalent of a Molotov cocktail onto the online real estate community. What set off the explosion?

I suggested that due to the serious privacy issues on Facebook and the sharing of data without our clients’ consent, that "unfriending" your real estate clients during the time they have an agency relationship with you might be a smart move.

The response to that column has been instructive. My purpose in writing the column was to raise awareness about online privacy issues. In the course of what followed, a host of other issues were also raised.

We agree about privacy, but what do we do about it?

Of the e-mail responses I received, more than 90 percent said they agreed with the privacy issues I raised. The disagreement was largely in how to address these issues.

Last week, I inadvertently tossed the equivalent of a Molotov cocktail onto the online real estate community. What set off the explosion?

I suggested that due to the serious privacy issues on Facebook and the sharing of data without our clients’ consent, that "unfriending" your real estate clients during the time they have an agency relationship with you might be a smart move.

The response to that column has been instructive. My purpose in writing the column was to raise awareness about online privacy issues. In the course of what followed, a host of other issues were also raised.

We agree about privacy, but what do we do about it?

Of the e-mail responses I received, more than 90 percent said they agreed with the privacy issues I raised. The disagreement was largely in how to address these issues.

A number of agents generally commented that they operate with complete transparency and have nothing to hide. The question is: Do your clients want the same level of transparency?

For example, a high-profile agent whose husband is a co-founder of a Fortune 500 company shared how her husband asked her to address his privacy concerns. Her stepdaughter had just given birth to their first grandchild.

Her husband was so concerned about who would have access to the baby pictures posted on his daughter’s Facebook page that he insisted that his wife immediately unfriend his daughter to protect his grandchild.

Why your clients must control the privacy decision

Joy Siegel summed it up best when she said, "The agents I talked to would rather die than unfriend a client." Her point was well taken.

Joy’s comment made me realize that I had violated one of the most basic tenets I hold dear in terms of working with any client. For the last 20 years I have trained agents to understand, "It’s the client’s house, it’s the client’s mortgage, and it’s the client’s decision."

While it’s important that we address privacy issues with our clients, it is the client — not the agent — who should make the call on the level of privacy they want to maintain.

Hitchhikers, name-callers and gentlemen

I always find online comments to be fascinating. It seems that for some people, there’s nothing wrong with name-calling or hitchhiking off an article with a self-promotional comment or link to their own website.

Others republished my entire article elsewhere, without my consent. This is copyright infringement, pure and simple.

In contrast, those who really understand social media offered specific suggestions on how agents can set their privacy settings to address the issues that the article raised. Instead of being focused on how they can benefit personally, they asked themselves, "What can I do to help others?"

My favorite response was from Jeff Turner. Jeff contacted me privately and told me he disagreed with me on several issues. Because he is a friend (and a gentleman in every respect), he was waiting to respond until we talked.

Jeff really honed in on the crux of the problem. From a coaching perspective, "unfriending clients" addresses the "symptom" but not the cause.

Jeff summed it up this way: "We can’t mitigate the dangers online. The issues arise from the same issues that cause agents to get into trouble offline: bad judgment, lack of training, and lack of personal discipline in terms of what they say and where they say it."

Jeff then raised the issue about your purpose in terms of how you engage in social media.

"Why do we have to share every minute detail with others? Instead of focusing on you, the question you really need to ask yourself before you post on any social media site is, ‘How can I help someone today?’ "

Jeff had also made a statement, related to eruptions of Internet commentary, on "how powerful it is to take positions that grow your awareness and move the conversation forward."

In response to Jeff’s comments, Byron Van Arsdale, my husband and business partner, suggested that we modify the old WAIT ("Why am I talking") negotiation approach to "WAIP: Why am I posting?"

My final lesson

A major life lesson for me has been learning to take responsibility for my actions, and this includes being responsible for what I write.

Am I disappointed that people I respect disagreed with me? No. I’m happy that they helped me to tweak my opinion. That’s how I learn and grow.

Do I wish I had come up with Jeff’s elegant assessment of the situation? You bet.

And therein lies the power of social media. Social media made rapid distribution of this topic possible. It provided a forum that increased awareness and allowed for a variety of viewpoints to be heard.

I sincerely hope that you will engage every one of your clients in a discussion about privacy and that you will take your transaction-related communications offline.

Whatever you choose, the discussion has at least put privacy on your radar, and hopefully has helped you craft how you will address this important issue with your clients.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success." Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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