Social media can be free advertising for real estate agents, and it doesn’t get much better than free. On the other hand, trolls — that ever-growing Internet-based population of snarky commenters and complainers — can turn a simple Facebook post into a complicated public relations issue.

Trolls also can trigger a series of unfortunate events that could land online profiles in limbo or even disabled. Agents who are active online should have a defensive plan in place.

Know your enemy

Where are you likely to find trolls? Here’s a quick guide.

Facebook: Trolls love the comment section of any posts they see on their news feeds, so do not be surprised if they show up on your Facebook business page. Apart from following the general posting guidelines below, make sure you know what’s happening with Facebook in general so that you show your page to your best advantage and don’t inadvertently run afoul of any rules.

For example: How many stars does your Facebook business page have? Do you know how to take this rating down if it reflects poorly on your business? Are you up-to-date on like gates and clickbait? These actions can land you in “Facebook jail” as of Nov. 5.

Yelp: Consumers are now reviewing more than food. Agents and brokerages are fair game. Create a profile (or claim your existing profile as the business owner) and check to make sure there are no negative reviews attached to you.

Twitter: Just ask big brands like Pace Picante and celebrities like Bill Cosby how fast Tweets can spin out of control. Twitter should never be on autopilot; trolls just love auto-responders. Remember, not every follower is a fan.

YouTube: Flagged content can take down your entire channel. Channels large and small on YouTube have been struggling with stricter guidelines. Channels can earn “strikes” for poorly run contests, product mentions, tagging and incorrectly sharing content. Trolls love to flag content! These strikes can result in temporary suspensions or even get your channel banned. Agents will need to use caution when marketing homes using video or their hard work could be all for naught.

How to avoid or shut down trolls

Many of your potential problems with trolls can be nipped in the bud by carefully considering what you post before you post it. Ask yourself: Does this post offer value to my audience? Does this post violate my code of ethics? Would my principal broker be OK seeing this post? If your post is in a gray area, consider whether it adds value to your personal message.

Sometimes, though, encounters with trolls are inevitable. Here are the steps to take to combat them:

1. Know what’s out there. You already know about any social media profiles with your name on them, but thanks to Zillow, Trulia and, agents typically have at least three additional major online profiles that reflect their sales history and showcase consumer performance reviews. October market research shows that many consumers are visiting these sites when beginning their home search. Remember, even if you hate being online, your past and future clients are Googling away before they commit to an agent or refer an agent’s services.

2. Respond with caution. Does your office have a social media policy? It can be your guide for how to handle trolls. If you are attempting to discuss serious and divisive issues, remember that trolls thrive on engagement and combat. Making a polite general response or removing the comment (if you are able) is typically the fastest and safest route.

If you have negative reviews, do not despair. You will have positive reviews again. Work your sphere of influence and shake loose new and positive reviews from satisfied clients.

Don’t argue with trolls. It never makes you look good. If you must respond, a good rule of thumb is to apologize for any perceived bad experience and offer to make it right for the complainer if they will contact you in person.

3. Pay attention to constructive criticism. Aim to know the difference between a troll and a consumer offering constructive criticism. Constructive criticism can help improve your business! You will make mistakes, so own them and use them as learning experiences.

It is never too late to get started with something new and take control of your online profiles. Don’t let a troll wreck your bridge. Make a commitment to increase awareness of your online presence, then create and implement a contingency plan for dealing with attacks.

By day, Rachael Hite creates curriculums to help agents develop their business at Gateway Funding, Winchester. By night, she’s tweeting for

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