With the rise of social media platforms, an incredibly effective method of advertising emerged.
Post a picture of a property and your audience may swoon in mere minutes. The ability to reach such a wide audience and target them with precision has propelled a massive flock to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and the like.
The problem for Realtors, however, is vulnerability to risks that, in some cases, could land you in court.
To protect yourself, be aware of these four pitfalls.
Defamation is legally defined as any falsely written or spoken statement that could potentially damage another person’s reputation. Though few of us take to the keyboard to create lies that would defame others, it’s easy to be blindsided with blame.
How is that possible? When a third party commits defamation on your social media profile or posts, you can be held liable. That’s why it’s important to negate or remove any questionable comments immediately.
This is especially dangerous in the social media world, where comment boards and open forums allow for many contributors without much regulation.
In the case of you failing to respond quickly, however, certain federal law provisions protect you from assuming full responsibility. However, it is better to skip the hassle and moderate your social media profiles for any traces of defamation tied to you.
Advertising regulation violations
Without so much as the click of a button, many companies are accidentally committing advertising regulation violations. Some states require full disclosure within each online posting.
This means that the firm name, licensee name, state licensure information and accurate property information may be required for each post.
Even more important to understand is that exaggeration of a property — a trend that seems to have taken life in the world of social media — can actually be labeled as false advertising. For example, if a property you are promoting has a dirt driveway and you photoshop in a paved driveway, you can be found at fault.
Because of this, it is helpful for Realtors to take a close look at Article 12 (of the Code of Ethics) and its Standards of Practice. Doing so can increase awareness of the general guidelines for posting to social media and prevent any violations.
Intellectual property infringement
The very nature of social media promotes rapid sharing of information and content regardless of the legalities. So when something funny or useful pops up in our feeds, it’s easy to quickly share with others without thinking about intellectual property laws.
As a private consumer of information, this may pose no risks.
However, as a Realtor, it can cause problems with intellectual property infringement.
This delicate balance between participating in the social media world and respecting the content of others can — and should — be addressed in social media policy training that specifically outlines intellectual property issues.
A clear list of do’s and don’t’s should be provided to all agents, so that this easy, and oftentimes innocent, mistake is not committed.
The entire real estate industry relies on healthy competition, so interference with that can violate antitrust regulations.
An example would be if someone posts a comment to other Realtors suggesting that they don’t work with a certain company or should charge a certain commission.
As explored in a previous Inman article — could a social media discussion lead to a successful antitrust case?
“Yes, but only if one agent asked a competitor to agree to only charge a minimum 6-percent commission and the other agent accepted the invitation in a response,” Brad Inman wrote.
“To prove real estate agents or brokers are engaged in price fixing, a plaintiff must provide clear evidence that the agents or brokers conspired to charge the same minimum rate — and that they did, in fact, charge that rate — according to Robert Butters, an attorney at Chicago-based Arnstein and Lehr and the former deputy general counsel for NAR.
“Casual social media conversations about commission strategy do not come close to meeting that test.”
But although it may be a stretch, the adage “better safe than sorry” still applies. The topic can create risk for a price-fixing case down the road, say real estate attorneys in general, so why not avoid it?
Weighing value against risk
Social media provides a valuable platform to reach potential customers and maintain relevancy.
It can also, however, provide more opportunities to make mistakes.
The first step to avoiding violations is understanding the risks. The next step is to consider investing in cyber liability insurance, so that in the event that an error is made, you are protected.
Realtors should make reducing their liability a priority. By avoiding costly violations, they can reap the benefits of social media marketing.
Charles Muotoh is the owner of dcrealestateguru.com, a full service real estate firm focused on leveraging digital marketing to serve Washington, D.C., area real estate buyers and sellers.