In this column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. This month: An agent with strong political and societal opinions wants to share them on her social media platforms. How can her broker help put a firewall between her personal and business accounts and avoid potentially controversial opinions?
A successful and well-known Miami agent has strong political and societal opinions she wants to share on her social media platforms. How can her broker help put a firewall between her personal and business accounts and avoid potentially controversial opinions from crossing over?
I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and everyone who knows me a little bit probably knows how I feel about certain political and societal issues. I make no apologies about this, as my open and vocal nature is what also makes me a productive agent. I always appreciate living in this wonderful country, where freedom of expression is a fundamental and universal right.
However, while my government allows this freedom without many conditions, my employer is another matter. Over the past few years, I have been much more direct and active about sharing my outrage about and support of certain issues over social media — without crossing any lines.
I certainly am mindful and respectful of the “forever” nature of the internet, but I also don’t hold back when something really bothers or excites me. If someone doesn’t agree, they are more than welcome to keep on scrolling, unfollow or “unfriend” me altogether. This is simply the way of the world now, and like most people, I enjoy having my electronic soapbox upon which to vent.
My political opinions have never, to my knowledge, had any impact on my ability to list and sell homes. Some might argue that they have allowed me to meet and engage with even more people who I might not have met otherwise.
But now, my broker has asked me to think about making some changes to my social media practices. He swears he is looking out for our mutual best interests, and some of what he has to say makes sense, but to me this feels a little like corporate censorship, and I don’t like it. Why should my broker have any influence over my personal opinions and the manner in which I express them?
This is a gray issue within an already gray issue. Whether agents are beholden to their company’s policies as independent contractors, and to what extent, is questionable, but those are topics for another day.
For now, let’s just focus on the basics of this particular case.
Even during the “best” of times, politics are a hot-button topic, and I think it’s fair to predict that the next 12 months might be one of the most divisive periods in modern American history.
All the more reason to keep politics and business completely separated as much as possible. I realize this used to be easier to do, and now it’s something we must actively be conscious of and put into practice.
Real estate agents, like everyone else, are entitled to their opinions and have the right to express them. But sometimes, they might not get that listing they want or that buyer they expected, and have no idea that their social media accounts (or the reputations they produce) are the reasons why.
I appreciate how my agent writes how her opinions, “to her knowledge,” have never affected her business, and I would agree 100 percent. No one is going to actually tell her that her opinion on gun control or immigration was the reason they chose another agent!
And it is possible that her opinions have introduced her to potential clients — but why close herself off from a pool of even more clients? To me, this is an obvious choice: Just keep personal opinions personal. Even if you don’t agree politically with your potential or current client, suck it up, and do your business. Weigh the benefits versus the negatives before posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
How to resolve
This is obviously a thorny issue, but many viable, common-sense solutions abound. Agents absolutely have the right to express their personal opinions on social media and other vehicles, but brokers also have rights to not have their companies associated with sentiments with which they might not agree.
The very best solution would be for the agent to maintain personal social media accounts strictly for family and close friends, where she can feel free to share opinions, and also maintain separate business accounts for colleagues and customers that would focus on listings, sales and industry news. (The agent might also consider adding disclaimers on her personal accounts that clarify how opinions and comments are her own and might not reflect that of her company.)
However, even this solution is not infallible, as agents often form friendships with clients who might reach a point where “friend requests” are made to their personal page. In these situations, the agent might need to have a conversation with the client or friend about the nature of their personal account and decide who to allow “in” on a case-by-case basis.
Fortunately, some social media platforms even allow users to filter certain “friends” and followers from being able to see specific posts on personal accounts. This is a great tool in situations where users might want to post something very personal or somewhat controversial and wish for those posts to be visible to most (but not all!) of their followers.
Finally, agents who are uncomfortable about doing business with clients whose opinions are different from theirs (but do it anyway) might feel better after making larger or additional donations to political parties or causes they support.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of more than 165 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year. For two consecutive years (2018 and 2019), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.