Brokers advised evaluating whether social media messages might come off as “tone-deaf” but disagreed on whether to express political opinions publicly.

If you’d like to catch a video replay of this Connect Now session, and access the other 25+ hours of video content from Connect Now, tickets are still available. Click here to access.

With the country gripped by racial unrest and a deadly pandemic, it’s a good time for agents and brokers to evaluate the messages they’re putting out into the world, especially since both crises can be a political minefield, according to panelists at Inman Connect Now on Tuesday.

Moderators for the virtual event’s Indie Broker track — Barbara Betts, CEO of Betts Realty Group and Sarah Richardson, CEO of Tru Realty — told attendees brokers should be checking in with their agents and talking about being mindful of what they post to social media.

“Today is not the day to be posting on your social media things that are completely irrelevant to literally what the flavor of today is. We’ve got this responsibility as public figures in the real estate community to be aware of our surroundings, and maybe not get involved in every conversation, but to be aware,” Betts said.

Richardson advised agents to acknowledge what is going on, but to stay neutral. “It’s very hard to not take a side. When you are a public figure and you are trying to service the public and the consumer, everybody’s emotions are really high right now, so our messaging needs to be authentic, needs to be real, but at the same time it needs to be neutral. And that’s a dance a lot of us are struggling with right now,” she said.

Sarah Richardson, Thomas Heimann and Jim Vanas at Inman Connect Now

Thomas Heimann, founder and CEO of Realty Partners, noted that both agents and consumers are “a mixed bag” when it comes to how they are reacting to the pandemic.

“[There is] one group that is not too awfully concerned about social distancing and wearing a mask. On the other side, you have some that do. We stress to our agents the importance to be aware of that fact and to wear a mask even if somebody may not be interested or hyperaware of it — you don’t want to offend people that are. Personal safety is very, very important and we actually gave our agents the opportunity to just decide for themselves if they want to work with listings, if they want to work with buyers, if they want to go out at all or if they want to just self-isolate,” Heimann said.

Jim Vanas, broker-owner of Legacy Real Estate Michigan, agreed that reaction has been mixed. “We just instructed our agents, ‘You do what you need to do to feel safe.’ We have encouraged everyone to keep some kind of distance … and encouraging all of our sellers to have available at least hand sanitizer and if they don’t, we’ll provide it,” he said.

“We know there’s always going to be both sides of it and we’re just trying to make everybody comfortable as we tour the properties.”

Lane Hornung, founder and CEO of 8z Real Estate, said brokerages should do a “brand inventory” to see how they are presenting themselves to the public.

“Is there anything in how you present yourself to the public that might be off-tone or out of context or not help with the times, so to speak?” Hornung said.

He also advised brokers to think about what their point of view is. “A brand is only effective if you’re authentic. With COVID, what is your point of view on it? Are you more on the safety side or ‘Hey, we need to rebound.’ Those are equally justifiable positions and you gotta realize our clients are not always in the same place we are. So we gotta meet them where they are, but you gotta be authentic when you do it,” he said.

Barbara Betts, Mike Gandolfo and Ben Andrews at Inman Connect Now

Ben Andrews, broker-owner of Willamette Realty in Portland, Oregon, recalled an incident two weeks ago in which he was putting a lockbox on a house and a neighbor approached him. He envisioned the neighbor becoming a new client, but instead, the neighbor swore at him and said he was “killing people [by] being outside.” It made him aware that he should be wearing a mask at all times and talk to his agents about working methodically to keep them safe and “most importantly, keep the other people feeling comfortable,” Andrews said.

Mike Gandolfo, broker-owner of RE Solutions in Louisville, Kentucky, agreed. “What Ben just said about reading other people’s comfort level was really key and making sure that we respected where other people were at, just met them where they needed us to be,” Gandolfo said.

Courtney Poulus, broker-owner of Acme Real Estate in Los Angeles, said her firm took a break from marketing listings as the coronavirus outbreak started “because it felt really tone deaf.”

“There were some other agents in our area that were listing new listings every day while this was beginning. And there was just this feeling like ‘What are they doing?'”

Barbara Betts, Sophia Sanchez, and Courtney Poulus at Inman Connect Now

She started a virtual team meeting and made sure she and her agents were on the same page regarding how they present themselves on Instagram and other social networks.

Sophia Sanchez, broker-owner of Sanchez and Co in Tampa, Florida, noted that brokers can’t necessarily control who agents are and how they come across, but they can provide guidance.

“Show you’re real. Forget promoting the cheesy stuff — I’m selling, I’m selling — nobody wants to hear that right now. For us it was an engagement of ‘What do we like about our city? Let’s keep it light. Let’s show our own lives. Let’s show what we’re doing, what we’re going through.’ A lot of kid stuff. Really just trying to make it real and not so polished as it happened in the past,” she said.

Betts brought up what she called “the elephant in the room”: the racial turmoil in cities across the country. Should brokers advise agents to talk about it or not talk about it? “I’m struggling with this deeply internally right now,” she said.

Sanchez said she personally didn’t think it was brokers’ and agents’ place to give an opinion. “I think personally one on one conversations with someone, if you choose to go that route, is one thing, but I know a lot of folks are really upset and I don’t know if the real estate realm professionally would be the place to do that. There are other platforms to do that,” she said.

But Poulus disagreed. “I’m a rebel at heart. I say what I feel. I do what I say,” she said. She said her brokerage and her family are diverse and have been personally affected by racism. She cited an incident suffered by her brother-in-law. “People have to deal with this on a daily basis. I’m watching my brother-in-law, who is also my agent, posting and my sister posting and they are angry. I am like ‘Have your voice, man.’ I’m angry too and in defense of my family,” Poulus said.

“This pandemic and this police brutality is bringing to the surface what really is important. If we want to serve our communities, and we work in a lot of transforming communities, I think it’s important that people hear us as honestly and authentically as we want to be heard individually. As a brokerage, we’re showing support. I think it’s clear we’re in support of the protesters, not the looters, and 100 percent behind reform. That is really important that people’s voices be heard. It’s important to who we are as a firm.”

Not having an opinion can make you appear out of touch, one of the attendees noted in the event’s chatbox.

“As broker-owners we get to set the tone. I’m not pulling myself out of this game. We’re in,” Poulus said.

Betts highlighted that it was hard to balance supporting everyone in her world, which she said included cops and “ethnic people,” and that a message might be meant one way, but taken another way.

“Be super aware that every message you’re putting out is being looked at by everybody in your world differently. Everybody is looking at this whole world with a different lens right now and none of us have the answers,” she said.

“Sometimes you just gotta lay low. I know that’s not the right answer. I don’t have the right answer. This is real polarizing right now.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.
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If you’d like to catch a video replay of this Connect Now session, and access the other 25+ hours of video content from Connect Now, tickets are still available. Click here to access.

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