Your Social Media Policy

Navigate the liabilities of blogging and social networking by sticking to a policy that addresses all of your responsibilities.

August 1, 2010

In the modern age of real estate marketing, it’s nearly impossible to bypass social media. Yet, using social media in connection with your real estate business comes with some serious legal and regulatory risks. Whether you’re blogging, using Facebook and LinkedIn, or tweeting on Twitter, it’s essential to think through all of the potential liabilities and create a policy that addresses them.

To help you on this front, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ Risk Management Committee in May approved a versatile policy template that can be molded to reflect individual business practices and brokerage philosophies. While the template is intended for brokers, the guidelines also can be helpful to sales associates who use social media.

It sets out general principles and also identifies areas where brokers may want to establish their own policies to protect against avoidable risk.

These are some of the key issues your policy should address:

1. How you’ll identify yourself.

Most state license laws and regulations require that brokers and licensees identify themselves in their advertising. This extends to marketing on social media, even on Facebook and Twitter. Rules vary by state, so you must find out what your specific duties are.

Among the identification you may have to include: your name, your broker’s name, the brokerage logo, your state of licensure, and the name of the agent who’s responsible for the Web site. Create a comprehensive list of everything that must be identified, and then explain how and where this information will be displayed.

2. Your terms of use.

Every blog should have a clear "terms of use" statement. NAR’s policy template sets out a dozen possible rules that you may want to include. For example, the terms of use should establish that you have authority to use any content that visitors post on the blog.

It also should prohibit unlawful or objectionable materials, provide a take-down policy in the event that such materials are posted to the site, and disclaim responsibility for third-party sites that are linked through the blog. Your blog also should have a privacy policy consistent with what’s already being used by the brokerage.

3. A plan for keeping blogs and pages maintained.

Set forth your responsibility for keeping sites accurate and up to date. In practice, that means monitoring sites regularly for false, defamatory, demeaning, or degrading comments, and removing any comments that you know are false or misleading. Your policy should say who’s responsible for doing this and how often it should be done.

4. Being legal, truthful, ethical.

On a blog or social networking site, you must be sure to comply with all real estate laws—including fair housing, antitrust, and license laws. There’s also copyright law to consider, especially when posting photos and other content.

Also, never exaggerate credentials or training or falsely claim association with any group or person. Finally, ensure that the content and operation of your blogs and pages conform to the standards of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

As you create your policy, become familiar with the rules and requirements of every social networking site you use. Brokers should require all sales associates to do this.

Know what the privacy practices are on each site and be aware that anything you post can be forwarded and used for purposes other than you originally intended.

Also, take time to search the Web to see what’s being said about you, your brokerage, and your listings. If you find that your information is misrepresented or being used inappropriately, you can take action to remedy the problem.

It’s possible to excel in the social media sphere while also preserving your reputation and good will within your community.

Michael Thiel is associate counsel, Legal Affairs, for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®