In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. Anthony is the broker-owner of South Florida’s largest RE/MAX office, and a working agent who sells more than 100 homes each year.
This month’s situation: A seasoned agent takes the leap into social media, only to have it backfire on her and require guidance from her broker. When should agents delete questionable posts, and should brokers and offices get involved?
After resisting the trend for years, I accepted the success of other agents in my office as proof that I may be missing out on a valuable source of business. I’ve built a thriving business over the years using the old-fashioned (and still viable) tactics of calls, postcards and networking, but I finally realized that the return on investment from using social media versus snail mail has the potential to drastically improve my net profit.
I pride myself on being a pro, and that sometimes means making changes to keep up with the younger set.
When I do something, I do it all the way. I took a class from my local Realtor association on the different social media platforms available, and they recommended starting with at least three. I asked several people in my sphere of influence which they liked to use, and decided on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I created accounts, then thought about what would grab attention so people would “like” and follow me. The hot topics on social media are, of course, politics and religion, but I knew better than to delve into those waters – or so I thought.
After weeks of only sharing harmless content such as listings and supportive comments for my colleagues, I came across something else I thought would be perfect; a column in our local paper endorsing passage of a statewide real estate-based amendment that is overwhelmingly bi-partisan and popular, very likely to pass, will not cost any money, and faces virtually no opposition.
It seemed very safe and uncontroversial, so I shared the column with a short comment in support of it. Little did I know what a Pandora’s Box I would be opening.
Someone I don’t even know found my innocent post and used it as a platform to rail against elected officials, without even noting the merits of this amendment. I calmly did everything I could to explain what my post was about, and educate the person about the amendment, but they willfully ignored my logical arguments and escalated their challenging tone and language.
This banter somehow drew the attention of other people, and before I knew it, this post’s comment section became a mosh pit of rage and vitriol from all sides of the political spectrum. Somehow, I had tons of attention, but none of the kind I wanted.
Should I just delete it? Should I ask my broker and colleagues in my office to comment on my behalf on the post?
I am very proud of this agent for stepping out of her comfort zone and taking a huge leap into the modern communications landscape. She was smart to learn social media from experts before diving in, ask her colleagues for advice, and start with benign content and commentary.
I only wish she had come to me before sharing anything even remotely political. Right or wrong, there is always risk when we post opinions online, especially for those who are admired, successful and in a highly competitive business such as real estate sales.
If you post something that is interesting enough to gain an audience, you are bound to find someone who will disagree and use your post as a soapbox for their own agenda. You will never have 100 percent agreement.
As this agent highlights her affiliation with our company and office on her social media profile, we have already become unwitting advocates for any political posting by proxy, and that’s when it becomes a problem for us. I am certainly not going to venture into this discussion via our company’s social media accounts, even if I support this agent and her good intentions.
Despite these challenges, I want to motivate this agent to remain engaged and active on social media, and to build her online presence with an image that reflects her as the professional she is. An event like this could discourage her from using social media in the future, which would be a loss to her in more ways than one.
She has opened the door to a better way to communicate and build relationships and just needs to have her confidence restored.
How to resolve
There are steps we should take when challenged or denigrated online. The first is to acknowledge that it happened; whether it is an image or written statement, once posted on the internet, it lives forever. (You never know who has shared or “screen shot-ed” something that was posted, or how many times it was reposted.)
Defusing the power of the comment is critical, and that means taking ownership of what you posted, explaining what your intent was and, if necessary, apologizing if it offended someone, while not necessarily apologizing for the statement itself.
A valid opinion is only that as long as it is within the guidelines of the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics. All agents are bound by this code and therefore must never make statements that are discriminatory or imply discrimination, in any way.
Once the agent has acknowledged the challenge and made amends, they might consider removing the post to stop further fueling the fire.
In a broader scope, the broker should prepare and issue clear company guidelines on social media policy. While each company should prepare guidelines that reflect their own culture and values, points to consider include:
- Educating agents regarding the impact on other agents and the company when they post personal opinions on controversial subjects online.
- Requiring agents to sign an agreement along with the hiring package that acknowledges the Policy, and an agreement to abide by it.
- Recommending that agents use direct links to third-party articles or columns whenever possible, rather than paraphrasing them.
- Encouraging agents to begin comments with “In my personal opinion…”
- Suggesting that commentary be limited to groups of like-minded people in their social media contacts, and not “sharable.”
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in Hollywood Beach, Davie, Miramar, North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, and where he leads the activities of more than 190 agents. Follow Anthony on Instagram.
NOTE: Anthony Askowitz is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.