Online Reputation Management and Your Brand

 Rob Uhrina  |    December 08, 2016

REALTORS® are not new to marketing themselves personally. Whether publishing their photos on business cards, on yard signs or in ads, REALTORS® have been using print media for generations to build up their image and their brand. In today’s world of social media and news moving at light speed, maintaining a positive image online presents a new set of challenges that requires professionals to actively monitor their reputation.

Consumers don't just pick homes, they pick you

Research from the National Association of REALTORS® shows most consumers initiate their search for a home and a REALTOR ® online. To demonstrate what a consumer can see about you, try "Googling" yourself. The results, whether big or small, share a story about yourself that will drive your “online reputation.” Are you absent from the radar, making you look invisible as a business? Are you listed multiple times? Do you have complaints? Are there photos that don't present you professionally?

Let’s assume you are listed multiple times in a Google search. Start at the top of the page. In most cases, the first result is your LinkedIn profile (if you have one), then your firm’s website. Expect prospects to skip your website initially. They don’t care as much about your listings or how many times you’ve sold a home. They care more about finding a solid, reputable REALTOR ®  that will treat them fairly, ethically and professionally. 

Why is LinkedIn important? LinkedIn allows prospects to dig into your background and sift through the various positions you’ve held, read your endorsements and view your voted-upon areas of expertise from colleagues, demonstrating your core competencies. Consumers are able to quickly decide if they want to pursue doing business with you. Unlike Zillow, Linked is usually the first result in a Google name search as mentioned earlier. Therefore, always ensure your LinkedIn profile is current, relevant and accurate, then decide whether you want your skillset to look specialized or broadly-focused so prospects can identify your niche and your breadth of knowledge. 

Social media has changed the game

So how does social media affect consumer behavior and buying decisions? Today, consumers more than ever do not differentiate between word of mouth advertising and random advice on the Internet. Internet advice is easily accessible and offers unfiltered opinions, making it attractive to people who prefer getting "quick" answers, even at the risk of it being inaccurate. Since the real estate industry is always wrestling with buyers and sellers who want to take on their own transactions, it is imperative REALTORS ®  demonstrate their expertise both in their profession and local markets to position themselves for future business.

Your internet footprint has no time limit


Your online reputation is an “internet footprint” which has no expiration. How does your social media image look? Does your image include a plethora of photos of you holding cocktails? Have you published bold commentary that someone might find offensive or objectionable? Whether you posted a negative comment once or many times, remember you only have one shot at making a first impression — and whether that impression is right or wrong, negative “off-the-cuff” commentary could be damaging. 


Protect your posts on social media

Using Facebook for example, it is always better to use business pages rather than personal accounts to connect with your local buyers and sellers. By segmenting your personal and professional life and placing your prospects and friends in a different sphere of visibility, you will not turn off your close friends with business posts, your personal information stays private and your business page stays locked in to helping prospects and customers exclusively.

If you are using your personal social media account to connect with clients, be sure to use the built-in security controls to lock down your posts and create friend groups for targeting. Social media is viral and has “legs.” If you forget to use these controls and regret posting something later, just remember the harm is already done. You can always delete or hide a comment, but you can’t undo what has already been read. Again, best social media practices dictate that you should create a business page in addition to your personal page to differentiate your focus and reduce the risk of broadcasting posts to unwanted audiences.

Commit to building a positive brand

How do you create a positive reputation online? Start with LinkedIn and focus on obtaining positive reviews from your connections. Testimonial is the strongest asset you will have online. Do you ask for them? Not necessarily. A good approach is to adopt a “pay it forward” philosophy. Each month, make it point to draft a few unsolicited reviews of your colleagues who are worthy of a recommendation. Not only do you help them, but eventually, you in turn will receive positive reviews without asking. Unsolicited recommendations over manufactured ones, will always have the most authenticity. 

Also, if you are like most people, your Facebook page is a public profile. Your Facebook page is an excellent resource for prospects to "vet" your background and determine whether you are a good fit for them, and/or someone they would trust to manage their transaction. While this sounds like a "big brother" concept, this is exactly how people use social media today. Because buying and selling a home is personal business, trust means everything. Remember social media transparency, puts you in a position where a prospect can uncover a lot about you quickly so always be professional.

You are not invisible …

Can social media hurt you? Absolutely. Social media is a direct lens into your life and how you handle yourself inside and outside the office. Just remember, anything you or others post about you is fair game for criticism. For example, maybe you were supposed to meet with a client and cancelled on them. Then, they read a comment about you being on a golf course with a friend who tagged you in a photo. Even though you may have cancelled on them with amble lead time, they may feel shafted or unimportant so always be as upfront as possible, especially when moving appointments on clients.

... but don't be a bull in a china shop either!

Conversely, when are you too visible on the radar? One mistake many people make on social media is they forget they are in front of a live audience of future prospects. Many Facebook users do not temper the context and volume of their posts because they have become too comfortable using social media as a platform for publishing anything from charged opinions to divisive comments. While charged comments can fuel discussion, drive page traffic and generate “likes,” it often leads to artificial affirmation, carelessness and undisciplined online reputation management. While we all enjoy the freedom of speech to say whatever we want, social media puts you in front of a live audience of potentially hundreds of prospects who are watching. While an opinion can be dead right, the approach might be dead wrong — and while you still have a social platform for expression, your prospecting potential may suffer inadvertent consequences.

Be professional everywhere

The next point can be said over and over again. Commit to internet etiquette and produce posts that will convey a professional image. A good way to litmus test your posts is to avoid posting anything that you would not say verbally in front of a group of customers. Social media is like watching a TV show in front of a live audience. If you make a mistake, it is heard and seen by all those who are watching.

Also, remember social media can be thought of as the world's biggest party. Would you attend a party and discuss who you voted for in an election? Would you start a political debate? Would you bring up controversial topics? Would you sell your products at the party? Would you share embarrassing college photos of yourself and friends? Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn’t, but remember social media behavior can either help you or haunt you. 

Google alerts for online reputation management

Even if you already practice social media etiquette, how do you track other people's comments about you and your business? Try tools like Google Alerts to track and monitor internet content as it is published. As new hits are found on Google, you can be notified immediately. If you are not familiar with Google Alerts, it’s a fantastic monitoring and online reputation tool that allows you to set up any number of tracking words. Plus, it’s free and only requires a Google account. 

Next, if you are a business owner, consider an office policy. The postings of your agents may be interpreted as a reflection of your entire organization. Many companies forget to set an internal policy, for example a rule about employees posting to personal pages during business hours. While their posts might be safe and legitimate, a handful of prospects and customers might wonder why this person is screwing around with social media when they should be conducting business. Having these guidelines in place is just one of the many best practices you can implement to ensure you and your business maintain a positive online reputation. 

  Rob Uhrina is Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the WRA.  


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