Don't Forget About Social Media

A reminder about what to put into the Office Policy Manual


 Cori Lamont  |    November 08, 2013
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The traditional broker office policy manual contains reminders of handling trust accounts, transaction documents, fair housing and professional dress, for example; but in 2013, brokers should be reviewing their office policy manual to see if it reflects the age of technology. In 13 years, the world has gone from MySpace to tweets, and protection of privacy is of the utmost importance.

The following provides a guideline for brokers who are responsible for updating the office policy manual to double-check certain policies or lack thereof in their manual.  

Electronic media policies

Delivery issues and electronic commerce

The basics of this section should at minimum discuss the federal and state e-commerce laws as well as the two steps needed to meet the requirements and acceptable methods in doing so. For example, the manual must discuss electronic consent. The consumer must affirmatively consent to the use of electronic documents, signatures and delivery. This consent must be given electronically ‚ÄĒ as written consent is not sufficient ‚ÄĒ in a way that shows that the consumer can access, open and save the electronic documents. In addition, this section must discuss adding email delivery to the contract. Once the consumer has given electronic consent, the offer, listing contract, buyer agency agreement or other transaction documents should be modified to indicate that the consumer has authorized electronic documents, signatures and delivery. Visit the WRA‚Äôs e-commerce resource page for the law, articles and practice tips at www.wra.org/ecommerce.¬†

Social networking

Social networking, such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Active Rain, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Ning and Real Town, focuses on building and interconnecting online communities of people and business professionals who share a similar set of interests, professional trades and activities. Social networks are becoming more popular on the internet and are often measured in terms of ‚Äúsocial connectiveness.‚ÄĚ From a business perspective, social networking allows professionals to find, connect and network with colleagues and organizations in the same field. According to the April 2012 issue of REALTOR¬ģ Magazine, the top six social media websites are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tagged and Google+.¬†

Social networking sites are Web communities people join ‚ÄĒ usually free of charge ‚ÄĒ through a simple registration process. Members can post profiles and invite other members to become their friends.¬†

Blogging

Blogs, short for ‚ÄúWeb logs‚ÄĚ are online business journals or commentaries that can provide a useful marketing tool for a real estate business. Blogs are a great way of getting an associate‚Äôs name out in front of the public as a real estate expert ‚ÄĒ the media relies on blogs for source material. Blogs don‚Äôt just have to be text. Video blogs, or ‚Äúvlogs,‚ÄĚ are also popular.

Article 15 of the Code of Ethics prohibits REALTORS¬ģ from knowingly or recklessly making false or misleading statements about competitors, their businesses or their business practices. ‚ÄúThe obligation to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses, and their business practices includes the duty to not knowingly or recklessly publish, repeat, retransmit, or republish false or misleading statements made by others. This duty applies whether false or misleading statements are repeated in person, in writing, by technological means (e.g., the internet), or by any other means.‚ÄĚ (Adopted 1/10, Amended 1/12) (Standard of Practice 15-2). REALTORS¬ģ also have a duty to refrain from making false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their business and their business practices, which includes publishing a clarification about or removing statements made by others on electronic media controlled by the REALTOR¬ģ once the REALTOR¬ģ knows the statement is false or misleading. (Adopted 1/10, Amended 1/12) (Standard of Practice 15-3).¬†

Review your company policies relating to: 

  • Required blog disclaimers indicating, ‚ÄúThe views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broker.‚Ä̬†
  • Terms of use for the associate‚Äôs blog, which shall be approved by the broker. The terms of use should prohibit the posting of unlawful or objectionable materials and any use of the blog to harass or stalk anyone. Any content that infringes on the rights of others or expresses a preference based on an individual‚Äôs membership in a protected class should be prohibited and the host should reserve the right to take down any postings that violate these policies.¬†
  • Disclaimer of liability for any third-party sites that may be linked and for content posted by others. A privacy policy should be included. The blog must disclose the identity of the associate and the broker.
  • Associate blogs are subject to the same policies and procedures as associate websites unless otherwise specified by the broker in writing.

Other forms of social networking that the office policy should also highlight are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, ActiveRain, Ning and Real Town. 

All text posted in social media, including blogs, Twitter and Facebook shall be the associate’s own and not plagiarized or copied without the author’s permission, although quotations properly cited to the source and retweeting are permitted. 

Associate social networking is subject to the same policies and procedures as associate websites unless otherwise specified by the broker in writing. Associates using social networking must remember that social media are never private. What is said on social media reflects on the associate and the broker, and it may be circulated endlessly and cannot be taken back. Thus associates using social media must do so in a professional and businesslike manner and conduct any personal networking through separate sites or means.

General policies for associate use of computers

Personal use of office computers, email and internet

A real estate office risks potential liability when an associate uses office computers, email or Internet services for personal use. If the associate is transacting personal business using office computers and email, a consumer may mistakenly believe the associate is acting on behalf of the company. Even though the associate is doing personal business, the company may become liable under the principle of implied agency. 

Brokers must share some simple rules with all associates and, more importantly, enforce these rules: 

  • The company email and internet systems are for business purposes only.
  • Personal business, internet surfing and other entertainment should be done on personal equipment using personal email and internet services.¬†
  • No inappropriate personal or business use of email or the internet will be tolerated.¬†
  • Any use of email or the internet that couldn‚Äôt be shared at an all-company meeting is likely inappropriate.¬†
  • No use of the company email or internet services is private, and the company reserves the right to make random audits at any time.¬†
  • Inappropriate use of company email or the internet may be cause for dismissal.
  • Associates agree to indemnify and hold harmless the broker for any liability arising out of improper use of the broker‚Äôs technology systems.

Privacy and confidentiality

  • Privacy statement:¬†Associates must abide by the terms and conditions of the privacy statement on the broker‚Äôs website and are required to have a privacy statement on any associate website.¬†
  • Internal confidentiality issues:¬†There should be no expectation of confidentiality for any associate internet activity using the broker‚Äôs hardware, software or intranet, or any email received or sent by an associate using company computers and accounts.¬†
  • Consumer confidentiality: 100 percent security is neither possible nor ordinarily required to communicate with parties to whom a duty of confidentiality is owed. However, email comes with a reasonable expectation of privacy for most communications. If confidentiality issues are important enough in a particular transaction, there are encryption technologies that should be employed.¬†
  • Third-party confidentiality:¬†Like faxes, there is a concern that emails can be received by a third party other than the person intended to receive the email. Third-party confidentiality issues may be addressed using a disclaimer.¬†

Other items that the broker should include in the manual include but are not limited to firewalls, software copyright, record keeping of transactional documents, harassment/offensive content, and policies for data security and privacy. 

For more in-depth information and ideas, the WRA office policy manual can be reviewed at www.wra.org/pub239.

Cori Lamont is Director of Regulatory Affairs for the WRA.

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