In the September/October Issue of REALTOR® Magazine, G.M Filisko published and interesting article entitled Online Oversight – Adopting and enforcing clear digital use policies reduces your brokerage’s potential liability.
While I am from the IT Background and take much of this information for granted, I believe it is imperative for the Broker/Business Owner to evaluate their business model and begin assessing what, if any, threats exist to their organization from the, often undisciplined, online activities of their Sales Associates. The fact of the matter is that the Sales Associate, regardless of whether they are an independent contractor or not, is continuously representing their Broker in all of their real estate dealings, whether they are online or offline.
The following courses of action, in my opinion, are absolutely necessary:
1) Create a Social Media Usage Policy – (for fear that the link will eventually become invalid, I have saved it as a PDF and uploaded it to this blog for viewing). This policy, once drafted, should be presented to a new Sales Associate along with the Office Procedures Manual, a Cold Calling/Telephone Procedures Manual, and another other business policy manual you may already have in place. Be sure they read & understand it, and they should (if they worked at any of the organizations I have in the past) sign a form indicating that they have read, accept and will abide by the rules of each of your policies.
2) NAR recommends BANNING: Pornography, SPAM, Chain Mail, Malicious Email, Business Unrelated to the Brokerage, All Illegal Usages. This is common sense, however, when people use the same account for both business & personal reason, accidents can occur. See bullet #3 for my recommendation.
3) I recommend an additional step to for any Broker to consider enforcing upon their agents: Have your Sales Associates create a separate account on their own computer for their real estate sales endeavors! While it is impossible to effectively control a computer that is, usually, a private asset of the Sales Associate, it is NOT too much to request that they use one user account on their system for business, and one or more for their own personal affairs. This alone should be sufficient in removing the possibility of either a deliberate, or accidental, blending of the Sales Associates private/public online practices and the Business’s practices.
4) Whenever possible, keep system resources, such as email, telephone numbers etc, IN HOUSE! I try to never allow my associates to use private email addresses for business activities. Furthermore, EVERY ONE of my Sales Associates gets a 1-800 number and International Number Extension from my business. As part of any policy the Sales Associate must sign should be a Privacy Waiver indicating that All Company Owned Assets, including email and application services provided by the Brokerage, and all information stored in those accounts or databases, are the property of the Brokerage and the Brokerage may, at any time, review any and all information stored in any account or database to which it is the provider. My brokerage uses Google Apps and Phone.com for our basic email, application & phone services.
I provide consulting for Real Estate Brokers who are looking to either begin, expand or evaluate their Social Media endeavors and online presence. Prior to becoming a real estate broker, I was a systems engineer and systems architect for IBM at JP Morgan Chase Bank and American Express. I am fully aware of the policies, processes & procedures that these organizations use to protect their image online, as well as their intellectual property. Please call me if you require a consult.