Twitter is not a toy, and certainly not something to be used in haste. Just ask Tony Brust, who until last Monday was a real estate agent in Illinois.
On Jan. 31, Brust took to social media to criticize recent political commentary from well-known comedian Patton Oswald. The war of tweets became heated, and in what can only be called a complete lapse of judgement, Brust tweeted a reference to Oswald’s wife, Michelle McNamara, who died unexpectedly in April 2016, saying “I’m a psychic and I am channeling his wife’s opinions.” Oswald and many of his followers took offense, and the debate went – as they say – viral. Inundated, Brust deleted his Twitter account.
Brust was fired that day. His employer, Michael Maloof, told the Chicago Tribune, “We were made aware that this had gone on and we parted company.” As of Feb. 6, all of Brust’s social media accounts and his personal website were unpublished. Even his Zillow profile was removed.
The social media lesson here is simple: Don’t be a jerk. Name calling and offensive comments negate the merits of any argument you might be making. And, most importantly, Twitter is not a conversation. It is a permanent digital record subject to review and interpretation by anyone with an Internet connection.
If your livelihood depends on the public choosing you as a professional product or service provider, Twitter debates on any topic – including politics – should be avoided. For real estate professionals specifically, these online spats serve only to expose your reputation to unnecessary risk and can significantly damage your business. What you might think of as a witty comeback can take on a life of its own in ways you cannot imagine – and there are real-life consequences.
If you doubt this, Google “Tony Brust AND real estate.” You won’t find anything about Brust’s advocacy for clients, big sales or his real estate career highlights. What you will find on that first page of your Google search – the holy grail of search and a key to online reputation management – are references to Brust, his infamous tweet and dozens of news articles about the whole affair. And this new reputation – one wholly indifferent to his past real estate career – will follow Brust for a long time.
But it isn’t just heated political commentary that can cause real estate professionals harm. Far too many Realtors post their listings on personal Twitter or Facebook pages – separate from their “business” social media accounts. And under Article 12, Standard of Practice 12-5 of the National Association of Realtors’ Code of Ethics, this is advertising. And if the agent in question hasn’t clearly included information identifying him or herself as a real estate professional and the company for which he or she works, that is a violation of said Code of Ethics.
Social media is a powerful tool for Realtors. It can also be a damaging weapon if not handled with care. Brokerages’ must have clear social media policies and include social media in their crisis communications plans. Agents would do well to learn a lot more about the platforms they use as well as various social media communications’ best practices to avoid unintended problems.
You wouldn’t try to sell a house without studying real estate and being trained. The same commitment and effort is needed when using social media to promote your business.