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Unflattering Finds Monitor and protect your reputation online.

January 1, 2009

In my outreach visits, I am increasingly finding that associations and their members are caught up in the whirlwind of social media. There are networking sites for just about any business, hobby, or game—you name it. And it can be fun, but Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and many more allow anyone to post about everyone . . . and they’re not always saying nice things. Your association and members may be the subject of posts by fellow members, clients, or even strangers, and never know it.

That’s not even taking into account the thousands of real estate blogs providing widespread opinions about anything and everything related to real estate, REALTORS®, and REALTOR® associations.

So, how can AEs protect the online reputations of their associations and members?

1. Educate

Take some time to learn about the sites your members visit (activerain.com, realestateweblog.org, etc.) as well as those that cover your town. Top the list with those that rate real estate agents (outrageousagents.com, incredibleagents.com, and realtyrators.com) and properties.

Taking what you’ve learned, offer classes that will help members become more proactive about monitoring their image online and taking advantage of social networking sites online where they can post positive information about themselves.

2. Watch what you say

You should assume that everything you say or do—even in casual social settings—can go on the Web. Remember that video camera you saw at the last association social event? Even your funny -Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube posts can come back to haunt you. Just check out some of the “real estate agent” YouTube videos. Online, there’s no “personal you” and “professional you”—there’s just “you,” out there for all to see, for better or worse.

3. Paint your own picture

Take control of any (mis)information floating around the Web by putting your own online profile in as many places as possible. Ratings sites often solicit profiles, pictures, and ratings of real estate professionals. Encourage your members to complete these profile requests with things that they want consumers to know about them, including photos. It’s not just about individuals, though. Help protect the industry’s reputation by creating blogs, linked from various sites, to educate consumers about current and accurate real estate information.

4. Monitor

If you aren’t “listening” to the online conversation, you won’t know what people are saying (and trust me, you want to know). An easy way to find out what people are saying about you, your members, or the properties they represent is to sign up for a free service like Google Alerts, which sends e-mail notifications whenever specified names, property addresses, etc., come up on the Web. If you don’t like what you see, you may be able to fix it by writing informative blog posts, authoring articles, and becoming an “expert” source for journalists writing about the industry. The hope is that eventually those unfavorable search results will get buried under the more flattering content.

5. Be proactive

Consumer ratings of real estate agents are on the rise and very likely here to stay. Help members learn that this is not something to fear. In fact, it can—and should—be used to their advantage. Ratings can help members improve their customer service and create lead generation, as long as you take strides to guarantee consumer posts are legitimate. You might consider internally developing an -association-sponsored program or partnering with an outside firm. The Houston Association of REALTORS® recently developed its own “member opt-in” ratings program with 653 members on board after only two weeks. The Colorado Association of REALTORS®, on the other hand, offers members the opportunity to earn their QSC, Quality Service Certification (qualitycertified.org), through an organization that trains members on principles of accountability and service, then, with consent, surveys their clients and publishes the results.