It didn’t take long once the pressure was on to shut down Realtor-complaints.com. The Web site was misusing the REALTOR® trademark, posting false complaints about real estate practitioners, and demanding money to have the complaints removed from the site.
On Jan. 10, I wrote a post about the site and more than two dozen readers responded. Many recounted their stories of finding their name on Realtor-complaints.com and being asked to pay to have the complaint removed. NAR and many state associations were working in concert to end the misuse of the trademark. Yesterday, a page appeared indicating that the site had been sold and that it would be re-launching May 1. Today, the site is simply a page of links operated by one of the advertising sites.
The WHOIS record indicates that the site is suspended. “That is encouraging,” says National Association of REALTORS® attorney Mike Thiel, “but we are trying to find out what that means going forward.”
One thing’s for sure: The closure of Realtor-complaints.com isn’t the end of such Internet scams. My Jan. 10 post included simple steps you can take to manage your own reputation online. But there’s one step you should never have to take: paying money to have false information removed from a site.
Among those on Inman News’ latest list of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders were some familiar NAR faces, starting with 2013 president Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif. I profiled Thomas in the latest issue of REALTOR® Magazine.
Also included on the Inman list was NAR CEO Dale Stinton. For Stinton, the Inman recognition came on the heels of another award: In November he was named Executive of the Year (large organization category) in the Best in Biz Awards. That award recognized the association’s progress in such activities as broadening member engagement at the local, state, and national levels of government through the REALTOR® Party Initiative; creating REALTOR® University; and launching the Realtors Property Resource, a rich national database of real estate property information.
NAR’s Lawrence Yun, senior vice president of research and chief economist, and Nobu Hata, director of digital engagement, also made the Inman 100 list. In addition to being one of the most popular draws at NAR conferences, Yun writes a regular column for REALTOR® Magazine. Hata is a former chair of the magazine’s Young Professionals Network Advisory Board. On seeing the news, Hata jumped on to Facebook to say he share the honor with Heather Elias, director of social business practice for NAR, and Pamela Geurds Kabati, NAR’s senior vice president of communciations. Hata and Elias, both former practitioners, joined the NAR staff at roughly the same time and were hired by Kabati. Hata, the public face of NAR’s social media presence, is frequently on the road to teach social media best practices to NAR members. Elias is behind the scenes ensuring that those best practices and implemented within the organization.
A Web site of suspicious origin is misusing the REALTOR® trademark in what seems to be an attempt to get money from real estate practitioners.
The site, Realtor-complaints.com, supposedly publishes consumer complaints about real estate agents. However, an investigation by the New Jersey association of REALTORS® showed a string of complaints against its members, all using similar phrasing. “This leads to suspicion that these are not all public-submitted complaints,” says Lauren Castellano, director of communications for the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®.
Not only that, when agents who have been the subject of a complaint attempt to make contact, the site offers them the “opportunity” to pay to have the complaint and their name removed from the site, says Michael Thiel, an attorney for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR legal staff checked the WHOIS record for the site and discovered it’s hosted on servers located in the Seychelles. “It’s recorded as having been initially registered on Jan. 1, 2013,” Thiel says, ”which makes the site’s claim of having been around since 2002 very suspect.”
Thiel’s office has received a number of calls from members who’ve been informed, via e-mail, that their name is listed at the site. NAR attorneys are investigating and, if necessary, will take steps to have the site shut down. [Jan. 23 Update: Wendy Legerton below asks why NAR isn't taking more aggressive action. In response, NAR Associate General Counsel Ralph Holmen offers this: "This site does not have authority to use the term REALTOR®, and NAR has taken action to stop them from using it. That action does not (yet) involve litigation, but the possibility of initiating suit remains if our efforts are not successful.”] But it’s important to approach with caution any service that claims to either track or burnish your reputation. Online reputation management—and reputation trashing—is a growing enterprise, and there are simple steps you can take to manage your own reputation online:
- Make sure all of your profiles (on social media sites, at REALTOR.com, and so on) are complete, up to date, and consistent.
- Be proactive in asking customers for reviews in legitimate forums, such as Yelp and LinkedIn.
- Search Google and Yahoo for your name and your company’s name. Save each search as a browser favorite and check them daily.
- Sign up for Google Alerts so that you’re notified when your name appears in a search. Also set up alerts for variations of your name, your company name, and other keywords.
- Ask your customers where they’ve gone to search for information about real estate and other professionals.
- Correct errors quickly. Immediately contact the Web site and be willing to prove your case with information from your MLS or other sources. But don’t be tempted to pay to have information removed. “It’s hard to imagine a legitimate site requiring you to pay to take down false information,” Thiel says.
Okay, I’m looking for an honest answer here: How often do you install an application on your phone without reading the terms of service? If you are like most people, including myself, the answer is probably “all the time.” I’m generally cautious about what I install and use on my phone, but I can’t say that I typically spend much time reading through lengthy terms of service (TOS) on a small screen. This is especially true when I’m loading an app for a particular purpose, one that is on my mind right now.
Because I love taking photos, one of my current favorite apps is Instagram, which allows me to upload, filter, frame, and share photos with the people who choose to follow me. My photos range from conference snapshots, to photos taken in and around our D.C. office, to pictures of my children’s latest escapades. Instagram also lets me keep up with photos of friends I’ve followed there.
Last spring, Instagram was purchased by Facebook. This week, the company posted new terms of service, set to take effect Jan. 16. According to some sources, the changes to the TOS grant the company the ability to use your photos in ways that you may not have intended, and this has caused a bit of a firestorm. Many users are complaining publicly. Here’s why:
According to an article on CNet.com,
Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency.
Without getting too deep in the legalese, the interpretation is that Instagram could take a photo you’ve uploaded and sell it to another company to use, without notifying you. But you don’t necessarily need to delete your account yet. Late yesterday, Instagram issued a reply on their blog, promising to revisit the language of the terms and explaining that their intention was to allow targeted advertising within the site, in much the same way that Facebook operates.
You can choose to make your profile private. Instagram’s current TOS says that their sharing and use is based on your account’s privacy setting; but the new TOS don’t include that language. For now, that will protect your photos. With the dustup about the language change and what their intent is, Instagram may reinsert this language before the January 16th cutoff. If not, you can consider deleting your account before the deadline.
As real estate agents, your big consideration on Instagram comes with any photos you may have taken and posted of your clients’ homes (current or past)—not MLS listing photos, but photos you have taken and shared. I’m sure your sellers wouldn’t want photos of their homes used commercially, so if you are sharing those types of photos, you need to know how and where they could be used. Flickr is a great replacement option, with better privacy settings, and the app now has photo filters, too. I’ve heard you can also get similar results by using the filters in the Hipstamatic app first, and then sharing the photo via Flickr. The Flickr app, like Instagram, is free, but Hipstamatic will cost you a cool 99 cents.
Still, a legitimate question remains: Should you be sharing photos of your listings on a photo-sharing site? Lots of practitioners do it. But it’s your responsibility to protect your photos of clients’ homes on those sites. In general, it’s also a good idea to protect yourself by having written permission from your sellers to take and publicly display and distribute photos of their home. Many listing agreements now include this type of language.
At the end of the day, you need to remember that at times you are using technology as a business person, and not just as a consumer. So protect your clients and yourself by making sure you understand the terms of service of the apps you use.
Marki Lemons is a foodie. She loves trying new restaurants in her Chicago neighborhood. At every restaurant she tries, she takes a picture of her meal via Instagram and writes a review on Yelp.
This may not seem like it has much to do with her real estate business, but it actually has everything to do with it. Lemons practices “SoMoLo”—social, mobile, local marketing to connect with potential clients.
“They know what I eat, what I like, and, most of all, that I’m a community expert,” said Lemons, ABR, CRS, short sale trainer and sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Lemons presented her tips for going SoMoLo during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo Marketing Forum in Orlando Saturday. For her, it involves focusing on creating and sharing visual content. For example, she shares her foodie Instagram images on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and foursquare, extending her social media marketing’s consistency and reach.
And don’t forget about Pinterest, she said. Food is one of the top categories on this visually-based social site to be shared or re-pinned, she said. Another idea for Pinterest is creating a marketing board on your page with photos of the agents in your office. This “Meet the Agents” board creates an opportunity for the pictures and bios of your agents to be re-pinned, Tweeted, or shared among a broader audience.
“Pinterest can drive a high amount of traffic to your Web site, even more than Facebook, Twitter, and Google,” Lemons said. The secret is utilizing the URL embedded within each photo pin. This will increase the engagement from your pins and direct followers to your Web site.
More than 20,000 images have been re-pinned over 10 million times, and more than 80 percent of photos are re-pinned on Pinterest. Continue reading »
The Internet is ever-changing. We saw a reminder of that this week, when Google Chrome took the title of world’s most popular Web browser from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
REALTOR.com, the public listings site for REALTORS®, is regularly introducing improvements to keep up with the changes. Errol Samuelson, president of REALTOR.com, went through a few of the significant moves the Web site has made in the past year during his presentation to NAR’s Board of Directors Saturday during the Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.
Mobile: REALTOR.com added a button to its popular mobile app that allows practitioners and consumers to find recently sold homes close to a selected property.
Social Media: REALTOR.com purchased SocialBios, which allows REALTORS to put customer testimonials on their REALTOR.com profiles, as well as syndicate those to Facebook. Also, REALTOR.com added a button that enables users to share property information on the new social network Pinterest. Samuelson said more than 100,000 property photos were shared on that network in the 24 days after the button had been created.
Technology Convergence: In an effort to reach more consumers, REALTOR.com is starting an on-demand television channel that is expected to reach about 50 million households.
Global Business: The site formally launched REALTOR.com/International, which permits users to post properties for sale overseas in multiple languages, at last year’s REALTORS Conference & Expo in Anaheim, Calif. In the past few months, REALTOR.com has seen 60 percent growth in international listings. Samuelson said the most popular language for property searches are Spanish and Chinese.
The big story in the blogosphere this week is that Facebook has released Timeline for business pages. Blogs will be written, tweets will be made, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few webinars in the works. All of this is great. But just remember one thing;
I wrote that post two years ago when the latest shiny object was that everyone needed to have a custom landing tab for their Facebook business page. Since then, many crazes have come and gone. Quora, QR Codes, Empire Avenue … the list goes on. Some of these shiny objects are just plain fun, and it’s okay to play, just don’t call it work. But too often, I see real estate agents spending way to much time chasing the latest shiny object for their business.
This week we are obsessed with Facebook again. The question at the heart of all the chatter: How are we going to take advantage of all these new features? If you have a business page, you probably should take a look at what has changed. But just like two years ago, the real issue is the business strategy behind your online efforts. Have you been spending your time trying to learn how to master the latest shiny object before you’ve even determined why you need to? Are you focused on pinning or winning?
Don’t get caught up in the hype. Here are five tips for avoiding social media syndrome. It’s a good list. Remember to focus on the proven stuff that already works and let others chase the latest shiny objects.
By Katherine Tarbox, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
You’ve probably heard it said more than once, “You need to create viral content in order to bring more traffic to your site.” But that’s really easier said than done, as the videos that get spread across the net seem to have a je ne sais quoi about them and there isn’t just one formula to ensure that your followers will press the share button or send the information in an e-mail. While often these videos can seem like just a good laugh, they do bring about brand awareness. If you want to promote that your office is fun to work with, these videos do the job.
“Don’t try and reinvent the wheel,” says Steve Curran, founder and chief creative officer at Pod Design, at the Social Media Summit held this week in Las Vegas. Instead of trying to start from scratch, Curran suggests looking at what videos are already viral and playing off of that.
Here are two good examples of that: Continue reading »
By Todd Carpenter, Director of Digital Engagement, National Association of REALTORS®
I wrote my first blog post about the real estate and mortgage industries on Jan. 27, 2005. Much has changed, but several truths about blogging have remained pretty constant:
Take all the training you want. Read every book. Learn from a lifetime of experience. Nobody will really care until you share that knowledge. Until I started my blog, I was just a good account executive for a lender. After I started it, I became an industry expert that other news organizations wanted to quote. People don’t want you to tell them you are an expert. They want you to prove it.
2. Have a business purpose behind every blog post you write.
I’ve written about this before. Beyond proving your own expertise to a reader, a great blog posts also serves additional business purposes. They could be designed to help you network with local businesses, or win in the search engines, or to build a library of FAQs you can reference later. Whatever it is, try to establish a business purpose for your posts before you write them.
3. Social networks come and go, but your Web site is forever.
There’s only one place on the Internet where you get to make all the rules. You get to decide when to ask for the sale. You get to decide if others can advertise next to your content. You get to decide who else gets to comment on your work. Where the platform’s very existence is assured. That’s your own Web site or blog. If you have put all your eggs in a basket where you don’t get to make the rules, what are you going to do when the rules get changed for you? A Web site or blog has to be the hub of all of your digital communications. Continue reading »
By Todd Carpenter, Director of Digital Engagement, National Association of REALTORS®
With nearly half of all REALTORS® using social media in 2011, it’s safe to say that it’s no fad. But will further adoption of social media be a driving force of change for the real estate industry in 2012, or will other trends prove more disruptive? I asked several social-media-savvy real estate professionals, “What new tools or trends will have the biggest impact on the real estate industry in 2012?” Here’s what they had to say.
Social Becomes Normal
“In 2002, we stopped calling it ‘e-business.’ In 2012, ‘social marketing’ meets a similar fate. Going forward, this is just ‘business,’” says Dan Green, loan officer with Waterstone Mortgage in Cincinnati and author of The Mortgage Reports. In some ways, social media’s mass adoption now makes it less disruptive. But as this form of marketing hits critical mass with the agent population, the companies they work for will try to leverage it. Green predicts that, “brands/brokers will begin actively amplifying their individual agents’ marketing messages. Expect top-down ‘messaging’ within a brokerage for agent Web sites, blogs, and social network presence.” Derek Overbey, senior social media manager at VerticalResponse, has a similar view, “In 2012, we will see deeper social integration into every aspect of business, including e-mail, promotions, advertising, and public relations.”
Ines Hegedus-Garcia, a Miami REALTOR® with Majestic Properties, thinks competence in technology will need to become the norm for real estate professionals: “2012 will not be about the best and newest shiny objects, but instead about how we, in the industry, are able to stay atop technology and able to integrate it into our daily business in a way that is useful. The consumer has learned to ask the right questions, and agents will have to show proof of successful business practices which incorporate technology. Continue reading »