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This stuff is pretty cool right? People can join your group, say whatever they want, whenever they want. Ah, not so fast. Young leaders that know how to create a group or page for your associaton have great ideas to share using web 2.0 but overlook some risks associated with online social networking. Here are some ideas that I have generated based on several conversations I have had already with some Association Executives:
Fully exposed. REALTOR® Associations may or may not want their communication efforts plastered in as many places as possible. The overlap of revealing personal information, tendencies, and social behavior may reveal unauthorized relationships with other groups or organizations.
Broker assumed liability. If the agent uploads content to the online community does the broker assume liability of the interpretation of the message? Brokers are responsible for the actions of their agents but when, what, and how the message is interpreted may play a role in responsibility that is assumed. Brokers should keep an eye on how their agents participate using their profile and in online networking with others.
Violation of Code of Ethics. When in doubt follow the golden rule. Anyone has the ability to say whatever they want whenever they want. Risky situations caused by incorrect data, misleading postings, and REALTOR® attacks on other REALTORS® may be direct violations of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. The community should be monitored by the professional standards committee or by association staff to see that fair participation has been mandated.
Violation of Fair Housing. The seven protected classes by Federal Fair Housing Laws must be considered when posting any information. Although no real estate may be transacted within the online community, the participants must be careful to avoid using terms which may coincide with these rules.
Trademark and copyright. Free use of photos, links, excerpts and videos may run the risk of trademark and copyright law. Members that upload violations may put the whole group at risk from these items. Rules must dictate disclaimers or procedures for uploading photos or videos to the community. Check to see if someone has created a group already. Some organizations have quickly found their name and logo used without explicit written permission.
Please consult with your supervising broker, REALTOR® association, real estate commission, and attorney prior to engaging into any participating of online social media. Licensing laws, disclosure of information, and advertising rules vary by state and should be closely examined. Case law for real estate professional use of online social communities has not set any precedents at the moment but we may see some in the near future. Take caution, have fun, and provide your clients with another reason for doing business with you.