Know the rules of real estate advertising
There is some grumbling in Minnesota in the real estate industry over how our state Department of Commerce has decided to regulate our use of social media. I have to admit I am not thrilled with some of the rules.
It has always been a rule that we disclose that we are licensees in any kind of advertising, and we are required to display the name of our brokerage prominently in that advertising.
If I put an advertisement in a newspaper, I am required to include the name of my brokerage in that advertisement and to identify myself as a Realtor. The very same rules apply to Internet-based advertising, and that includes agent blogs and websites.
My Twitter account is a personal account and I have never used it for advertising, though each day I do schedule a Twitter post that includes a link to my real estate blog, which I do use for marketing. So I decided to put my brokerage company’s name in the bio section on my Twitter page.
But displaying the brokerage name on the Twitter page is not enough for our Department of Commerce, which wants it in each tweet that is for advertising purposes. We have only 140 characters to work with, and out tweets will look so spammy with a brokerage name in them.
The rule gives brokerages with short names a tremendous advantage, and I would advise anyone wishing to start a brokerage in Minnesota to choose a name that is no more than three letters long if they plan to use Twitter for business.
Our Department of Commerce has decided, too, that it isn’t enough to have the name of our brokerage on our real estate blogs — we also need to include that information in every post just in case someone is reading it through an RSS feed and doesn’t see the actual blog where the brokerage name is disclosed.
This rule does not make sense because there are other ways to get the brokerage name in the RSS feed and it is possible to include the brokerage name in every post without having it show up in the RSS feed.
My business page on Facebook has to have the brokerage name displayed in a prominent place. The easiest way to accomplish that was to change the page so that the page title includes the brokerage name. I could not find a better way to make it prominent, and after playing around with it for an hour I decided that Facebook was not designed with the Minnesota Department of Commerce in mind.
My personal Facebook account is another matter. I do occasionally mention business, but it is a personal account and the Department of Commerce does not have access to it, so I am not planning on making any changes. My occupation and the brokerage I am with are listed in my bio, and that is all the Department of Commerce and the general public can see.
Not being a legal expert, I’ll have to assume that it’s OK to be a real estate licensee and have a personal Facebook account in Minnesota. After all, social media isn’t just for real estate.
It is sometimes difficult to decide where to draw the line between personal and business. Social media is a huge part of my business life and my personal life.
For example, I met a buyer through my Flickr account — does that make it a business account? My occupation is listed in my personal social media accounts — can that be construed as advertising?
As our society continues to change and how we buy and sell and communicate with each changes, our laws need to change to keep up with the times. Corporations have social media policies and so do some brokerages. As always, the government lags behind, handing down rules that don’t make a lot of sense and are tough to enforce.
I was not even aware about the rules impacting social media activities until recently. Please check with your Department of Commerce and know the rules regarding business uses of social media. Ignorance isn’t an acceptable excuse for violations.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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