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Online Reputation Management and Your Brand

Rob Uhrina | February 08, 2018

Personal branding is not a new concept for REALTORS®. Whether publishing their photos on business cards, on yard signs or in ads, REALTORS® have been using print media for generations to build up an image and a brand. In today's world of social media and news moving at lightning speed, maintaining a positive image online presents a new set of challenges that requires professionals to actively monitor their reputation.

Consumers don't just pick homes, they pick you
Research from the National Association of REALTORS® shows most consumers initiate their search for a home and a REALTOR® online. To demonstrate what a consumer can see about you, try "Googling" yourself. The results, whether big or small, share a story about yourself that will drive your "online reputation. Are you absent from the radar and appear to be invisible as a business? Are you listed multiple times? Do you have complaints? Are there photos of you that don't present you professionally?

Let's assume you are listed multiple times in a Google search. Start at the top of the page. In most cases, the first result is your LinkedIn profile - if you have one, then your firm's website. Expect prospects to skip your website initially. They don't care as much about your listings or how many times you've sold a home. They care more about finding a solid, reputable REALTOR® who will treat them fairly, ethically and professionally.

Why is LinkedIn important? LinkedIn allows prospects to dig into your background and sift through the various positions you've held, read your endorsements and view your voted-upon areas of expertise from colleagues, demonstrating your core competencies. Consumers can quickly decide if they want to pursue doing business with you. Unlike Zillow, LinkedIn is usually the first result in a Google name search. Therefore, always ensure your LinkedIn profile is current, relevant and accurate, then decide whether you want your skill set to look specialized or broadly focused so prospects can identify your niche and your breadth of knowledge.

Social media has changed the game
Today more than ever, consumers do not differentiate between word of mouth advertising and random advice on the internet. Internet advice is easily accessible and offers unfiltered opinions, making it attractive to people who prefer getting quick answers even at the risk of such information being inaccurate. Since the real estate industry is always wrestling with buyers and sellers who want to take on their own transactions, it is imperative REALTORS® demonstrate their expertise both in their profession and local markets to position themselves for future business.

Your internet footprint has no time limit
Your online reputation is an internet footprint that has no expiration. How does your social media image look? Does your image include a plethora of photos of you holding cocktails? Have you published bold commentary that someone might find offensive or objectionable? Whether you posted a negative comment once or many times, remember you only have one shot at making a first impression - and whether that impression is right or wrong, negative "off-the-cuff" commentary could be damaging.

Protect your posts on social media
When using social media, it is always better to use business pages rather than personal accounts to connect with your local buyers and sellers. Segmenting your personal and professional life and placing your prospects and friends in a different sphere of visibility is good practice: You will not turn off your close friends with business posts, your personal information stays private, and your business page stays locked in to helping prospects and customers exclusively.

On Facebook specifically, if you are using your personal social media account to connect with clients, be sure to use built-in security controls to lock down your posts and create friend groups for targeting. Social media is viral and has "legs." If you forget to use these controls and regret posting something later, just remember the harm is already done. You can always delete or hide a comment, but you can't undo what has already been posted and likely read. Again, best social media practices dictate that you create and use a business page in addition to your personal page to differentiate your focus and reduce the risk of broadcasting posts to unwanted audiences.

Commit to building a positive brand
How do you create a positive reputation online? Start with LinkedIn and focus on obtaining positive reviews from your connections. A testimonial is the strongest asset you will have online. How do you get testimonials? A good approach is the "pay it forward" philosophy: Each month, post a few unsolicited reviews of your colleagues who are worthy of a recommendation. Not only do you help them, but eventually, you in turn will receive positive reviews without asking. Unsolicited recommendations over manufactured ones are the most authentic.

Also, if you are like most people, your Facebook page is a public profile. Your Facebook page is an excellent resource for prospects to vet your background and determine whether you are a good fit for them and/or someone they would trust to manage their transaction. While this sounds like a big brother concept, this is exactly how people use social media today. Because buying and selling a home is personal business, trust means everything. Social media transparency puts you in a position where a prospect can uncover a lot about you quickly, so always be professional.

You are not invisible ...
Can social media hurt you? Absolutely. Social media is a direct lens into your life and how you handle yourself inside and outside the office. Thus, anything you or others post about you is fair game for criticism. For example, say you had a client meeting but cancelled it for a trip to the golf course. Then, your client saw online when your golf partner tagged you in a photo at the course. Even though you may have cancelled on the client with ample lead time, the client may feel shafted or unimportant. Always be as upfront as possible, especially when moving appointments on clients. The truth is always out there.

.. but don't be a bull in a china shop either!
Conversely, when are you too visible on the radar? One mistake many people make on social media is they forget they are in front of a live audience of future prospects. Many Facebook users do not temper the context and volume of their posts because they have become too comfortable using social media as a platform for publishing anything from charged opinions to divisive comments. While charged comments can fuel discussion, drive page traffic and generate Facebook likes, charged comments often lead to artificial affirmation, carelessness and undisciplined online reputation management. While we all enjoy the freedom of speech to say whatever we want, social media puts you in front of a live audience of potentially hundreds of prospects who are watching. While an opinion can be dead right, the approach might be dead wrong - and while you still have a social platform for expression, your prospecting potential may suffer inadvertent consequences.

Be professional everywhere
This piece of advice can be said over and over again. Commit to practicing proper internet etiquette and produce posts that convey a professional image. A good way to litmus-test your posts is to avoid posting anything that you would not say verbally in front of a group of customers. Social media is like watching a TV show in front of a live audience: If you make a mistake, it is heard and seen by all those who are watching.

Also, remember social media can be thought of as the world's biggest party. Would you attend a party and discuss who you voted for in an election? Would you start a political debate? Would you bring up controversial topics? Would you sell your products at the party? Would you share embarrassing college photos of yourself and friends? Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn’t but remember social media behavior can either help you or haunt you.

Google alerts for online reputation management
Even if you already practice social media etiquette, how do you track comments from others about you and your business? Let Google Alerts be your internet watchdog. Google Alerts tracks and monitors internet content as it is published. As new hits are found on Google, you can be notified immediately. If you are not familiar with Google Alerts, it's a fantastic monitoring and online reputation tool that allows you to set up any number of tracking words. Plus, it's free and only requires a Google account.

Next, if you are a business owner, consider an office policy. The posts your agents make online may be interpreted as a reflection of your entire organization. Many companies forget to set an internal policy - for example a rule about employees posting to personal pages during business hours. While your agents' posts might be safe and legitimate, a handful of prospects may wonder why the agent is messing around with social media when they should be conducting business. Having these guidelines in place is just one of the many best practices you can implement to ensure you and your business maintain a positive online reputation.

Rob Uhrina is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the WRA.