Social media can be a great way to showcase listings, build relationships, and connect with clients and potential clients. But to maximize its benefits, you need a solid social media strategy. You also need a social media safety plan, so your posts don’t land you in court.
Avoiding a real estate lawsuit related to social media starts by knowing the risks. Let’s look at three things you can do to avoid social media errors that could lead to legal issues.
Avoid False Advertising
With digital images, it’s easy to edit out unwanted visuals from pictures, but in most cases you shouldn’t. If you do alter photos, for example with virtual staging, a safe practice is to show before and after pictures, clearly labeled.
In addition, make sure your words are always accurate. Just as with mistakes on MLS listings, you are responsible for identifying and correcting mistakes on social media posts and marketing as well. Avoiding statements like “perfect condition,” is also a wise practice, as those kinds of phrases can be easily disputed. A better choice is to give clear, accurate descriptions of the property, without vague labels that might be misunderstood or argued.
Since even old posts can get you into trouble, you should also go back and edit or correct information you know is wrong. Social media posts are often short and informal, which means it’s easy to get a little lax. Take time to get it right.
Get Social Media Authorization
You want to share success stories, so you snap a photo of your clients in front of their home and post it to Facebook. Is that a problem? It depends. Do you have authorization to post photos of your clients on social media?
Make it a practice to get authorization to use client names and likenesses in photographs and videos. And ALWAYS get authorization if the photos or videos include children. You must have permission to use the photos and videos in social media, on your website, and in any other marketing materials.
Additional information to convey in the release is that clients will not be compensated in any way for the use of images or other materials, and they can choose to revoke authorization in the future by stating their intent in writing (though they cannot undo any sharing done while the authorization was in place).
If you have clients who choose not to sign the authorization, make it very clear in the client’s file that authorization has not been given.
Avoid Copyright Infringement
It’s so easy to grab pictures from another website to share on your blog or your social accounts. Or maybe you’re creating a virtual walkthrough, so you grab your favorite song off YouTube to use in the background. Both of these actions are problematic.
If you want music for a video or ad, look for music that you can license for use. There are a number of sites that feature free or low cost music for use in videos or podcasts.
If you want to use pictures, you have choices:
Request permission from the owner to use them
Use free stock photos (if you aren’t highlighting a particular property)
Take pictures yourself
Share the link to the website with the original photos.
When posting pictures, leave any details from the photographer in the details about the photograph and give credit according to any use agreements. You don’t want to get into a situation where a client or image owner gets into a negative discussion on your very public page about the use of their materials. Such a situation creates a poor perception of your business, which can harm prospective relationships. It could also create a snowball effect with people digging through past posts to see what else you’ve shared that you didn’t have rights to.
Carry the Right Real Estate E&O
These are three major pitfalls you should avoid when using social media, but they aren’t the only ones. Since technology changes fast, it’s important to keep up with trends and understand how to protect yourself legally. If you have questions about whether the social media marketing you want to use (or have already used ) could get you into trouble, you’ll want advice from experts in real estate law.
The right real estate E&O is there for you when real estate legal issues arise. With CRES Real Estate E&O + ClaimPrevent®, you have the CRES legal team available to help answer questions about specific issues or take action to help you avoid a lawsuit.
Steering clear of social media isn’t the way to avoid a real estate lawsuit. Knowing the risks and taking steps to protect yourself is.
What steps have you taken to protect yourself on social media?
This blog/website is made available by CRES Insurance Services for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding of legal risks and insurance options, not to provide specific legal advice. This blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Claims examples are for illustrative purposes only. Read your policy for a complete description of what is covered and excluded.
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