Social media advertising – you are what you Tweet
| August 05, 2011
It has been about two years since the Real Estate Council of Alberta published and distributed its Advertising Guidelines. Since that time, usage of social media in Alberta’s real estate and mortgage brokerage industries has grown exponentially. Now seems like the perfect time for a refresher on the usage of social media for advertising and/or trades in real estate and deals in mortgages.
Advertising includes any activity, public notice or representation authorized, made by or on behalf of an industry member that promotes an industry member or the business, services, real estate trades or mortgage deals of industry members in any medium including print, radio, television or publication on the Internet. Advertising includes all promotional events, printed material, circulars, pamphlets, billboards, signs, business cards, letterhead, bench signs, fax cover sheets and other similar materials. Under the Real Estate Act, advertising itself can be considered a trade in real estate and/or a deal in mortgages, as the case may be.
So, how does this relate to industry member’s usage of social media, particularly Twitter?
As a general principle, industry members trading in real estate or dealing in mortgages should be aware that all regulations and policies respecting advertising apply equally to the Internet. That means all advertising needs to clearly indicate the name of the brokerage with which an industry member is registered.
What about the fact Twitter limits how many characters you can use on your profile page and in your Tweets?
As with industry member websites, all social media profiles and pages used to trade in real estate and deal in mortgages must clearly indicate the industry member’s full name and brokerage name. If an industry member wishes to use Twitter to trade in real estate or deal in mortgages, that industry member must meet the advertising standards set out in the Real Estate Act Rules, and that includes clearly indicating the brokerage name.
However, if an industry member wishes to use a Twitter message (a “Tweet”) only to direct the public to an advertisement located somewhere else, where brokerage information (full disclosure) is clearly indicated, that industry member would not need to include their brokerage information in the Twitter message.
Now, let’s just say you’re a real estate industry professional who has a Twitter account, and you never use that Twitter account to advertise your services or properties you have listed for sale – your Twitter profile page, in this case, would not need to include your brokerage name. As soon as you start Tweeting material relating to your work as a real estate industry member, even if it’s just a link to your real estate industry member website, your profile page would require clear indication of your brokerage name.
RECA has had some questions about this in light of a Letter of Reprimand that was issued in June. A broker received the reprimand because his or her Twitter profile page, i.e. the page found at http://Twitter.com/industrymembername, did not include his or her brokerage name. The industry member in question was Tweeting links to real estate his or her brokerage had listed for sale. Aggravating the situation further was the fact that, the industry member in question had received two advisory notes in the past for advertising issues.
RECA has heard someone say they thought RECA could suspend or cancel an industry member’s licence because of Tweets. Except in extraordinary, blatant and repeated willful ignorance of the guidelines and rules, that is completely wrong. To start with, any disciplinary action must first begin with a formal written complaint to RECA and it would be very surprising if a single Tweet could lead to such a complaint and such strong disciplinary action. RECA wants to elevate the professionalism within Alberta’s real estate industry, and transparency is a big part of that. If you want to use social media to advertise – and many industry professionals do – just make sure you’re doing it in accordance with the advertising guidelines.
We’ve been very active on Twitter for the past year and it has been a great way to communicate with industry members. We haven’t joined Twitter in order to police industry member behaviour; that said, when clear guidelines are established and not followed, particularly relating to advertising, we will contact the person(s) involved and ask them to rectify any breaches.