There’s always something to howl about

Online Reputation Management for Realtors (and everyone else for that matter)

Recently I was asked to participate on a speaker’s panel at an upcoming real estate conference in Columbus. It’s always nice to be asked to participate and I even had a disturbing but fleeting Sally Fields moment. Conventional conventions are not my thing, but I got to thinking about the subject of the panel- Online Reputation Management and while in the end I demurred, I knew I had much more to say about the subject than my share of a speaker’s panel would allow. Here then, is what I might have said about ORM in 15 minutes or less:

Online Reputation Management. Interesting concept. I know what it means, I’m just not sure it gets to the root of the problem and the problem isn’t that people can post horrible and hideous things about you online, because if you spend enough time online speaking your mind, not hiding who you are, well then girlfriend, someone, somewhere is bound to say something hideous and horrible about you. The focus should not be that you cannot control what other people say, that’s reactive thinking. The focus should be on the only thing you can control- your own thoughts and actions.

It occurs to me that once upon a time a Realtor’s reputation was theirs to control through advertising alone. They wrote smarmy or vague advertisements about being the Neighborhood Expert, and who knew any better? What were you going to do- go around to each of your neighbors for verification? “You know this guy? Is he the expert?” It’d take for friggin’ ever to get a consensus on whether or not Joe, the Friendly Neighborhood Expert (FNE), was in fact, a) Friendly, or b) an Expert, but the interwebs changed all that, sort of. I mean you can still say whatever you want about yourself, but now your clients can turn to the ultimate FNE, aka Google, and in the blink of an eye, all is revealed.

This is a good thing. It’s good for us. It’s good for our industry. But most importantly it’s good for our clients because now you really do have to be an FNE if you are going to call yourself one. If you talk about customer service, you’d better deliver the goods. If you claim to be a top producer, you might want to make sure that jives with the facts. This isn’t bad, but it might be a different way of thinking.

We’ve been having some amazing conversations about privacy here on BloodhoundBlog, mind-bending conversations about a world where privacy doesn’t exist and why it shouldn’t. I confess I was not on board with this at first.  I’m sure there is something in my lily white bread past that I’d be horrified if you knew. I’m sure there is something in my Midwest, middle class, psuedo-Catholic upbringing that you’d be horrified if you knew. Like… I once cheated on an Algebra test. Okay, you caught me, I did it twice. And… I would, on occasion, buy booze at the local drive-thru when I was only 16. Heard enough? No? Okay, how ’bout this- I own an entire Time-Life collection of Cowboy Songs. On cassette! Think what you will, think less of me if you must, now you know my deepest secrets.

What does that have to do with ORM? Transparency. Did you ever read Greg’s post on the Implied Accusation? He suggests that you treat your clients as transparently as possible, something like this:

“I make my living effecting real estate transactions, and I don’t get paid until every step of the process is completed. But my legal and moral obligation to my clients eclipses every other interest in my life, including my own self-interest. I want for you to be happy at the end of this process — no matter how it ends. I want for you to be delighted with the work I’ve done for you, even if we end up not buying or selling a house. You are my client now, and I want you to be my client forever. I want to do everything that is right for you, first and always. And I want for you to bring me all your business — you and everyone you know. And I want for you never to feel the need to sue me. The moral is the practical, always, no matter what business we do — or don’t do — right now.

“Why am I saying all this to you? For two reasons: To make it explicit, and so you can feel comfortable holding me accountable to it. These are the terms on which I do business with everyone, and this little speech is your warranty that I will do business with you this way, as well.”

I bring this up because this gets to the heart and soul and brains of Reputation Management. You must be honest, open, transparent, throughout every aspect of a real estate transaction- hiding nothing, revealing everything, working in a completely open manner in real life, otherwise your online reputation is worth the paper it’s written on.  In other words, how we conduct ourselves offline is really the only way to manage our reputations online. Last week, Greg Swann wrote in an email about privacy:

“Transparency means never having a motivation you hope to conceal from discovery.”

Our clients are not idiots, we must stop treating them as if they are. The transparency needed to earn your client’s trust and keep your reputation polished will not come from the top down in this industry so don’t look to the NAR for an example on how to conduct business that minimizes your risk of reputation damage. The past few years have done nothing to elevate the reputation of the real estate industry, but we can move beyond that by considering how we conduct every detail and aspect of our own business and our own dealings with our own clients. “Transparency means never having a motivation you hope to conceal from discovery.”  If you do this one thing, or make every attempt to do this one thing, it won’t matter what anyone says about you because in the end, the truth will always speak for itself. Want to know how best to manage your online reputation? It begins and ends offline, with this: Mind your motivation and your reputation will mind itself.


23 Comments so far

  1. Sean Purcell August 20th, 2011 9:34 pm

    Wow… that’s one hell of a post Teri. I’ll come back and read it more than once, just because truth is so beautiful.

    Damn good post…

  2. Chris Johnson August 20th, 2011 10:31 pm

    +1. RT. Like. Hug.

  3. Thomas Johnson August 20th, 2011 11:26 pm

    Well done, Teri! Taking this to SM.

  4. janeAnne August 21st, 2011 5:27 am


    When I saw your name pop up in my mail this morning, being an interested reader of your opinions, and then that you were saying, ” this gets to the heart and soul and brains of Reputation …” I knew I had to hop on over to read your contribution on the subject of online reputation management.

    SO appreciate what you have to say and how you summarize this : “Mind your motivation and your reputation will mind itself.

  5. Wayne August 21st, 2011 6:00 am

    If I am understanding you correctly you are saying that your online reputation should be a reflection of a great offline reputation…

    True that!!

    That said…..monitoring your online reputation is becoming more and more important everyday…..

  6. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 6:02 am

    Thanks, Guys! And ((HUG)) back, Genuine. How’s life in the PDX?


    Thanks for the kind words. I took a peek at your site and love that you post agency law right there, in front of God and everybody! Nicely done, and of course I’m stealing that idea. 😉

  7. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 6:06 am

    Hi Wayne-

    >That said…..monitoring your online reputation is becoming more and more important everyday…..

    Why do you say that? Not arguing, just curious.

  8. Wayne August 21st, 2011 8:23 am

    Teri…. I have not had any issues thus far but people can post anything about you or your company true or not.

    I saw a post recently about a business …and because of my relationship with the business… I know for a fact that it is false but it is out there anyway.

    So again, I agree with you totally about being transparent and having a truly good reputation because your work speaks for itself!!

    BUT we do have to recognize the fact that there are hurtful people in the world and there is little control over that on the internet.


  9. Greg Swann August 21st, 2011 8:48 am

    > BUT we do have to recognize the fact that there are hurtful people in the world and there is little control over that on the internet.

    Evil people do you a great favor: They chase other evil people into the arms of your competition.

  10. Scott Hack August 21st, 2011 10:04 am

    What prompted you to turn down the opportunity to participate in the panel?

  11. Eric Blackwell August 21st, 2011 10:38 am

    Great, thought provoking post Teri. I think that you are dealing with ORM in a very cerebral way. I agree that being transparent is the start. And it is foundational. I think there are other levels as well.

    That said, I think Carolyn Capalbo might take issue with the fact that evil people only serve to drive other evil people away. She needed the help of good people to assist her in protecting her online reputation to make it match her stellar offline one. Greg, I and a lot of others jumped to her defense as we did Vlad and others over the years.

    I would tend to agree with Wayne that sometimes people think of ORM as inflating what one is…it should not be. It is being transparent, but proactive and sometimes outright aggresive in protecting your name online as well as off.

    As part of my ORM practice I have turned away more than a few sex offenders and others who were simply trying to hide what they had done and been convicted of.

    I have likewise taken on more than a few things pro bono to help people whose online reputation did not reflect their outstanding offline one…usually (like Carolyn) in the case of someone with the same name doing something that caused them infamy.

    Along that same vein of transparency, I still happily Google Todd Kaufmann tax assessor every now and then… just to remind myself that karma can work both ways and that transparency reveals ugly people just like it does beautiful people like Carolyn and Steve Capalbo.

    Just my .02. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  12. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 10:40 am

    Hi Scott-

    The panel was all of 15 minutes with a few other speakers. In return they were offering heavy promotion of speakers to the RE industry. Once I factored in travel time and speaking time the ROI didn’t make sense for me. If it had been local, or the panel was longer, or I would have been paid, I probably would have done it. My business has been in the dumpster for the past few years as I was focused on some personal stuff so right now I’m trying like heck to get back to selling houses. Not such a big deal to skip this conference. I know of a few other local folks, more experienced than I, who would probably love the opportunity, and that will make for more dynamic speakers. Besides all that, anytime I think I’ve got something I want to howl about to the industry, I have BHB. 😉

  13. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 10:58 am

    I agree with you Eric, and thanks for weighing in. As I was thinking about ORM as a member of a panel, I figured I couldn’t add anything to the discussions of setting up Google Alerts, and how to deal with bad reviews, etc. I was trying to think of it from a POV that maybe wouldn’t come up- food for thought, or just desserts 😉 if you will, to accompany the meat and potatoes of a panel discussion which I interpreted as a how-to primer of ORM. I do have a vanity alert for my name, so I don’t ignore it, but still, as you said, “transparency reveals ugly people just like it does beautiful people”. I’ve seen some unpleasant things written about me over the years. Time and transparency seem to take care of it pretty well without knee-jerk paniked damage control on my part.

    But, I do have something else to say about ORM: I’ve seen scathing reviews of agents on Zillow. I would hope and like to think that when or if it becomes my turn to be on the receiving end, I would use it to explain how I plan on improving my business. Either I really screwed up, or my communication broke down, or it’s a lie, but any of those situations provide opportunity to make it right or improve for the future, and that’s what people are going to take away. Not that you had a bad review, but that you handled it like a pro.

  14. Wayne August 21st, 2011 11:12 am

    >but that you handled it like a pro.

    Have to agree with you there Teri….. how you handle adversity is as important as how you handle success.

    Both are very important!!

  15. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 11:34 am


    >how you handle adversity is as important as how you handle success.

    Possibly more important from a potential client’s eyes? Glowing reviews are wonderful, but if stuff goes wrong, I want an agent who is going to be able to move forward. To be able to see that, that would be helpful. All reviews can be turned into postives, somehow. I feel like I’m jinxing myself. I should stop talking about this…

  16. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 12:55 pm

    Something else just occured to me. You know how after a big televised sports event even the losing coach has to go in front of the world and give an interview? No boo-hooing or bad mouthing allowed, stand up and be accountable. Transparency is accountability. I think that’s how we have to look at bad reviews. It’s just our turn to give a post-game recap.

  17. Wayne August 21st, 2011 1:11 pm

    >It’s just our turn to give a post-game recap.

    Not sure that is the same as someone taking “anonymous” pot shots at you that may have no basis in fact.

  18. Teri Lussier August 21st, 2011 1:26 pm


    >Not sure that is the same as someone taking “anonymous” pot shots at you that may have no basis in fact.

    It’s not the same. But now we are back to transparency. If I’m working from that place, truly working in that world, lies don’t fit. They will out themselves. They may make me uncomfortable or angry or upset or any number of things, but if it’s a lie, it will out itself. Maybe I’ve never seen an example of what you are talking about. Do you have one in mind? When has an anonymous baldfaced out and out lie destroyed someone’s career? Again, not arguing, but if I’m wrong, I’d like to know it.

  19. Wayne August 21st, 2011 2:32 pm

    I don’t think you are wrong at all… I very much like and agree with what you are saying but I do think that we want to protect our online reputation just like our offline reputation. The difference is that online people can post anonymously.

    I do have an example in my mind but would rather not link to it as it would draw further attention. It is not a Realtor but a friend in another business. It definitely will not destroy their career as they do have a good reputation offline but it will cost them some sales.

    Anyway, we have probably labored this more than is warranted… We both agree that taking the high road is where we want to be… but I think it is smart to do what you have already said you do and set up some alerts so that we can watch out for somebody on the down low road 🙂

  20. Carmen August 21st, 2011 3:38 pm

    It is very disturbing to think about the negative effects that one disgruntled client can have on your online presence. Thank goodness for google alerts to at least let you know immediately whenever anything is posted about you.

  21. Jim Klein August 22nd, 2011 4:12 pm

    Monster post, Teri. To me, it reads like the starting flag for the Race to Dawn.

    The Time-Life collection of Cowboy Songs…so that was you, eh?

  22. Teri Lussier August 22nd, 2011 5:25 pm

    >The Time-Life collection of Cowboy Songs…so that was you, eh?

    Sure ’twas.

    Slim Whitman, Bob Wills, Sons of the Pioneers… That’s good singing, mighty fine picking, and they tell great stories. What can I say? I love it. 😀

  23. Jonathan October 15th, 2011 8:55 pm

    Google alerts are key. From a mortgage perspective, you can work your butt off and do everything you can to get your loans approved, but you’re going to have a loan denied from time to time. If you don’t have an occasional loan denied then you aren’t taking enough chances. That one denial could be the person that takes out there aggression on your internet reputation. Build as many positive testimonials as possible and one poor testimonial will not have much effect.