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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.

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