MLSs Embrace Social Media

By Masha Zager

“Real estate practitioners are very social people,” says Melissa Olson, marketing and communications manager for Metrolist Inc., a 16,000-subscriber MLS in Greenwood Village, Colo. “Everything you deal with in the REALTOR® world is geared around social networking.” That’s why Olson wasn’t surprised when Metrolist customers eagerly began adopting new social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The challenge facing MLSs today, however, is encouraging and enabling subscribers to take advantage of the business-building opportunities presented by social media, while ensuring that they also follow MLS rules for posting listings online.

Although associations have encountered problems with members displaying other members’ listings on social media sites, so far, this issue is not widespread.

Rules are Rules are Rules?

Olson says she has fielded a few complaints about listings showing up on social media sites without authorization or with photographs from a different listing, but says, “I haven’t seen anyone flagrantly misusing data in ways inconsistent with the rules.”

None of the MLSs we spoke to have tightened their rules in response to the proliferation of social media sites, and it appears that most do not feel the need for new, social media-specific rules.

Jeff Lasky, director of communications and training at a 40,000-subscriber MLS, Midwest Real -Estate Data (MRED) in Lisle, Ill., says social media sites, in fact, create fewer problems than classified-ad sites, such as Craigslist. This is because the system is largely self-policing, Lasky observes. “If you put my listing up,” he explains, “somehow, I’m probably going to find out about it.”

Black, White, and Gray

Brian Larson, an attorney with the Minneapolis-based law firm Larson/Sobotka PLLC, says current rules provide a good basis, but there are plenty of gray areas.

Larson says, although there’s no question that brokers can repost their own listings wherever they want, reposting others’ listings may be considered advertising. Under NAR’s Code of Ethics, as well as most state real estate commission rules and MLS rules, such advertising is not permitted without the consent of the listing’s owner.

“It is not possible to post other brokers’ listings on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites in a way that complies with the rules,” says Debbie Wey, assistant director of policy at Carolina Multiple Listing Services. Therefore, CMLS subscribers must obtain written permission from the listing brokerage to post another broker’s listing anywhere online.

Most MLSs have taken the position (either explicitly or implicitly) that reposting others’ listings in the social media sphere constitutes advertising. However, some are trying to be flexible, -Larson says, making exceptions for situa-tions such as a broker posting a review of another broker’s listing on Face-book (for example, “I went to look at this house today, and it’s a great value for the asking price”) with a link to the listing on an approved IDX site.

“There’s a gray area there in the middle, and if you’re going to enforce the rule, you have to draw a line through the gray area,” Larson explains. “Almost any line will do if you stick with it. [MLSs] philosophically want to encourage brokers to make good use of social media while respecting the rights of the listing broker. Deciding exactly where to draw the line can be a little challenging.”

Larson says clarifying the definition of advertising would probably be helpful but warns against reacting too specifically to today’s social media landscape: “I anticipate that it’s going to be a moving target. Two years from now, there will be something we’ve never heard of yet.” With that in mind, he advises phrasing any new rules as generally as possible.

“There are always going to be people operating at the edge of what’s OK, but that doesn’t mean you want to rein everyone in and prevent innovation,” Larson says. “As usual, it’s all about finding the happy medium.”

Overcoming the learning curve

Since most REALTORS® are still learning how to use social media tools effectively, at this stage most MLSs are supporting their endeavors with education and training.

Sharon Lukens, director of design and communications at 32,000-subscriber TREND MLS in King of Prussia, Pa., advises members on how different social media sites work, the best times to post, how to monitor what other users are saying about them, and where to find information to repost and comment on. She estimates that less than half of TREND members actively use social media, and of those, some use social media only for personal communication.

Lukens says TREND supports the idea of agents using Facebook, Twitter, and similar sites to position themselves as experts about markets they serve or about real estate in general. To promote this type of use, TREND is sharing information with agents that they, in turn, can share with clients: “Statistics, reposts of news, reports . . . these can help them better present themselves as experts in the market to their followers.”

Feeding the machine

Because a growing number of REALTORS® now also use social media to promote their own listings to potential clients, some MLSs offer tools to make sharing listings easier. For example, MRED responded to user demand by developing a widget that allows REALTORS® to repost their listings to any Web site, blog, or social media site. “It’s helped a lot of agents who are new to social media and are scared,” says Chris Lambrou, MRED’s support manager. “They just click the button on the listing, and off it goes.”

Since the widget was launched in May 2010, about 10,000 agents—a quarter of MRED’s customers—have used it, and their reposted listings have been viewed 35,000 times. “That’s 35,000 potential leads,” Lambrou points out.

MRED’s widget creates dynamic rather than static links. This means that if the original listing -information changes, the reposted listing updates automatically, making it maintenance-free. As agents have suggested ideas for improvement (such as being able to post information about open -houses), the widget has been modified. Since its launch last spring, it has gone through several iterations.

In addition to MLSs, technology vendors are getting into the social media real estate listing game.

In March, real estate search engine company Roost launched its Social Real Estate tab for real estate professionals on Facebook. The tab enables agents to display local market data for certain geographic areas, their own listings on Facebook business and profile pages, plus a branded “Home Search” engine that ties into an individual brokerage’s IDX or Web site listings.

The tab was so popular for Roost that the San Francisco company shifted its entire business model away from search. It is now focusing exclusively on helping agents and brokers gain referral business through Facebook.

Another small tech firm, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Twidget Media, launched an application, Agent Showroom, that enables real estate practitioners to integrate their own listings directly into their Facebook fan and profile pages, for about $30 a month. Cofounder Grant Deken says, “We’re already seeing how Showroom is going to redefine the way the real estate industry looks at social media.”

For now, IDX information (other than practitioners’ own listings) is available on Facebook through links to authorized IDX sites or custom search engines that also redirect visitors to authorized IDX. But will MLS listing data ever be available on Facebook itself? Stay tuned.

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