Common Questions on Advertising through Social Media answered by the staff of the MAR Legal Hotline.
Q. My company wants to start advertising our listings on social media. How can I be sure that I am making the proper disclosures?
A. Whether the property is being promoted in a newspaper or on the internet, brokers must disclose the name of their brokerage, as well as their status as a real estate professional. Massachusetts Regulation 254 CMR 3.00(9) states that, “A broker shall not advertise in any way that is false or misleading” and “all advertisements shall include the name of the real estate broker.” Furthermore, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics states that, “REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations. REALTORS® shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising, marketing, and other representations, and that the recipients of all real estate communications are, or have been, notified that those communications are from a real estate professional.” Standard of Practice 12-5 goes on to say that, “REALTORS® shall not advertise nor permit any person employed by or affiliated with them to advertise real estate services or listed property in any medium (e.g., electronically, print, radio, television, etc.) without disclosing the name of that REALTOR®’s firm in a reasonable and readily apparent manner.”
Standard of Practice 12-5 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics was amended in 2011 to address the concern of social media and advertisements. Specifically, it states: “This Standard of Practice acknowledges that disclosing the name of the firm may not be practical in electronic displays of limited information (e.g., “thumbnails”, text messages, “tweets”, etc.). Such displays are exempt from the disclosure requirement established in this Standard of Practice, but only when linked to a display that includes all required disclosures.” Therefore, in each social media advertisement, you must be sure to include a link to another page, most likely your firm website, which includes the name of your brokerage.
You should also keep in mind that Massachusetts License law prohibits salespersons from advertising under their own name. Therefore, it is recommended that salespeople who wish to advertise their listings via social media should do so in a manner that clearly identifies their status as a real estate professional, as well as the name of their brokerage.
Q. I am a buyer’s agent and want to showcase some other brokerages’ listings on my social media page to attract buyer-clients. I think this is a win-win, since I will help the sellers get exposure, and I will also attract clients. Is this an acceptable practice?
A. Probably not. Advertising another firm’s listing on your social media page could be construed as misleading to prospective buyers, since they might assume that the listing is your own. Furthermore, Standard of Practice 12-4 prohibits REALTORS® from advertising without authority. If the seller’s agent and their client did not give you permission to advertise this listing, this is likely a violation of Article 12, and possibly the Massachusetts regulations.
Q. I thought that when brokers signed up for the MLS, the brokers automatically granted access to have their listings posted on other subscriber’s websites. Can I post information on other broker’s listings from the MLS on my social media page?
A. Not necessarily. You should take a close look at your Multiple Listing Service policies, which will include very specific requirements for WebPages, or “public access websites” that display listings through the MLS. Specifically, the National Association of REALTORS® Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy states that, “the “Information Data Exchange” (IDX) policy gives MLS participants the ability to authorize limited electronic display of their listings by other participants…and… MLS participants [may]display aggregated MLS listing information by specified electronic means in accordance with this policy.” Following that statement is a detailed list of what each website must include in order to properly display other participant’s listings. Each MLS has varying policies on this, but those policies are exhaustive and specific. Most likely, sharing another brokerage’s listing on your social media page is not automatically consistent with your MLS policies. To be sure, if you are sharing another brokerage’s listings on your website, be sure to check your MLS rules.