What you post online about yourself and your listings can come back to hurt you, if you’re not careful. September is Realtor Safety Month, a reminder to all real estate agents about the dangers of showing homes to strangers and conducting open houses. But social networking safety is one issue many agents fail to consider. What you do online can also put you in danger, says Tracey Hawkins, a national real estate safety expert with Safety and Security Source in Kansas City, Mo., who holds workshops and training on real estate safety across the country.
Using social networking sites for real estate is booming: 84 percent of real estate agents report using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, according to the 2010 Realtor Technology Survey Report by the Center for Realtor Technology.
It’s a catch-22, however. Many social media experts say you need to be “real” on social networking sites, connecting to clients and prospects in a way to form lasting relationships. But revealing too much about your personal life, your family, and the homes you represent can also provide ammunition to stalkers, thieves, former clients who may be unhappy about your service, or others who wish to cause harm against you, Hawkins warns.
Hawkins, a former real estate agent herself, offers some of the following tips for social networking safety.
Use privacy settings.
Most social networking sites have settings that allow you to control what information is made public and what information can only be viewed by your friends or followers. If you keep your pages open to the public, all of your social networking activities can easily surface during online searches. Preview your page as an anonymous user so that you can see what information on your social networking pages is public, and what really is being kept private.
Facebook–the most popular site among real estate agents–recently revamped its privacy settings last month. One of its big changes is that now it’s easier to manage your privacy settings with privacy and sharing tools now more available right from a user’s home page and profile page, rather than having to dig in the settings feature to find it. Also, every time you publish on Facebook, you’ll now see a box that gives you control over which friends you’d like to share that information with (similar to Google+’ “circles” feature).
Keep your location private.
Geolocation services are common on social networking sites, in which you can share your location and in some cases even allow others to pinpoint your precise whereabouts on a map. But by turning these features on–such as in Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare–you allow others who may want to harm you to easily find you or know when you’re away from home. Be cautious over the location information you share, Hawkins says.
Watch your photos.
Be careful about which photos you show of a property online–for example, you may want to be careful about having property photos that display the owners’ expensive electronics or artworks in prominent view. Otherwise, “you make it easy to make criminals to case a house from the comfort of their computers,” Hawkins says.
Also, make sure photos of you on your social networking pages are always appropriate, not too sexy, glamorous or showing off any expensive jewelry. While you can control the photos you post, you can’t always control the photos others post of you. Facebook is making it a little easier with its revamped settings to control photos that others “tag” of you. Visit “manage how tags work” in your privacy settings to turn this new feature on, which will allow you to approve a photo “tag” of you before it posts to your page, allowing you to more easily keep embarrassing tagged photos of you from landing on your page.
Realize true privacy is difficult to achieve.
You may be surprised what information is already available online about you. Check out sites such as www.pipl.com and spokeo.com. Assailants are using such sites to look up home addresses (even seeing actual photos of your home online), photos of you and your family, your social media sites, and even your hobbies and other personal information, Hawkins says.
“Keep in mind that there is no such thing as true privacy and there are no secrets on any online media,” Hawkins says. “Anything you type into your computer can potentially be there for everyone to view. So don’t put any information online that you do not want the world to see.”