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What You See is What You Get


There have been a few blog posts recently that struck a nerve with me. Enough to make me take a step back to look at why I was reacting so viscerally to what was written by folks that I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

Being A Little Defensive

Teresa Boardman’s Drinking on the Internetpost talked about online reputation management, and the importance of remembering that photos (taken by yourself or by others) can affect the professional reputation of your peers if posted online. Marc Davison wrote last week about the Trouble with Twitterand how many real estate professionals would do better to contribute something more professionally meaningful than cocktail party banter to the twitterstream. (I’m oversimplifying here, a bit.) These aren’t the only posts written recently about reputation management, but two that stand out to me as being particularly well written.

All Professional, All The Time?

I was already writing a post in my head to respond to Marc (although I think I have been adequately beaten to the punch with that) when I read a comment on the post by Rob Hahn. In it, he queried:

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Could the challenge going forward be to let the professional mask slip a little bit? To stop worrying about “brand image” (as I am also wont to do, being a marketer) and worry more about exposing the authentic person (or persons, in the case of a corporation)?

I’m going to come back to that in just a second. As a Realtor, I am in the position of being a professional, providing a service, meeting someone in their home. It is incumbent upon me, whether representing a buyer or a seller, to put myself in their shoes and connect with the person in front of me. I have to be an expert at what I do, sure, but I also have to be a real person who they interact comfortably with to get through a complex life transition. I have to be a real person they can trust.

I don’t want to be a slick, shiny, well packaged piece of marketing material on Twitter. Or on Facebook, or anywhere else, including real life. I am who I am, whether it’s with my Realtor hat on or off. There are clients that I will sit and have a margarita with as we discuss whether now is the right time to sell off their rental property. There are other clients who I wouldn’t consider meeting for drinks, but I don’t mind eating pizza on their coffee table with their five year old.

Not Apologizing For Being Myself

Real estate agents are in the public eye all the time; that’s a fact whether you are online or in real life. I don’t believe agents fall into the same category with politicians; people have the right to choose to work with me, or the right to choose not to. Whether I’m seen in public having a glass of wine with my husband should have no bearing on my negotiating expertise. And if I ‘tweet’ about putting on a pitcher of margaritas in the evening, it doesn’t make me instantly incapable of being a good agent. It makes me a real person who doesn’t have a problem with that level of transparency.

Back to the ‘mask slipping’ question. Rob asks whether we should “stop worrying about ‘brand image’” and “worry more about exposing the authentic person.”  My contention is that brand image and the authentic person don’t have to be mutually exclusive. My brand is my authentic person. Or, more correctly, my authentic person is my brand.  For me, that means my clients do get a glimpse into my life, and occasionally I’ll be photographed with a margarita in my hand.


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Image Credit: julianne.hide

Written By

Heather is a Realtor with Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, Virginia. She's also the 2008 VARBuzz Blog Brawl Champion, mom to four fantastic kids, and the wife of a golf professional. If she had free time, she'd probably read a good book or play golf. You can find her on twitter, @hthrflynn, or writing on her blog,



  1. Rob Hahn

    December 9, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Good post, Heather. 🙂 Pretty strong defense of the need for authenticity.

    I do want to point out, however, that brand image and authentic person are always at odds, and are in fact always mutually exclusive.

    The reason is that ‘brand image’ has an element of conscious decisionmaking behind it, while the ‘authentic person’ does not. Crafting a brand image of authenticity takes time, care, and art — same as any other brand image cultivated by an individual or a company.

    A way to illustrate this is to point out that while my wife dresses in absolutely ugly sweats at home (caring for two little boys), she most definitely does not go to client meetings in unwashed sleep pants and the sweatshirt smeared with baby snot. There is a conscious decision there, to dress up, to present a certain facade, to be professional.

    This is a good thing. The trouble with social marketing is not that it isn’t authentic; the trouble is that it can often become too lazy, and people think of it as just “keepin’ it real, son”. Nothing could be farther from the truth.


  2. Brian Block

    December 9, 2008 at 12:54 pm


    Nothing wrong with a margarita from time to time, though it’s not my particular drink of choice.

    Your persona, your brand, your online social marketing reputations — whatever you want to call it… You will attract those who want to work with someone like you. The people that you don’t attract or heaven forbid repel are those that you probably would not enjoy working with anyways.

  3. linsey

    December 9, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I’m wondering if it’s more about reading the vibe ‘in the room’, so to speak. I wouldn’t go out for a night with the girls in a suit. I wouldn’t show property in my sweats as Rob pointed out.

    There are places that call for different things on the web. My friends would be put-off by me if what I was portraying on Facebook was all about my brand and protecting my ‘image’. They not only want, but expect me to be real, in a place like that. They want to see my kids, poke fun at me, and reconnect with Linsey the Friend, not Linsey the Realtor.

    If the brand is the only thought in mind on Twitter, I really doubt that I would be connecting with anyone in a real way. I try not to be obnoxious, offensive, and the like, but who would be interested in conversing with me if it wasn’t a little bit fun and light too.

    I understand Marc Davidson’s point, but honestly if Twitter were filled with ‘professional contributions’ I’d be over it. My life is filled with this stuff at every angle. Isn’t it nice to let down our hair just a bit with others in the industry? It lightens the load a bit sometimes.

  4. Ken Brand

    December 9, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Thought provoking subject. I had the same odd reaction to Marc’s post, sorta rubbed me wrong, which is how I knew there was some truth in his observation.

    I think it’s wise in today’s world to be more authentic than packaged (think Oprah/real ~vs~ Tyra/faux), buttoned up and programed.

    It’s not ok, or rather it’s not smart to be stupid and post on Twitter will guns blazing, commando style either – if you care what people think of you professionally. I think a picture of someone holding a drink isn’t wrong, wearing a lamp shade or passed out with wet pants is though – duh.

    I shoot for a happy medium. On-line and real life, I don’t want to be insensitive, but I do want people to know what I’m like and if they don’t like my flavor, I respect that – we’re both better off without each other. I guess the challenge is, make sure I have enough people who relate to me so that those that don’t, don’t effect my prosperity.

    Also, as a thoughtful person, I am cautious about what pictures I would post of other people and how they might feel about it. Unless of course it was someone I despised, then I’d post all the bad, brand destroying pictures I could find. Just kidding about that last sentence, which is exactly the kind of sentence that some might find destructive to my personal brand – but it’s representative of my cynical sense of humor.

    Thanks for sharing, we all have to thoughtful don’t we?

  5. Marc

    December 9, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Wonderful discussion. Glad these questions and issues are surfacing. My only thought here regards authenticity vs. brand image and the fine lines and threads that weave them together.

    I think it’s great to be real. I think being real is what Web 2 is all about. But having the freedom to publish anything you want, anytime you want doth not make that post or you any more real that a slick ad churned out from a Madison Ave agency.

    And this you really need to believe.

    Just breeze through the miles of Hobbs Herder Tri-Fold brochures to see how fake the humanization of agents has become.

    What makes any of us think that by Twittering anything that comes to our head humanizes you any more or less that anything else you do.

    I look at most Twitter post and ask myself, is he really reading to his kids right now? After all if he is, why is he twittering he is? What kind of dad Twitters while he is reading to his kids.

    Is she really eating Turkey right now? Did this agent really set an extra place at the thanksgiving table for her laptop? And if so, what does that say about her.

    Maybe I am reading too much into this but that’s what I do. In the end, I believe that what you might think is authentic might not be and what you might think is trivial might be the best hook to hang your hat on.

    I believe that just because Twitter is Twitter it doesn’t mean anything on there is real.

    I believe that just like pushing out slick Madison Ave ad can make you look phony and inhuman, in your effort to be human and authentic, you may actually come across as being incredibly fake and self absorbed.

    This is what is probably gnawing at Ken Brand because at the end of the day, he is anything but these things and that sharp pain I caused probably hit an unconscious nerve of concern regarding how he is perceived in the world.

    I don’t hate Twitter. I actually love it. It can be an amazing vehicle for so many things – from managing customer service to enlightening your followers with words and thoughts of wisdom to creating valuable friendships.

    But please, do not discount the importance of managing everything you write and say there either. If you don’t burp at the table, or blurt out every thought in your head, then doing that on Twitter is not being authentic to who you really are.

    Great post Heather and thanks for taking this conversation to a new place.


  6. Mariana Wagner

    December 9, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Heather – I am right with you. I just make sure that I am okay saying whatever-it-is-I-say to whoever-may-be-listening.

    My definition of “professional” will always be different than the guy next to me or the gal across from me. And that is okay.

  7. Ken Brand

    December 9, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Love reading the comments and the original posts.

    Marc, I don’t, although I probably think I should at times, employ or visit a psychiatrist, but if I did, I think your call,

    “This is what is probably gnawing at Ken Brand because at the end of the day, he is anything but these things and that sharp pain I caused probably hit an unconscious nerve of concern regarding how he is perceived in the world.”

    is what they would feedback to me and I believe you’ve defined what bugs me about the subject.

    This topic is simmering in head. Thanks to all for the comments and original posts.

  8. Mark Eibner

    December 9, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    we’re at it again What You See is What You Get: Get out of your feed reader and comment on this..

  9. Marc

    December 9, 2008 at 4:37 pm


    Yeah, I hear ya. Listen, we’re all concerned about how were are perceived and there is nothing wrong with that especially since something you write can and might last a lifetime. For me anyway, I think less is more, and quality is better than quantity and how one powerful post can rock my readership 10 times more than 100 ramblings.

  10. teresa boardman

    December 9, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I think I am about as real online as a person can be. I am also very real when I take all my cloths off yet you never see pictures of me on the internet in the nude. I think we all define what we are comfortable with and what we are not. In general I really only do personal with people that I know. That is my preference. There are things I never mention on line and never will. I don’t think that makes me a phoney or a hypocrite just because I am not willing to publish ever aspect of my life and make it public.

  11. Heather Elias

    December 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    For the record, I wasn’t making a distinction between ‘real’ and ‘phony’. My point was how private we are with our lives. Some people are more comfortable with revealing more about themselves and their lives, and others are not. That doesn’t make anyone phony or less authentic, it makes them more private!

    I subscribe to Brian’s theory of your brand/persona/marketing attracting the type of clients that you are probably going to work best with.

    Rob, I have to think about brand vs. authentic person. I still disagree, but possibly because I’m looking at it from an individual agent standpoint and not as a corporate brand. Maybe we can discuss a bit at Inman!

    Again..the beauty of this business is that each person has the opportunity to market themselves and create their own success in the way that best works for them…

  12. Marc

    December 9, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Amen Teresa. And what you just wrote is exactly why i thought of you when I referred to the few shinning stars that do it right in my article. From your blog to your Twittering to your comments, you seem to just nail it.

    As a result, you come across as real because you have, whether intentional or not, weaved this perfect brand quilt of consistency between the personal you and the professional you.

    What you have accomplished is powerful and the results show up in your career and beyond. That’s the model for sure.

    Remember Howard Dean in Iowa? There was an authentic moment that served to destroy his bid for President. Sometimes being too real, can be too much.

  13. Peter Fletcher

    December 10, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Although Dean’s faux pax is often connected to his defeat one can’t assert with confidence that it served as the sole reason for his failed bid to become the president. There were many other contributing factors. There equally exist many factors which contribute to a person’s career success. To suggest that inappropriate content can, on its own, destroy a person’s career is to elide a number of factors that over-mesh one another to produce financial success. Rather than kowtowing to the whims and fancies of a fickle client base, agents active on social media have an opportunity to creatively produce who they are in a way that contributes to their own happiness. Only after taking care of their self hood can they truly be in a position to help another.

  14. Matthew Rathbun

    December 10, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Sorry, I’m still clearing my head from “T” posting nude pictures….

    Ok – now that I’ve gathered myself from giggling like a 12 year old…

    I struggle with this and have been slowing down my Twittering because my followers are varied. I have friends, church folks and co-workers who follow and often times comments that many of you would think are funny maybe taken as serious.

    I’ve played with creating two twitter accounts, but I refuse to be anyone other than who I am. Therefore, I just have to be more careful about showing that when I am goofing off….I am JUST goofing off.

    To me the power of soc-med is that you can be yourself. If I am following someone who just blogs, FB or Twitters a sermon I yawn, but if I know that person is down to earth and fun, I’m more likely to understand the writings or preachy way that some of deliver our message.

    Great transparent post!

  15. Danilo Bogdanovic

    December 10, 2008 at 10:00 am

    You don’t want only pictures of you in a bar posted all over the web. And you don’t want just pictures of you in a suit and tie everywhere with a “buy from me” look on your face all the time. Neither of these shows your complete self.

    There’s where moderation comes in. Don’t be afraid to show your “whole” self online so that people see you for you are, on and off the clock. This makes you a “person” not just a “sales person”.

    Some people may disagree with this mentality, but that’s ok. They will attract different clients than I will and vice versa.

    Personally, I’d rather have fewer clients that I really click with than tons of clients that I’m constantly on my toes around for fear of offending them because I like to go out to bars, clubs or make wisea$$ remarks.

    Great post Heather!

  16. fletchthemaven

    December 10, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    From @hthrflynn: Is brand image and personal authenticity mutually exclusive?

  17. George McCumiskey

    December 10, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    It’s a fine line between being seen having a glass of wine with the hub and falling down drunk at a celebratory bar party with gf’s. One point that’s important is don’t post pictures of others online unless you ask them first. That would totally piss me off.

  18. Marc

    December 10, 2008 at 8:46 pm


    As an alternative, you could have as many clients as you want and never fear offending them by simply not twittering from a bar describing the 8th Kamikaze shot you’re about to take or from the bubble bath with your favorite duck.

    You said it best, moderation is key – exactly.

  19. Ines

    December 11, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    and what happens when the cocktail party banter IS your brand….as with mojitos and Miamism? 🙂

  20. Marc

    December 11, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    The answer is simple – exploit it for it’s worth.

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