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Agents in Minnesota say keep your hands off of their tweets

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Brokerage disclosure requirements on social networks is a heated topic that has many in real estate confused and each side of the aisle getting red in the face as they attempt to explain their own points of view.

As social networks have risen in prominence as a communication tool, Boards across the nation have had to interpret the Code of Ethics to determine the local rule. Some claim every tweet must include their broker’s name while others claim disclosure in a Twitter bio suffices.

Today, we focus on Minnesota as confusion abounds.

Eric Hempler, Minnesota Realtor says, “Minnesota’s Real Estate License Law says Real Estate Agents MUST disclose which brokerage they’re with whenever we talk about Real Estate. That means every time I post a comment, tweet, status, etc. on any social media platform I have to disclose I’m a Realtor. That’s like saying every time I have a face to face conversation with someone about Real Estate I have to disclose what Brokerage I’m with.”

Hempler, concerned with how status updates will be required to be formatted says, “If I tweet about Real Estate I have to fit ‘Keller Williams Classic Realty Northwest’ in my tweet. If I comment on someone else’s blog I have to mention ‘Keller Williams Classic Realty Northwest.’ If I post on Facebook I either have to have a link that goes back myself or I have to say, for example, ‘Keller Williams Classic Realty Northwest.'”

Your broker’s name in every tweet?

Minnesota Association of Realtors’ Senior Vice President, Linda Modlinski and Director of Professional Standards, Gregg Hartos published clarification in the MAR “eResource” newsletter on January 14th.

Modlinski and Hartos acknowledge the prominence of social networks in members’ businesses and states that in Minnesota, “Any time that you are talking about real estate, pushing a listing, talking about your buyer’s needs, letting the world know about your last sale, or letting consumers and past clients know you want their business, whether in an advertisement, brochure, business card, website, or any form of social media you MUST to [sic] disclose who you are, the brokerage to whom you are licensed, and your website must also include your state of licensure.” (All emphasis is MAR’s not AGbeat’s.)

That sounds like it upholds Hempler’s assertion that status updates must disclose brokerage, right?

So you must disclose your broker?

Next, they state “Article 12 of The Code of Ethics states that REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications, present a true picture, and shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in all their advertising.  The key word here is readily apparent which means a consumer needs to be able to easily determine you are a real estate agent easily and who you are licensed to.” (Emphasis is theirs.)

Maybe not all tweets require a broker’s name? Perhaps making it clear in the short bio who the broker is makes that information “readily available?”

Confusion in Minnesota

Modlinski and Hartos state that recent Code of Ethics changes “may cause some confusion in MN,” but explains that “The Code will allow the company name to be eliminated from real estate “tweets” or text messages if they are linked to a display that includes all required disclosures. We asked representatives at the MN DOC if this exception would prevail in MN and we were told it would not.”

So no broker name in tweets then?

MAR executives next stated that “In MN, all real estate licensees MUST include their firm name on all social media messages when you market yourself, your services or your listings.  When the Code and state law conflict, state law always takes precedent. If you choose to Tweet to your peeps, even though you have limited characters (140) in which to state your message, the MN Department of Commerce has let us know that you still need to include your company name.”

We can understand why agents are confused and MAR leadership are clearly working with a moving target as the DOC defines the laws.

The bottom line:

We have reached out to MAR and our contact believes the proper interpretation is that “Every Twitter user has a bio, and it makes more sense to make the law state that agents must do their disclosures in this bio rather than in every single 140-character or less tweet.”

MAR’s official position according to Hartos is that brokerage disclosure in social network updates “is a law in our state, and agents are supposed to abide by it. That said meetings that have occurred with the Minnesota Department of Commerce about this issue have been progressive and positive in nature. The question of disclosure has been asked, and the Deparment of Commerce is considering the matter further.”

MAR advised that when in doubt, always disclose.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Eric Hempler

    March 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I’ve probably said it a hundred times now…”as the times change the rules need to change.” Right now I think we’re a bit behind in updating this particular rule.

  2. Jason Carpentier

    March 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    So the tweet must contain it? Most agents disclose their company / broker in their twitter description. Such a silly ruling Im glad to hear meetings are happening about it already. Hopefully the board will catch up with the times.

  3. Wayne Harriman

    March 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Wow, shades of the “Google is not a scraper” mess. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. If not, maybe all Minnesotans should move to the TweetDeck platform. It now has support for tweets longer than 140 characters built in…

  4. Matthew Holder

    March 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    This is pretty silly and NAR should look at this as a way to harm the Realtor brand because consumers will just get too annoyed with the constant barrage of disclosure when having it in a Profile Bio should suffice.

    Easy fix: get tweetdeck which now offers Deck.ly – a tweet shortener allowing you to use more than 140 characters and uses a ‘…’ at the end of the tweet. Make your standard tweet and after 140 characters, put in your disclosure.

  5. Christa Borellini

    March 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I think those people in MN who are enforcing said rules (which are ridiculous) are the same kind of people that wish social media would just go away. I agree with Eric H. The times they are a changing….either change with them or get left behind.

  6. Greg Sax

    March 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    To be fair, the Minnesota board is simply enforcing Minnesota Department of Commerce real estate law. I think they are aware of its silliness and are trying to get the law changed.

  7. Ken Montville

    March 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I’m thinking that the reason that the MN DOC is so strict is the reason many State’s licensing authorities are so strict – to protect the public.

    God forbid that someone who doesn’t have the “superior knowledge” of a real estate agent engage either in person, by e-mail, phone or social media with a real estate agent. We may end up selling them a multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars house before they finish their latte.

    Yeah, there are crooked and unscrupulous real estate agents in the world. These advertising rules are ridiculous.

  8. Ruthmarie Hicks

    March 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Gawd – that’s going to be one heck of a long tweet – ya think they’ll give you 10 characters to say something??? Let’s see – I was able to cram the bare essentials into about 40 characters but its not that comprehensible. OK – so 50-60 characters depending on the name of your brokerage. Just thank your lucky stars if the brokerage has a short name. But beyond that problem – its obnoxious. No one will ever read your tweets if every single one is an in-your-face ad for your broker.

  9. Ben Goheen

    March 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Do I have delete all my prior tweets that mention real estate?

    There is also a RMLS (Minnesota) rule about not saying “search the MLS” on websites. However, it is very loosely enforced and I could probably find 100+ examples.

    ****disclosure: I am a licensed Realtor® in the great state of Minnesota. And in full disclosure, I am also a certified residential appraiser in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

  10. Monika

    March 3, 2011 at 7:30 am

    It’s the same in NH. I’m chairing a realtor task force to try and make changes to our license law. The task force has presented it proposal and now it needs to go through the channels required to make legislative changes. I so hope it passes!

  11. Rachel Rosen

    March 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Rachel from Zillow; I don’t see why everyone is confused. It seems clear to me. “Any time that you are talking about real estate, pushing a listing, talking about your buyer’s needs, letting the world know about your last sale, or letting consumers and past clients know you want their business, whether in an advertisement, brochure, business card, website, or any form of social media you MUST to [sic] disclose who you are, the brokerage to whom you are licensed, and your website must also include your state of licensure.”

    If you say, I ate a cheeseburger for lunch (love the photo at top), you are not “talking about real estate, pushing a listing, talking about your buyer’s needs, letting the world know about your last sale, or letting consumers and past clients know you want their business” So, you don’t need to designate yourself.

    If you tweet, “Check out my listing!” Then yes, you do.

    Where is the confusion?

    • Eric Hempler

      March 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      It’s not an issue of confusion it’s an issue of how should you disclose what brokerage your’re from and how does the State want you to disclose it. Does it have to be in the 140 character tweet you post or can it be on your Twitter Profile. Based on what I’ve been reading it has to be in your tweet on and having it on your profile is not enough.

    • Benn Rosales

      March 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      I’ve always seen this disclosure rule as intrusive and rather big brother. If your damn logo or a link to your broker disclosure notice is on the site linked then that should suffice to me. This seems more about getting the brokers marketed than consumer safety.

      However, I would ad, when a listing is tweeted, the broker’s identification is part of the listing anyway so disclosure is made at destination. Not every person whom tweets a listing or has a conversation about real estate is practicing real estate.

      and Rachel, the confusion came in the interpretation of the law and subsequent interpretations. everyone knows it’s ramifications.

      But as I stated, if I tweet a listing, it is linked to broker disclosure. End story, and that would be my personal defense, I am always available to chat real estate, and my profile discloses who I am if I am in fact practicing real estate- use at your own risk.

      MN is over thinking this or playing dumb.

      Full disclosure, I own this site, and I am not practicing real estate, only arm chair law which I am also not a lawyer. Although I am right, as per usual. 🙂 Use at your own risk.

  12. MH for Movoto

    March 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Wow.. . . I mean, while I’m sure that this is genuinely frustrating to those involved . . . .it’s also SO funny!

  13. Steven Hong

    March 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I am in MN, and part of the problem is that the DOC is now following agents on Twitter and facebook pages. They are going to be watching any “real estate” related talk and start enforcing with fines.

    The bigger part of the problem is what they consider “advertising”. If I state “I showed 2 buyers around and we saw 30 houses. Now I’m tired and going to bed” on your facebook wall, the interpretation is that it is an advertisement!! which of course it is not.

    If I see a friend in person, and say the same thing, do I need to include my brokerage in the conversation? NO. It is a status update, not an advertisement.

    So if I say “I’m going home” does that imply its an advertisement since I included the word “home”?

    Disclosure: Steven Hong with RE/MAX Results, licensed in MN
    And to fully disclose, I’ve got to include a phone number at the brokerage as well: 952-884-8404, which happens to be our front desk.

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