Illinois REALTOR® Magazine | July 2013
By Bridget McCrea
REALTOR® Alan May has seen firsthand how damaging a single, negative online review can be for a real estate agent. To make matters worse, the broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Evanston, says the comments are often indelible and capable of inflicting long-lasting impact on an agent’s business.
“A REALTOR® in our office got a scathing review on Yelp from an irate client,” says May. “When he asked to have it taken down, Yelp told him that the client was a ‘regular reviewer’ and that there wasn’t anything the agent could do to remove it from the site.”
In this article you’ll learn about the importance of protecting your online reputation, the key areas of the Web to keep an eye on, and what to do if and when someone sullies your digital rep.
May, who advises agents to regularly scour sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare for both negative and positive comments, compares online reputations to consumer credit scores.
“It takes a long time to build up a decent credit score or, in this case, a positive online reputation,” May points out, “and it can be destroyed in a day.”
Social networking platforms, consumer review sites, blogs, and various other online tools have made it easy for people to speak their minds in an open forum that pretty much anyone can access and read. This presents a dilemma for agents who benefit from positive reviews but suffer when negative comments surface. With nearly all of homebuyers using the Internet to shop for homes, the odds that a potential client will pick up on online feedback are high.
If that information is negative, the consequences could be significant for the agent whose e-reputation is on the line.
“REALTORS® are used to soliciting testimonials from their clients,” points out Steve Pacinelli, co-founder of TechSavvyAgent.com in Downingtown, Pa., “but not all of them are used to getting instant digital reviews.”
“Today’s consumers are using the Internet to research every product and/or service that they’re thinking about using,” says Pacinelli. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a laptop, a car, a $3.99 movie rental, or a REALTOR®. They’re going to check it out online first.”
If the first thing a potential client sees when logging onto a site like Rate-My-Agent.com is verbiage like, “She didn’t fulfill her duties as a real estate agent,” or “He left us hanging when it came time to get the financing for our home,” your chances of working with that customer could diminish greatly without you even knowing it.
“Buying a home is the biggest decision that most people will make,” Pacinelli says. “If they get an inkling that you’re not the right person to help them achieve that goal, your potential clients will just click on over to your competitor.”
The good news is that there are strategies for policing and protecting your e-reputation. For starters, make sure all of your profiles on sites like LinkedIn, Active Rain, and Realtor.com are complete, consistent, and up to date. Letting old, inaccurate information languish on such platforms paints a picture of an agent who doesn’t value an online reputation. To boost the “positive” ratings on such sites, proactively seek out reviews from customers who you know were happy with your services. The more positive feedback you can garner, the better.
The next step is to find out exactly where the positive and/or negative reviews about your services are being published. Run a few Google searches on keywords that a client in your area would use (i.e., “Homes for sale in Chicago”) and see which websites rank high on the search engine’s first page.
“Embrace those sites, create profiles on them, and ask clients to post positive reviews there,” says Pacinelli, who sees this as a critical e-reputation-building strategy for all agents. “If you’re not on these sites that means you’re non-existent in your area; that will leave customers with a bad taste.”
Next, set up Google alerts for your name and/or brand. “When someone talks about you on a site such as Zillow, Yahoo! Real Estate, or Realtor.com,” says Pacinelli, “you’ll be able to address it right away.” To pick up new comments that Google Alerts misses, you should conduct regular searches on Google for your name and your company’s name.
Pacinelli also suggests SocialBios as a tool that agents should use to manage their e-reputations. Integrated with Realtor.com, the firm’s HyperSocial Agent Recommendations, for example, allows clients to share recommendations that are reviewed and approved for display by each agent, and can be manually or automatically broadcasted to the agent’s online network.
“SocialBios syndicates reviews out to multiple sites at once,” Pacinelli explains, “so your clients don’t have to go through as much work.”
Just like consumers should steer clear of companies that promise “quick credit report fixes,” Pacinelli says agents should be wary of firms that offer online reputation management services. “There are some decent companies offering this type of service but there are some bad ones too,” he says, noting that Reputation.com and Trackur may be worth looking into for agents in search of broader reputation management tools.
So, what happens when a negative review pops up on a site that you know your potential and current customers will see? In many cases, Pacinelli says the social media website that published it will “take the high road and offer to correct it.” Each site has its own system for review removal, however, as the agent in May’s office learned. Sometimes it’s better to let the comment stand (if it can’t be removed) than to get into an online argument with the person who wrote it, says May. “In many cases, answering back just inflicts more damage.”
REALTOR® Leslie Ebersole, a broker-associate at Baird & Warner in St. Charles, points out that “perfect” reviews aren’t always looked upon as accurate or realistic anyway.
“In many cases you seem more credible if you don’t have all perfect customer reviews,” says Ebersole, who sees negative comments posted online as the perfect opportunity for agents to respond and show clients that they’re listening and paying attention.
A comment about a difficult closing process, for example, can be addressed with simple statements like: The people at the bank were not as careful as we were throughout the entire process. We have taken steps to speak to the loan officers and they have assured us that will not happen again.
“Respond appropriately and not argumentatively,” Ebersole advises, “keeping in mind the fact that you’re managing open forums that clients will use to find REALTORS® to work with. Present yourself and your brand in a positive light. Show the world that you care about your online reputation and your customers, and you’ll able to effectively position yourself for success.”
About the Author: Bridget McCrea is a business, real estate and technology writer in Clearwater, Fla. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-Reputation Management 101
Hungry for more information about how to effectively manage your e-reputation in today’s digital world? Here are four additional resources to check out:
Find out exactly where the positive and/or negative reviews about your services are being published.