Social Media Advertising Rules of the Road
Q. What disclosures must be made when I’m posting information online through a website?
A. Realtors® must comply with both Virginia law and the Code of Ethics in their communications and advertisements. Article 12 of the Code of Ethics also requires that a Realtor’s® status as a real estate professional be readily apparent in their advertising, marketing and other representations – including websites. All advertisements must include the Realtor’s® firm name.
According to Virginia Real Estate Board Regulations, “Advertising” includes all forms of representation, promotion and solicitation disseminated in any manner, and by any means of communication, to consumers for any purposes related to licensed real estate activity. “Electronic Media Advertising” includes any advertising conducted online and not in print, business card or signage form. All Electronic Media Advertising by a licensee must include the following to comply with Virginia law:
1) Licensee’s name
2) Affiliated firm name
3) The city and state in which the licensee’s place of business is located
In addition to Virginia law, the Code of Ethics requires that Realtor® and firm websites also include:
4) State(s) of licensure
Q. How do these requirements apply to social media?
A. Under the Code of Ethics, the term “website” generally includes social media. However, to accommodate changes in technology and real estate practice, the National Association of Realtors® has adopted a policy whereby the required information and disclosures can be no more than “one click away” from the social media or website post. For example, a social media posting may include a link to a listing or to a Realtor’s® website. If the required information is included on the linked page, the Realtor® may be in compliance.
If the website has an “About” page with this information that can be accessed from any other page on the website, the Realtor® may be in compliance. However, the Code of Ethics still requires that this information be readily apparent. Therefore, one should not have to click to a second page, scroll through several screens, or actively search through small font for the required information.
Some suggested best practices include:
1) Include the required information in your profile or “About Me” section.
2) Include the information in the banner or footer of your website so that it is present on every page within the site.
3) Always review hyperlinks in your postings to ensure that the required information is included on the linked page.
Q. I have two separate pages for Facebook — one for personal use and one for professional use and marketing. Do I have to include all of the required disclosures and information on my personal page?
A. It is a good idea to include the information required under the Code of Ethics and Virginia law on your personal page, or have a link to the required information. You never take off your Realtor® “hat,” even in your personal life. It is possible that some of your friends on your personal page are also professional contacts and colleagues. If you like or link to real estate-related articles, listings or advertisements on your personal page, it could be interpreted as real estate advertising or solicitations that would require disclosure. Including the required information will reduce the risk of violating the Code of Ethics or Virginia law if you inadvertently post about a real estate related matter.
Members with specific questions are encouraged to contact the NVAR Legal Hotline at NVAR.com/legalhotline.