To Share or Not to Share: Online Ethics & License Law

Say you’re at an open house – the condo is, of course, stunning, and you think your clients would love to see it. You just learned about livestreaming and have had some success, so you whip out your phone and go live. Did you know that this would be breaking the Code of Ethics? With the ever-evolving nature of technology and social media, it can be difficult to keep up. Social media is an incredible tool for REALTORS® – as long as you’re using it responsibly. We’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind so that you don’t find yourself on the end of an ethics complaint.

Understand that license law & the code of ethics still apply online.

Yes, the Code of Ethics and license law applies online – this shouldn’t be news. Remember: everything you post online creates a record – even if you post something and delete it later, there is no guarantee that it truly “goes away.” Because of this, be extra cautious and conscientious of your online activity. Your business pages on social media should follow standard advertising guidelines. Steer clear of anticompetitive discussions or innuendo regarding pricing or collusion among competitors to boycott. Ensure you are complying with all fair housing rules and regulations. Outside of license law and the code of ethics, check your brokerage’s social media policy. If they don’t have one – we highly suggest they create one. Illinois REALTORS® has an example policy to get you started. If you follow applicable laws, regulations, office policies and common courtesy, the likelihood of having an ethics complaint due to your online activity is slim.

Assume that your personal page is a safe space.

It doesn’t matter if you have 10 followers or 10,000 – your personal page is still a reflection of who you are as a business person. Please take care to not defame, disparage, bully or harass other brokers or offices on your personal page – someone will see it, and report it. If you have disagreements, our dispute resolution process is here for you! And no one has ever come out looking rosy after a comment war. Trust us.

REMEMBER: The Code of Ethics is a higher standard than license law!


Identify yourself correctly.

We see quite a few violations of this nature, and it’s a simple thing to forget. But, you must always follow license law. You can identify your team in addition to your brokerage, if you choose, but you must make your sponsoring brokerage readily apparent. Even though REALTORS® are protected by the “one click away” rule, Illinois license law does not have the same rule – you must abide by license law! In addition to listing your brokerage, you should also identify yourself properly. You should disclose that you are a REALTOR® if you are marketing properties for sale. If you are licensed as a managing broker – but not the managing broker of your office – you can only advertise yourself as a broker. And if you are claiming that you have a certification or designation, please make sure these are up to date – you must pay the fees and renew them annually to avoid penalties. Another thing to keep in mind: if you market properties on your personal page, then you must follow advertising guidelines there, too!  

Make misleading statements.

Keep all information that you post about yourself, your business and your properties up-to-date, truthful and as complete as possible. We see this occasionally – individuals advertising that they are the #1 REALTOR® in Chicago! — Please don’t do this. You cannot make misleading statements to consumers. It is a violation of license law as well as the Code of Ethics. Be truthful. Only state what you can back up with facts. And, ensure you have contact information readily available so that you may be notified of inaccurate or inappropriate content that might be added to your site.  

Always ask permission.

We’re keeping this one broad – but you need to pay attention to the details. Ask permission for everything – always! Your brokerage agreements should contain provisions that authorize you to market clients’ properties on social media. When it comes to listings or properties that aren’t yours, get written permission from the other broker as well as their client before sharing. This is just part of following best practices and common courtesy. You need permission to:
  • Use other people’s photos or videos.
  • Take exclusive listings and advertise them.
  • Livestream or take photos/videos at another broker’s property. This includes getting permission from the seller for your buyer to take photos or video!
And many other situations. If you ever have a question about whether or not you can share – ask! It’s always better to be safe than sorry.  

Forget about client confidentiality.

Be sure that when you are posting that you are respecting client confidentiality and operating in their best interests. Be vigilant about protecting information that could impact your bargaining position, like posting about a client moving out of state. And, counsel your clients to maintain confidentiality as well – advise them against posting about a house they really, really love, or making disparaging remarks about a listing they toured.  

Respect copyright laws.

If you didn’t take the photo, you need written permission to use it. Even if you’re posting on social media, you need to credit creators – copyright laws always apply! Don’t steal images from independent contractors – check your agreements before you omit credit. Don’t repost images of a dream bathroom without crediting the source – better yet, ask permission to share.    

 Manipulate logos or trademarks.

This ties into the “ask permission” and “respect copyrights” – be sure you are allowed to use trademarks or logos BEFORE you go through the design process. Most businesses will have trademark and usage guidelines – follow them! They are there for a reason. Just as you would like your logo respected, please respect others’.