Imagine yourself in this situation: You’re a Realtor with many years of experience, even more satisfied clients, and by and large, a happy career. Upon the urging of your brokerage, you’ve established a Google Business page, and encouraged people to leave reviews about their experiences with you on Yelp.
Then one afternoon, you see a new review on your Google Business page that leaves you confused, angry, and a little nauseous.
buzz0976: This woman is a con artist! She’s the worse realter Ive ever met and made me loose a bunch of money on ahouse in Dallas. terrible service!!! Liar!!!!!!
Who is buzz0976? What on earth is he or she talking about? And why is this online?
Maybe the situation stops there, and that negative comment gets buried over time. But maybe it does not stop. Some Realtors have been the target of personal attacks on social media and other sites, like RipoffReport.com, where anonymous posters have fabricated all manner of stories designed to destroy their reputation.
It happened to Ebby Halliday Realtor RoseMarie LaCoursiere, who recently endured months of online harassment by an anonymous poster whose intent was clearly character assassination. LaCoursiere says this person wrote dozens of negative reviews under different names across the Internet, from her Google Business page to RipoffReport.com.
“It’s very serious when you look at how the Internet, misused with intention, can destroy a person’s reputation” LaCoursiere said. “In essence, I really have no recourse or effective way to defend my good name if I turn a blind eye and keep silent, which is what is expected of me by my online attacker. That’s what a bully expects.”
The crux of all this is online reputation management. As carefully as you may craft your online brand, by-and-large, you lack control over what other people say about you online in social media and other websites.
Most situations are nowhere near as serious as LaCoursiere’s. But what can you do about personal attacks in social media, no matter the scope? How can you defend your good name?
If you find yourself the target of a personal attack online, it can feel overwhelming and upsetting. But as our friends over at Poynter recommend, don’t panic:
While this seems like a social-media crisis, realize you aren’t the first person to experience the nastiness of such an attack. Don’t freak out. Suspend judgment. Don’t take what has been said personally. Resist the urge to react right away.
Instead, take a deep breath and think about what options exist.
Once you’ve caught your breath, you’ll want to consider a response. Check out the Air Force’s Web Posting Response Assessment flow chart (posted at the bottom of this page), which offers a logical way to come up with a response plan. You’ll also want to check with your brokerage for an existing comment policy or social-media guidelines—they may have something in place that can guide you.
As the Air Force’s Assessment points out, not all nastiness needs a response. Sometimes, you’re just satisfying a troll’s desire for attention by saying anything.
But if you decide a response is warranted, do it quickly in the same forum where the original attack was posted. Nasty Facebook post=polite Facebook response. You might invite the person to call or email you to show a genuine interest in resolving their complaint or talking about the situation. This kind of goodwill gesture can diffuse some angry characters.
Be sure, by the way, to take screenshots of all comments and save them in a file. If the situation escalates and the posts get threatening or overwhelming, you’ll want this evidence (posters can delete and sometimes edit comments).
Many social media forums offer the chance to report offensive posts. Twitter offers an online form to report harassment or abuse, and on Facebook, you can click “report this post” under the arrow on the upper right-hand side of a post. This form will pop up:
It’s also generally a good idea to let your manager know what’s going on — it’s important to have support in a difficult situation like this. For example, when LaCoursiere told her manager and friends what was happening to her on her Google Business page, they flooded it with positive reviews to help bury the harassment and relate their good experiences with her as a professional.
The next step is damage control. With this might come an attorney and a civil suit for defamation. Scott Pershern is a partner and attorney with Miller Patti Pershern in Dallas, and he said in general, defamation law is broken into two categories, slander and libel. Online defamation tends to fall into the libel category and can be hard to win.
“The key is it has to be false statements,” he said. “Just because somebody is posting some bad things about you, doesn’t mean it’s libel: Truth is an absolute defense.”
Pershern also explained that in Texas, when you sue somebody for defamation, the courts tend to order a monetary award, not a permanent injunction against that person ever posting about you again (which is often what the people want), except in extreme cases.
“In Texas, they don’t favor injunctions, they favor monetary awards, with the thinking being that if the monetary pain is enough, the person will stop posting about you,” Pershern said.
In addition, as Poynter explains, “In social media…a lawsuit isn’t quick enough to mitigate harm; the toothpaste is already out of the tube.”
So what can a Realtor do to offset the harm of an online attack? Post your own responses online. A Realtor can create blog posts that address that situation, either directly or indirectly, and write public posts on social media sites that do the same. Some people have found that publicizing what a person is saying about them elicits a strong response from others on social media, too.
For LaCoursiere, she’s decided to speak out about her experience with online harassment as part of her remedy.
“We live in changing times, and I refuse to be a victim,” she said. “I have been using my voice and taking measures to counter the negatives with greater positives in my approach to business.”