Inbox: How much is too much around your client’s listing?

I recently received this long, but interesting email from an MLS committee member on the role of consumer content around listings that I found interesting enough to share with my readers:

“I have been catching up to the “ClueTrain Manifest” dialogue as a result of your reposting of Rob’s comments. I find it very timely. Without going into too much disclosure or detail I am serving on a recently formed MLS committee to examine the MLS roles and policy regarding online/web display of the MLS data. This week we spent considerable time discussing the topic of “social interaction” of the listings we display and redisplay on brokers websites through IDX policy.

So as you can imagine, the unspoken desires of some of the group is to create social discussion (without regard to the content) about listings. The motivation is more about driving traffic to their web site and therefore gaining market share in the R.E. business arena. The spoken fear as legally responsible brokers should we open up our own client’s property to potentially damaging comments by others within the rules of the MLS? Now the understanding by the group is that we cannot control what anyone who is a non-member of our MLS does or says about these properties and outside interests probably will make comment. However, members of the MLS can control comment through membership to the MLS what is said by the members themselves. (I don’t know if this is legally true and a whole other line of thought).

This conversation issue is not driven by the word “control” but rather by the “agency relationship” created to the client to “market” their property for highest and best sales price. The conversation is also with consideration that at the MLS it is a cooperative membership to assist the process of buying and selling property. It could be devastating to the industry to get caught up in a war of words about the value of any one property. Why would I list my home with an agency if when the listing is posted online It gets poor (or worse –slanderous) reviews by MLS members or public on the very same site that is suppose to market the property for sale?

So back to the idea that broker members of the MLS recognize the value of an open, interactive dialogue with the consumers to grow their web presence at their individual web sites. However they are reluctant to allow this dialogue with opinion of the competing brokers/agents (which may be an opinion rooted in competition and not fact) or the potential “sensationalism” that can be created through “negative news” allowed to be expressed by the public or within the MLS membership.

So in context of the ClueTrain and with the legal regard for agency relationship in mind my questions to you are; 1) what would your opinion of the MLS discussion be and how would you advise the MLS to proceed with this line of thought. And 2) If you were an individual owner of a real estate company, how far would you go (or allow to go) on your company/agent’s websites to allow what may be disparaging comment on a competitor’s listing or your own company listings?”

I let this reader know that I honestly didn’t have a good answer, but he raises some interesting points…  It’s really a tricky issue because if brokers don’t allow a conversation around their listings, it bodes well for sites that will allow a relatively uncontrolled conversations around listings (Zillow, for example, seems more than happy to fulfill this role…).

I haven’t read the ClueTrain manifesto in a while, and I don’t think this analogy will speak to the theory behind that book, but one could think of any given MLS organization like a big tent.   I think at some point the savvy MLS powers-that-be will realize that they would rather have the consumers inside of the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.