Referrals, Facebook and the REALTOR trademark

July 18, 2010
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Circle R 300x199 Referrals, Facebook and the REALTOR trademarkIt seems that there was a bit of a kerfuffle recently about a Facebook page that (gasp!) used the word REALTOR® in the URL.

Evidently someone had set up a Facebook “Like” page for REALTORS® and, presumably, mere real estate agents to join in to give and receive referrals.  So far, so good.

It wasn’t until the registered trademark of the National Association of REALTORS® was used in the URL that things got a little dicey.  No matter that it took the NAR awhile to catch onto this terrible offence and move to have the trademark removed from the URL and that some gazillion to a gazillion and a half Facebookers had “Liked” the page.  A trademark is a trademark.

Facebook dutifully shut down the page and now all those “Likers” need to find another home to trade referrals — a home without the word REALTOR® in the URL.

Pass Me The Kleenex®, Please

First, I’d like to say that the National Association of REALTORS® has every right to enforce proper usage of their lawfully registered trademark. They have pages of guidelines, and it is no secret that they like to make sure that people don’t misuse the trademark and associated logos.  In fact, they’ve done so well at this that the word REALTOR® has become the default reference, in the public mind, when referring to a real estate licensee whether they pay dues to the NAR or not.



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Just like people refer to every photocopying machine as a Xerox® or every facial tissue as a Kleenex® so to with those of us in the real estate biz and the word REALTOR®.  My only hope is that someday the NAR will come out with something that can explain the difference between REALTORS® and your run-of-the-mill real estate licensee beyond the fact that REALTORS® are members of the National Association of REALTORS® (i.e., we pay dues) and that we pledge to adhere to a Code of Ethics.

If You’re on Facebook You Must be a Great Referral Partner

More to the point, for me, is this: how effective is a  Facebook “Like” page as a source for a decent referral partner.

True.  I don’t know every REALTOR® in every geographic location and even if I go to what I consider to be more credible referral directories, it’s possible I could pick a real loser. Yet, it seems to me that picking someone from Facebook is way too random.  Sure.  If I know you through one of my professional networking groups or Designation groups or even company directory and you’re also involved in Social Media, it’s a big plus.  However, I don’t know that being on a Facebook “Like” page  with a gazillion other real estate licencees is the primary driver when I’m looking for a referral partner in Pocatello, ID.

Maybe I’m wrong about this.  I know it’s worked for some people.  But as an old [pre-real estate] boss was fond of saying, “Even a blind squirrel can find nut sometimes.”

“Loves sunrise walks on the beach, quaint B & Bs, former Barbie® boyfriend..." Ken is a sole practitioner and Realtor Extraordinaire in the beautiful MD Suburbs of DC. When he's not spouting off on Agent Genius he holds court from his home office in Glenn Dale, MD or the office for RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Fulton, MD...and always on the MD Suburbs of DC Blog


22 Comments

  1. Have not actually seen the facebook page you referred too. Probably a starting point when you have an out of area referral. I have noticed that website can tell you something about the Realtor also. Is there an extra effort to enhance the site with information easy to use by buyers and sellers. Not just the same generic company website.
    I enjoyed your article. I find the easiest way to find a good match for my customers is to pick up the phone, talk to the manager. Tell them how I work and what I am looking for in an agent. So far no bad experience, definitely better then just picking a name of a Real Estate directory.

  2. it’s unfortunate that the page was closed, but the bottom line is that it was a clear infringement of a trademark, correct? I think it’s important for NAR to protect their trademark. It’s a shame that facebook wouldn’t change the URL, but it states clearly in their terms of service that the vanity URL cannot be changed. It’s a tough lesson learned.

  3. No question, Jon. It’s a tough lesson. Although they are not the first and probably won’t be the last.

  4. It’s sad that the page was shut down. But it would never enter my head to use REALTOR in a URL. Most of us (I hope) realized that that would never fly.

    • Ruthmarie – You can use REALTOR in your domain name but there are rules… For example, you can use fredromanorealtor.com or ruthmarierealtor.com, or even xyzcompanyrealtor.com. What you can’t use is generic terms like bestrealtor.com or bristolrealtor.com. You can review the trademark usage on realtor.org.

  5. Sorry to disagree with you, Ken, but if you post consistent, relevant content on your fan page, it’s a given that you’ll be recognized as the market expert and go-to-guy for your area. Facebook doesn’t want to replace Google, they want to replace the freakin’ TELEPHONE. Go to compete.com and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Hey, Joe

      I wasn’t referring to an individual “Like” page or even a community “Like” page, both of which can be very effective. My ambivalence was about these pages that aggregate thousands of REALTORS in order to form a quasi referral network.

      I have referred to agents based on their blogging style/content and would certainly refer to someone that had an interesting and informative “Like” page. I might even refer to someone I engage with on AG rather than just throw a random “update” on a referral page that says, “Looking for listing agent in Augusta, GA area. Anyone interested?”

      Know what I mean?

  6. Oh! I thought Social media to a point encourages transparency, and maybe even word and mouth recommendations from someone else’s good experience. PPC for example is, I will pay for you to find me. Both work in their own way.

  7. kinda makes you wonder why anyone in their right might would register something that requires constant monitoring. I mean, this person obviously hadn’t read the terms and was most likely unaware of the severity. hmmm…on second thought maybe i should register Loftninja®

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  14. FYI – that facebook page is active again at .facebook.com/RealEstateReferralGroup. Apparently facebook decided to bend their rules a bit and and changed the page name. Maybe the page admin threatened facebook staff with a Taser™ :-)

    • Well, well, well. Will wonders never cease? It’s good to know Facebook was nice enough to accommodate.

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  19. A trademark is supposed to be used as an adjective (followed by a noun) as in “Kleenex(R) tissues” or “Xerox(R) copy”. Realtor(R) defies this trademark usage. It is used as a noun and even exists as a trademark in the plural form, i.e., Realtors(R). A correct use of Realtor(R) would be “Realtor(R) agent” but that sounds just a bit weird.

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