What does Fair Housing have to do with social media? So glad you asked!
If you are under the impression that you don’t face the same Fair Housing risks in the online world as they are in your physical place of business, you’d be in for a shock…and potentially legal action if aren’t following the law.
You probably already know that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. This includes not only the sale or rental of the units in your community but it also applies to any advertising that your property may take part in and yes, that includes social media!
All communities who maintain a social presence on any social media network is at risk if they aren’t following Fair Housing laws on social media in the same way they would if someone were to step foot in their offices.
What does that mean for your apartment community?
It means that when you’re making a post on your social media channels you can’t use any words, phrases, visual imagery or any other media that could violate the Fair Housing Act. This applies to your website, blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates or Instagram posts. If it’s online it applies.
What About Using Social Media to Screen Residents?
Take a look at most of our social media profiles and you will find that most everyone has quite a bit of information listed publicly. It’s only natural to want to use this information to screen potential residents. It could be pretty useful in finding out ahead of time if a potential resident has pets they didn’t disclose, frequent moves or lots of party photos to indicate a possible noise issue. Useful yes but also has the potential to open yourself up to claims of discrimination.
The problem is that when investigating a potential resident through social media, you are also likely to come across data that then classifies them into one of the seven federally protected classes. Something as simple as finding out that they have children through photos or that they are of a specific religious faith has the potential to cause problems for your community.
If you expect those types of things to influence your decision on whether or not to rent to someone, the best option is to stay clear of investigating any potential residents on social media.
However, using social media in a way that is consistent across the board for all residents, doesn’t violate their privacy (most tend to be public), follows Fair Housing guidelines and all efforts are fair and well documented will help to protect you against any Fair Housing complaints.
Diversity is Key When Using Social Media in the Multifamily Industry
When it comes to the images and copy used in your advertisements as well as the overall feel of the other images and text on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media page they need to be diverse. This means, you shouldn’t only choose to use photographs of one particular race, one particular sex or leave out disabilities or children in your advertisements. Doing so could be construed as preferential advertising and thus open a community to risk of a fair housing complaint.
The best thing you can do to avoid any close calls or violations is to be fair and balanced in all of your marketing and advertising collateral. This would include the images you use to visually attract as well as the wording you use as your headline, call to action and descriptions.
- Don’t forget to include all of the seven protected classes including those with disabilities.
- Be sure to use images in your posts and advertisements that are diverse in cultural and ethnicity.
- Show images with people of all ages including children and seniors.
- If you aren’t using stock photography, be sure to have full model releases on file for any staff or residents being used and keep those releases forever.
- Include the Equal Housing Opportunity logo in your social media posts, visual images and on your website.
The important thing to remember is to use photographs and wording with plenty of diversity. Not only will it keep you compliant with the law but it will ensure that everyone feels welcome at your community.
Social Media Policies for Your Staff
Aside from the actual advertising efforts you conduct on your social media channels you will also want to set some basic guidelines for how your employees are to use social media when it comes to your property.
We recommend limiting which of your employees have access to administer your social media networks. You should also ensure anyone who has access to make posts on your behalf, respond to comments on your behalf or directly reply back to direct messages have all been properly trained in Fair Housing laws.
Should you decide to work with a social media agency, such as Blue Cricket Media, ensure that whatever agency you choose is also current in their training of Fair Housing laws.
Questions you need to answer in your social media policy for employees:
- Are you employees allowed to post on social media channels designated for business?
- Are employees allowed to “friend” residents or potential residents?
- If employees are allowed to post to your social channels, what sort of content are they authorized to post?
- Are employees authorized to post to social media outside of business hours?
- How will your company handle inappropriate or unlawful posts made by employees?
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to help market your multifamily community, but you want to be sure that you are using it in a responsible and lawful manner. Follow a few simple guidelines to ensure you aren’t discriminating against any of the 7 federally protected classes and you will find social media will help you to build brand awareness, loyalty with your residents and a feeling of home in your community.
We hope this information has been helpful in performing social media marketing for your own community and remember, Blue Cricket Media specializes in social media management for the multifamily industry and we’d love to talk to you about yours!