Dozens of posts on various social media platforms have weighed in on the latest chapter of a long-running feud between eXp Realty and Keller Williams.
Amid a legal battle between Keller Williams and eXp Realty over executive Mark Willis, dozens of social media posts — including profile pictures of eXp agents — this week began displaying the hashtag #FreeMarkWillis in an apparent effort to tip the scales in the fight.
The hashtag first began gaining steam on Tuesday, when news broke that Keller Williams and eXp were fighting over Willis. The issue was eXp’s plan to hire Willis — a former CEO of Keller Williams — to fill an undisclosed executive role. However, Keller Williams sent Willis and eXp a letter threatening legal action in an attempt to stop the hire. The franchisor has claimed Willis would be able to share confidential information with eXp, with whom Keller Williams has an increasingly bitter rivalry.
By Tuesday afternoon, #FreeMarkWillis had popped up on Twitter.
Sanford’s original comment had been about “a competitor who diminished you in the past” and which was trying “to use the legal system to try to keep former team members from joining the team.” The original tweet didn’t mention Keller Williams by name, but in a later comment Sanford appeared to confirm that he was talking about the Willis situation, and he eventually used the hashtag himself.
Over the ensuing days, the hashtag spread to other platforms and on Facebook more than a dozen posts included it as of Friday. Many of the posts came from eXp agents and teams, criticized Keller Williams’ position in the case, and shared an all-black image that displayed the hashtag.
Some eXp agents also changed their own profile picture to the all-black image.
Additionally, a handful of Facebook users also shared an early Friday morning post from Morgan Carey, founder and CEO of technology company Real Estate Webmasters, that described Willis as Keller Williams’ “secret sauce” and criticized Keller Williams actions in the dispute.
Half a dozen #FreeMarkWillis posts had popped up on Instagram as of Friday as well, most of them displaying the all-black image that was common on Facebook.
Inman reached out to eXp about the hashtag. In response, a spokesperson said the company did not know what the hashtag’s origins are, and has no opinion on its use.
Keller Williams also provided Inman with a statement Friday saying that “Mark Willis is a current co-owner of two Keller Williams Regions and a Market Center.”
“Due to his current ownership interests, Mr. Willis has non-competition obligations in place with Keller Williams in which he agreed not to compete with his partners and Keller Williams while simultaneously profiting off them,” the statement noted. “As a result, the company filed this lawsuit to enforce the agreements and protect the interests of his franchise partners and Keller Williams.”
For now, it’s unclear what impact the hashtag campaign could have on Willis’ hiring. Social media campaigns can increase pressure on a company to act in a certain way, and it’s conceivable that #FreeMarkWillis could keep the conflict fresh in more minds longer than a typical news cycle.
Either way, though, the episode highlights — and likely intensifies — the rivalry between the companies. That rivalry dates back to the early 2000s, when Keller Williams founder Gary Keller reportedly snubbed Sanford, who then left and went on to found eXp. The conflict has since intensified, for example with Sanford saying in 2018 that Keller Williams tech was behind the curve. A year later, Williams referred to eXp’s tech as “old game technology.”
More recently, the conflict flared up again when former eXp President of Operations Stacey Onnen announced on Feb 4. that she was joining Keller Williams as the brokerage’s new head of business operations.
The fight over Willis adds yet another chapter to this story, and the spread of the hashtag shows that the battlefield is increasingly online and in full public view.
Let us know which side of the debate you’re on:
Update: This post was updated after publication with a statement from Keller Williams.