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Opinion Editorials

Life in the sidebar: how many people are missing the point of the web

Running a business like a boss isn’t easy, but it may be your only choice – unless you care less about being an authority and more about your face appearing in peoples’ sidebars.

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The real world

Life was so much easier as a real estate agent working under the guidance of an established local brand.

Business flowed in good times and in bad. I gave absolutely zero thought as to where it came from. I just did my thing. Helping people build, buy, sell, or lease real estate.

Clearly the company I worked for was generating business somehow. They have a website. They have signs. They are well known in the community. People called them about “stuff” all the time. They are trusted. They have a robust professional network.

We didn’t pay for any online advertising in the sidebar, and to be honest, the IDX section of the site never worked (and still doesn’t). They only display their own listings, which are manually uploaded. No blog at all.

If I was first introduced to this company today I would totally flip. How the hell did they stay in business if content is king and listings are the king’s gold? They’d surely have to be out of business by now, right?

Come on, you know the answer. Of course not. They are doing just fine.

They are a wonderful case study on what works. Superior service. Local context. Rinse and repeat.

Landing on the moon

Real estate agents and brokers are bombarded with so much information and advertising opportunities to generate “leads.” I’m not the first guy to think the term “leads” stinks. This is a people business. Stop looking at your potential clients as digital signatures, IP addresses, and Google Analytics metrics.

Website optimization. Blogs. Third party advertising opportunities on real estate search engine sites. Sure, they are “good” right? The opportunity to advertise your service to people who are “searching” specifically for what you specialize in? Who can argue with that?

I can. The feel good pitch, “If you close just one deal with this (product, service, advertising opportunity) it will more than pay for itself,” just doesn’t work for me. The pitch is weak on its own merit.

We’ve grown sloppy as a collective with our marketing, advertising, and digital strategies. Do you really think you are providing value by aggregating auto-populated blog posts on your site? You think people can’t smell canned email responses and “drip” (another term that needs to die) campaigns? Still think people want to “register” on your god-awful ugly website? Think again friend.

The line in the sand

Draw one right now. Say it with me: “I refuse to run my business like a carnival sideshow.” Come back down from the moon right this instant and stay behind that line in the sand and start building your castle.

Real estate. Housing. Moving. We have a unique opportunity to work with people in a meaningful way in which almost no other industry offers. My old firm had it right all along.

Their network reached out to them the moment they had a housing need. Not because they were the creepy guys in the sidebar advertisement on a website, but because they actually had authority. Not the fake kind of authority that SEO and pay per click offer, but real authority – in hearts and minds.

The show will go on

How can we take what we learned on the moon and apply it to our life here, in the real world?

The web does matter. Just not in the way you think it does. And not in the way it has been sold to you either. Start building powerful digital experiences for your audience. I’m not here to sell you on blogging, or video, or IDX, or Pinterest. That’s not what this is about. But it is about putting your flag in the ground and staking claim on your digital stronghold, whatever it may be…it needs to be yours and it needs to resonate with your users.

Make the digital experience match the real world experience. My old firm is missing out. No doubt in my mind. Imagine if they could translate their value from the real world into the digital world. If they optimized their assets.

You will need help. Work with people who want to empower you and not with people who want to leverage you.

Run your business like a boss

Run your business like a boss. Get organized. Measure smartly. Remove friction from all of your processes. Start treating real estate like the intricate business that it is. Spend time developing and analyzing marketing, processes, and experiences that make sense and translate into higher profit margins.

It might be expensive to build and protect this castle in the sand. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it’s your only choice. Stop letting consumers find you in the weird creepy corners of the internet. Be the local authority and fly your flag high. Deliver superior service. Maintain local context. Leverage technology. Rinse and repeat.

Or be the creepy guy in the sidebar.

The choice is yours.

Greg is the principal owner of Fischer Real Estate Services, a Fort Worth firm specializing in customer value and community enrichment. He's also an MBA at TCU, and a proud member of the Naval Reserves. In his spare time - he sleeps.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. annarborrealtor

    October 31, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Welcome to AG Greg!

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 12:44 am

      @annarborrealtor thanks Missy, stoked to be here

  2. kenbrand

    October 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Just say no to Bozo.  I love it and I”m looking forward to hearing more from you Greg.  What do you think about Zillow and foreclosures?  Ahhhh haaaaa haaaa.  Never mind.  Cheers my man, welcome to AG.

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 12:48 am

      @kenbrand haha Ken. Bozo is a clown, and I hate clowns. Ken – you looking forward to hearing from me is like Sinatra saying he looks forward to hearing Justin Bieber sing. I will do my best to bring my best, thank you for laying the groundwork.
       
      Zillow and foreclosures! You want my thoughts? Free thoughts with the purchase of a home in Fort Worth ($1 million minimum)

  3. ericaramus

    October 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Great first editorial on AG Greg! Keep them coming… I am looking forward to reading your posts.

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 12:50 am

      @ericaramus Erica! Thanks for stopping by. More to come.

  4. karriflatla

    November 1, 2012 at 1:30 am

    I’ve always said: when people don’t know any better … they turn to the Internet and do really bad things.
     
    The Realtor Web State of the Union is in a bad way I’m afraid.
     
    It *should* be sorta kinda straightforward how to create compelling, conversational value online, value that compliments the offline promise. But for myriad reasons — including all the nutty marketing “lessons” real estate agents continue to consume — our industry isn’t getting it.
     
    To be fair, much of the small biz world remains in the pitch dark about all of the above. Not just real estate agents. Some are trying to learn and get it figured out. And well, some just don’t wanna. That said, I see/hear about agents doing things OFF-line that make me cringe. So maybe their “web presence” is but an extension of that bizarre and persistent ethos that screams “Love ME! Pick ME! I’m so kewl! ME!”
     
    Great post.

  5. karriflatla

    November 1, 2012 at 1:35 am

    I’ve always said: when people don’t know any better … they turn to the Internet and do really bad things.
     
    The Realtor Web State of the Union is in a bad way I’m afraid.
     
    It *should* be sorta kinda straightforward how to create compelling, conversational value online, value that compliments the offline promise. But for myriad reasons — including all the nutty marketing “lessons” real estate agents continue to consume — our industry isn’t getting it.
     
    To be fair, much of the small biz world remains in the pitch dark about all of the above. Not just real estate agents. Some are trying to learn and get it figured out. And well, some just don’t wanna. That said, I see/hear about agents doing things OFF-line that make me cringe. So maybe their “web presence” is but an extension of that bizarre and persistent ethos that screams “Love ME! Pick ME! I’m so kewl! ME!”
     
    Great post.

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 10:41 am

      @karriflatla Thanks for reading Karri. Its not an easy world to navigate. I have met a lot of people this year who are more gracious with their expertise and help. Its easy to spot them because they dont have a sales pitch tied to their conversation. Love the end of your comment by the way. Very kewl of you to stop by

      • karriflatla

        November 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm

        @Greg Fischer  @karriflatla YES. The keys to the castle are lie within just one word: *conversation* It’s pretty simple when you boil it down to that. Disclaimer: used to be a copywriter/web consultant for years. I had spent much time working to unpack folks’ beliefs about the Internet. Was interesting 😉

      • karriflatla

        November 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm

        @Greg Fischer YES. The keys to the castle lie within just one word: *conversation* It’s pretty simple when you boil it down to that. Disclaimer: used to be a copywriter/web consultant for years. I spent much time working to unpack folks’ beliefs about the Internet. Was interesting 😉

  6. Joe Loomer

    November 1, 2012 at 10:15 am

    “Work with people who want to empower you and not with people who want to leverage you.”   Amen!
     
    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 10:42 am

      @Joe Loomer Chief, thanks for stopping in. Fly Navy!

  7. CraftBeerAustin

    November 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Blogging like a Boss too…  Strong work and I couldn’t agree more.   You can always tell a Real Estate agent on twitter by the number of other people referenced in their tweets, 99% will be all about them and how “great” they or their hot air balloon is.   I look forward to seeing more posts from you Fisch!

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 10:49 am

      @CraftBeerAustin Bobby, thanks for for checking in man. Heres a good one: A realtor, an attorney, and a SEO step into a hot air balloon…

  8. KendylYoung

    November 1, 2012 at 10:41 am

    The web does matter, just not in the way you think it does.  BINGO.  The idea that the web as “latest magic pill that will create business for me” is a drug we must refuse.  Rather, web as a way to “amplify and  leverage the face to face value I have always brought to my clients”?  Priceless.

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 10:51 am

      @KendylYoung Thanks for reading Kendyl. Bingo indeed. Though I will say – I dont think anyone would be upset to see your smiling face in their sidebar. -G$

  9. drewmeyers

    November 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    But your approach is harder than putting up crap and delivering no service 🙂

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      @drewmeyers oh yeah, crap and no service is much easier – lots of people do that! Funny thing is guys like you have been playing the same tune for years. Ive listened. Im shipping. Others – not sure, maybe they just read columns for pleasure?

  10. leslieebersole

    November 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    @Greg Fischer Pretty darn good.

    • Greg Fischer

      November 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      @leslieebersole Thanks for reading Leslie

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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