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Op/Ed

Fake news, reviews, and now fake people? Oh my!

(OPINION EDITORIAL) You’ve likely heard that reviews and like can now be purchased as easily as you morning paper, but the newest commodity may surprise you.

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Fake likes

By now you’ve likely heard social media “likes,” site reviews and comments can literally be bought and undisclosed sponsored posts on social media are now subject to regulation by the FTC.

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So, you’d think that would be the extent of the fake commodity game, right? Unfortunately, there’s more to come.

Surkus surplus

The Washington Post’s Peter Holley detailed the latest plot to allow some businesses to get the upper hand on their competitors. The new idea comes from a former Groupon employee, Stephen George, who developed an app called Surkus that allows individuals to connect with businesses in a unique way.

Surkus connects individuals with businesses that are willing to pay people to come to their store or event. That’s right, you can now pay people to show up at your event.

Genius marketing tool or absolute madness?

You might be thinking who on Earth would want to pay people to show up at their store or to attend an event? I thought the same thing at first too, but when you think about it a bit more, it’s just a more inventive, possibly more effective, aspect of marketing.

If you open a new business, maybe a restaurant, club, coffee shop, or even bookstore and you want to ensure there’s a line outside the door on opening day, Surkus can help make that happen.

Oftentimes, grand openings are covered by local press and using Surkus can ensure the first impression made is a lasting one. Long lines generate interest and curiosity: what’s going on there? What do they sell? It must be good if people are waiting for it.

What’s it going to cost me?

Businesses pay anywhere between $5 and $100 per person to create a fake crowd, with the average price per person being between $25 and $40. Seem a little high? Stephen George explained, “[Businesses] hire promoters and marketers and PR agencies to connect, but it’s a one-sided interaction that involves blasting out a message to get people engaged, but they don’t necessarily know if that message is being received.”

He also argues that Surkus’ “crowdcasting” model is the answer as the app uses an algorithm to target age, location, style interest, and Facebook Likes (which can be bought, remember?) to select favorable candidates to show up to your next event. The app also employs geolocation technology to ensure the paid attendee stays as long as they’re supposed to; if they leave early it effects their “reputation score” which is also tracked in the app.

What’s the long-term benefit?

I’m not sure there is a long-term benefit to fake crowds. While I can certainly see the advantage of having a prosperous (or at least prosperous-looking) opening, if these individuals are not asked to leave a review or engage with the brand on social media, what long-term benefit does it offer the business? Also, remember when I mentioned that social media moguls are required by the FTC to disclose when a post is sponsored? How is this any different?

You’re basically sponsoring a person to show up.

I’m not sure why this wouldn’t or shouldn’t be subjected to the same rules.

One could argue that businesses have been employing this fake crowdcasting model for eons through the use of coupons, raffles, and moonlight madness sales along with the lure of free food and drink or the chance to win something bright and shiny, as this also makes people show up in droves (hello Black Friday?).

The takeaway

In my opinion, a business needs to know what it’s true target market looks like and buy patronage to fill seats. In rare cases, I can see how this could be used to save face in the event you’re expecting press and people bail at the last minute, this could be a useful tool.

However, using this to make your business look as though it’s flourishing when you’re just getting started could do more harm than good; because even though Surkus members are instructed to keep the fact that they’re being paid to be there under their hats, all it takes is one disgruntled member to tell tale and potentially ruin your business. What will people think about your business if they find out you’re buying fake customers/reviews/comments/Likes?

I believe in dire situations this might be a tool, but for the vast majority of businesses, I fervently believe your money and marketing efforts would be best spent elsewhere.

#DontBuyPatrons

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Op/Ed

The dos and don’ts of balancing your life with your real estate career

(EDITORIAL) Your real estate practice can be overly consuming if you let it. With discipline, you can have a good work/life balance.

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Real estate agent shaking hands with couple over a For Sale sign marked sold from Zillow

In your real estate practice, you have a plate, and you can only put so much onto that plate before things begin to fall off into the cracks. These cracks are what I call “fires” – you know, those things that become emergencies because simply put, you let them.

What I am about to share with you at first glance may come off as cold, however, I believe that with a little thought, some practice, and your own tweaks, you can realize the income you want and afford time with your family – all while elevating the respect you deserve from your real estate clients.

Balancing work and life in real estate is no easy feat.

At no point in my real estate career have I ever allowed myself to appear too eager or desperate for a client, and my clients always felt special and cared for, even though I observed a strict daily schedule. The following is how this can be accomplished:

Lesson one: You know your threshold of how many clients you can handle at once. Your pipeline should be full, and the next client in line for your services should know you’re worth waiting for, and be assured that the same care and attention will be shown to them as soon as they are “next” (never answer a client call while with another client, or this will not work for you). A client became “next” when an offer was accepted on one of my existing transactions. My threshold was originally four clients. If my pipeline was expanding quickly, I brought on agent assistants. As they waited their turn, my assistant held their hand and kept them busy with pre-qualification, buyers agreements, and the like.

Lesson two: When I took on the next client, clear rules of the road were established. I do not leave the house (home office) until 10. I have better things to do with my time than to sit in rush hour needlessly. Some like this time for phone time, however, your undivided attention is not always given, and the possibility of missing vital details while driving and negotiating grows exponentially (as do safety risks). My phone calls were made from 8am to 10am before I left my office.

Lesson three: All of my appointments were set on the half-hour – I’m not sure why, but it worked and I was always on time, as were my clients. The same went for phone calls. Schedule them on the half-hour. You will find, for example, that if you grab lunch at noon, you’re ready for business again at 12:30.

Lesson four: Be home either before or after rush hour. I preferred before. The implied impression of my work hours with my clients worked in my favor nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because I skipped the salesman b.s. of showing them more expensive homes first – I actually took them to the home described in the range they wanted. I set the proper expectations in the first place. I listened to my clients, and they appreciated it. The day they may have waited for my undivided attention gave them immediate results, and they loved it.

Lesson five: If you cannot show your buyers their next home within five showings, either you’re deaf to their needs and wants, or they don’t intend to buy – if you’re experienced, you know it when you see it, and they’re wasting time for the next customer in your pipeline. Place them on a drip campaign with a buyer’s agreement in place, or refer them.

Lesson six: Decide when your workday ends. Mine was at 5:30. However, from 8:30pm to 10pm I would work on offers, faxes, enter listings, answer texts, and emails.

Lesson seven: Not every client was right for me. For example, I have a zone of travel. The markets I work in. Working outside of that zone takes up time from my clients in travel, and time from my family. Refer them, or if you’ve tapped into a further away zone, build your team. Teams can grow and shrink as needed.

Lesson eight: You are a business. Real estate is a business. You have business hours, and you have you time. My you time was with my family, but I love marketing, so I added a 6th half-day for my marketing, blogging, and the like.

As my business grew, my referral network grew. I utilized an assistant until an indie brokerage was established. We had a clear code of how we conducted business, encouraged our buyer’s agents to adapt their business model as I’ve described, and never allowed an unseasoned agent to handle more transactions than their limit. Inevitably my threshold grew to six, but it took time.

With the technologies we have today with instantaneous communication, it’s very easy to allow things to creep onto your plate. So my final lesson is to utilize an assistant frequently.

It is possible to work and live but it takes discipline and a set of business rules for yourself that you’re accountable to besides just the Code of Ethics. It’s about being honest with yourself, and never being so desperate that something can’t wait a minute.

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Op/Ed

Learning beyond the scope of your career has life-changing benefits

(EDITORIAL) While many may think education stops after graduation, there are ways to continue life-long learning that are endlessly rewarding.

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Man writing representing studying and learning.

I took a class titled “Communication in Aging.” For the most part, it was much like any other class where you learn the material from textbooks and PowerPoint slides. One particular day took a different approach. The professor organized a small panel of five individuals from the community that was in their 70’s and 80’s. While many different topics were discussed, the overarching theme was the importance of life-long learning. One woman spoke excitedly about trips she takes with different groups that have an educational component to them.

All of these individuals were active in the community and have a variety of interests. All of this was attributed to their dedication to life-long learning.

This wasn’t a new concept to me, however, it was not something I had ever taken into personal consideration. I was sitting there with the thought that I had one month left of school and that I would continue education at the School of Hard Knocks for the rest of my life.

But, why wouldn’t someone want to be a life-long learner?

Why be complacent with picking up bits of knowledge here and there when you can be active about it even after you’ve graduated?

This can be done in a couple of ways.

You can continue your education by taking classes at your local community college or park district, or you can take your own creative approach.

At the start of the New Year, my resolution was to learn about a new thing every week (or to simply expand my knowledge on something that I already knew a little bit about.) While my dedication tapered off due to graded research taking precedence, I have picked up this resolution since graduating and have had a blast learning about new things.

My list ranges from information about orca whales to Camino de Santiago, to mortuary science, to how to make a citizen’s arrest. Yes, I am aware that this list is strange (I didn’t even include the ones on the stranger side).

But, I’ve found that learning about these varied items has expanded my mind and has enhanced my small-talk skills. Getting to learn about something different each week keeps me educationally invigorated, and I hope that it helps as I go through my own process of communication in aging.

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Op/Ed

Security of client information is too important to not take more seriously

(OPINION/ EDITORIAL) Too many companies have had security breaches, but is the process for ensuring client information safety too old to secure?

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security too old to function

While it’s clear companies seem to get hacked regularly, the steps taken to keep users safe are a joke. Companies still rely on asking personal questions in an effort to make users feel safe, but those attempts are laughable.

I wasn’t laughing earlier this week as I was setting up a few new accounts.

As anyone knows, creating accounts can be a real pain in the buttocks. But, since I’m kind of a geek, I would sometimes find the humor in choosing and answering my three security questions. (Wondering if I’d remember the answers.)

What band was your first concert?
What was your favorite dog’s name?
Where were your parents married?
What model was your first car?
Who was your childhood bff?

Cool.

I never thought much about the security questions until the last few times when I encountered a few like this:

In which city were you married?

What is the name of your eldest child?

At what time of day was your oldest child born?

How old was your father when you were born?

What?

I felt I had taken a step back in time.

Sure, these questions might be ok, if there were a lot of options, but these were four of the seven provided.

I’m not a super touchy person who gets triggered easily or angered at the drop of a hat. But, these questions made me question this process and its security.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, in this day and age, it’s quite possible you’ve never been married or had a kid. It’s also possible for some folks, they didn’t know their dad. Or, if they do, maybe they don’t want their security question asking how old he was when they were born.

But, the bigger question: Why so very personal? And, from a woman’s perspective, why so presumptive. It made me wonder: are the questions the same for a man or a woman of any age?

I can’t imagine a 22-year-old being asked about the birth of their eldest child. Or, where they were married.

These questions had to be options based on my age and gender.

I chose the questions I could answer like, where was my elementary school located.

But, I didn’t feel safer for answering. Somehow I felt like the company asking them was 1) Prying to gather personal data 2) Not concerned about safety 3) Was sexist.

As many others have argued, it’s time to shut this process down, if only for the fact that it doesn’t make us safer online. This is a practice that should be relegated to the past, just like the presumptive questions being asked.

Seems no matter where you look online, banks, retailers and even medical providers are hacked. Our information is floating in space on the interwebs.

Obviously, security is a top concern. Who wants to sign up for a service only to find out later, “OOPS, our bad, your information was hacked. Here, we will give you free credit monitoring for a month.”

Doesn’t cut it.

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