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Opinion Editorials

Finding Your Voice, Socially – Go Public

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The Pioneering Trail may be a Dead EndI’m beyond the point of return in the social media arena.  I mean, wth?  I’m a social introvert unless I am in front of clients.  Give me a television, a great college football game and I’ll give you the keys to all the open houses you care to lounge in.  Sincerely, I don’t really care to talk to masses when my brain throbs from the numerals floating around in my head- as I said today, my eyeball hurts.  I no longer see stars, I see numbers- stop computing!

There is no way an agent can be in every place every day, to sell every client, so it stands to reason that creating ways for business to come to you is the answer.  That answer is the royal flush we hope for with each new username/password we create and honestly, it just doesn’t come in the first or 30th hand.  We’re ahead of our time in many respects, those of us who venture to join these new online cliques, we’re pioneers

But pioneers when settling new lands had to plow fields, build buildings, homes, create irrigation methods, dig outhouse holes and more to establish their neighborhoods and online social networking isn’t much different– winters were cold on the plains of the new lands, and these new online lands are roughly the same.

My advice to any agent planning to pioneer their own online town is to pack lots of food, brings lots of socks for the long cold winters, and a soft chair for the hours of waiting for your online town to be found by the wouldbe fellow passing through. 

Consumers really don’t get it yet.  They pass through blogs and wonder wtf!?  They search for homes in google and some result comes back 3rd or 4th with a random quote from someone they’ve never heard of- a fragment of a conversation picked up by a search engine spider– the result is the ultimate frustration of walking into the middle of a conversation that has really no meaning to their search at all because you’re 500 miles away.

Some techie selling a product (with the hopes of going IPO or being bought out by a tech giant, or scoring VC funds to hit their lottery dreams) said their way was the road to everywhere, and we bought it, hook line and sinker.  Those same techies have agents jumping through social hoops all over the internet trying to answer the so called call the consumer hasn’t even made yet- fine, you do that, while I write this contract with a buyer that came from the phonebook you call so archaic.  You type on twitter while I dine at the Saltlick with investors from California.  Seriously, you sit there while I farm your neighborhood and fill the void you left when you stopped sending mailers.

Maybe the housing slump wasn’t caused by subprime and credit woes, maybe it slumped because all of the agents went out west to settle baron waste lands.  Or, maybe you’ve been so busy taking your eye off the ball to follow covered wagons you’ve let your own business slump.

The answer is really simple.  Pick one or two social arenas that you enjoy, continue the marketing you know has brought you success, treat your blog like a client or better, and most certainly, continue the things that work.  You can do both the settling of new lands, and continue to maintain the business you’ve already built- and most certainly keep your eye on the consumer, and not the shiny beta badge.

As much as I like Zillow, and Trulia, and see consumers gathering in those places, I see more opportunities in a shopping mall to make one on one impressions with real people, real buyers that do not need to be convinced.  I see more opportunities in Church that know me, that want to work with me given the opportunity, and what about the PTA, the Men’s Club, Happy Hour at the local pub- the last time I checked all of these places were full of real people, real business opportunities in networking. 

My most recent client came to me by accident when I rented a car here in town.  Last year, he drove me home 5 minutes from the car rental place and we chit chatted about real estate.  Last week he called me, today we wrote the contract, soon we’ll close.

The quality time invested in these types of social arenas has real value, and the last time I checked, these people talked to you about real estate to grow knowledge, not steal it. 

All I’m saying is you do not have to take the word of a techie and throw all of your business into the wind. But whatever you do, make sure you do it really well- or you may find yourself living in a wagon.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Mariana

    January 15, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Well said, Benn. The internet is a TOOL – a town bonfire (of sorts) to let people know where you are, but you are right… Physically engaging people in “real life” puts the REAL in Real Estate and is really where it is at.

  2. Brad Coy

    January 16, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Thanks Benn. There is some real solid advice here. I’m curious, do you know of many agents spending time “pioneering” and taking their eye off the ball only to lose business as a result of it? Or is this speculative?

  3. Vicki Moore

    January 16, 2008 at 12:32 am

    Thanks for the reminder. I do get caught up in the latest thinga-ma-gigy. My plan for this year is quite different than last. I hope the results are too. But it includes much of what you discuss in your post.

  4. Charleston real estate blog

    January 16, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Well said Benn, thanks for the reminder of the basics that got us to here.

  5. Kate Morris

    January 16, 2008 at 9:44 am

    I have to agree 100%. As an internet marketer by trade, I see so many pushes to get into the “social market” like it’s the answer to everyone’s woes. But on the internet, there is no one answer.

    You website is one big brochure. People don’t buy and sell houses through brochures, never have. It’s the relationship that is key. It’s nice to see that other people are seeing this. The internet and social marketing are tools just like everything else.

    Well spoken.

  6. Benn Rosales

    January 16, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Brad, great to see you commenting. There are two schools of thought in the marketing world to date.

    If you agree with Athol’s post (the first two paragraphs) here which is the 2.0 school of thought then yes, there is data to support that it (1.0 marketing) does still work. So, if the standard approach to marketing still does work in many many ways and you leave it for something that might work into the future then yes, there is proof that people may be losing business in the time they’re focusing online.

    There are way to many articles around the net that basically say “why am I bothering” to blog, or do social networking because nothing has come of it. The truth is, I have evidence that 2.0 marketing does work and is effective by my own experience, but the reality is, if I’ve gotten a closed lead from a phone book in the last 100 days then and a closed lead from a post mailer and a lead from the the street also within the last 100 days then it stands to reason that if you’ve removed your focus from standard marketing/cut your mailers out, cut out your phone calls, cut out your door knocking then yes, someone will fill that void and take that business- because it does still work.

    Now, I do not need to load my article with clicks to support my theory because the theory is a common theme in the blogiverse- my post is a generalization of the event of leaving one thing for another without pause because a techie said so. Real estate comes with 100 years of proven methods, hence the reason it is so easy to dive into the business. I believe that in the past year many have abandonded proven principals and begun to say they’re old and do not work without any documentation whatsoever. I am just adding in a tad bit of common sense to the mix that the truth lies mostly in the middle of both schools.

  7. Chris Lengquist

    January 16, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Benn, why would anyone ignore established business for speculative business. Oh, never mind. I don’t want to hear the answer.

    I love blogging and blogging has been very, very good to me. It is a great lead tool, retention tool, stress relief tool and social networking tool. But it doesn’t sell my houses for me. That’s still up to me.

    The blog also gives me something to do during the timeouts of my basketball games. 🙂

  8. Brad Coy

    January 17, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Benn,

    Thanks again for elaborating. This is very much a topic that’s ripe for the pickin’. I get what you’re saying, it’s just in my company I’m usually on the the new school side of the discussion. A balance is what I personally try to strike for myself as well while remaining cautiously optimistic of the bigger picture in online social communities. As it was a couple of years ago with blogging, I think it’s far too soon to be real negative about the possibilities of using certain tools given your niche and market.

  9. Benn Rosales

    January 17, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Well, Brad, check out the west today and you get where I’m going with my analogy… Why not look both east and west when looking at that big picture- balance is the key.

  10. Brad Coy

    January 17, 2008 at 2:31 am

    I understand your analogy clearly. Again, thanks for your sharing.

  11. Chris Lengquist

    January 17, 2008 at 10:19 am

    What about the southwestern northern end of the east? 🙂

  12. Benn Rosales

    January 17, 2008 at 11:01 am

    well, hrm… ha

  13. ines

    January 20, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    OK – I’m late to the party and I’m glad I read so many agreeing with you but here’s another take.
    I do agree to continue doing what works – but I can also tell you that Rick and I have had to change our whole marketing approach because things that worked were no longer working and it felt that we were throwing our money into the wind. From local chamber mailers to Church Bulletins – after thousands of dollars and not one call……we had to rethink.

    Going back to the basics is key, but experimenting with new technology and other methods is crucial.

  14. Ruthmarie Hicks

    March 2, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    I think that this issue is area specific. You have to look at what’s working and what’s not. I spent a ton of money on mailers and got zilch. People were papering their walls with agent postcards and mailers – so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    I rethought the cards – and did everything the WRONG way and got results. I knew the following:

    1. Most prospects could paper their homes with the number of real estate related mailers they were getting.
    2. In NY people open their mail standing over the shredder.

    So I hired an artist and used my “husky theme.” People know my white Siberian Huskies. So I had cartoons drawn with them helping me sell homes. ($$$) Due to the expense – I sent them 5-6 times a year. QUALITY over QUANTITY. To make it cost-effective I sent them to a much wider area than a usual farm.

    One of my standards for whether I think something will work is this: I did a Ph.D. a few years ago. During the last 2 years my average day was 15 hours – 7 days a week. I was walking around like a zombie for two years noticing NOTHING! When I look at any marketing plan – I ask if it is different enough to have caught my attention in that sleep-deprived semi-comatose state. If the answer is “yes” its probably worth the money.

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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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

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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