Wednesday, March 28, 2012

REALTORS®: 5 Reasons to Switch Your Website to WordPress

There's no doubt the real estate industry has been greatly impacted by the introduction of the Internet.  My very first client was a RE/MAX team.  I put them online over a year before went online.  For nearly 20 years now, websites have played a major role in helping REALTORS® build their reputation, improve their visibility, and help create relationships between home buyers and home sellers.  Those things haven't changed.  What HAS changed, however, is the technology used to help REALTORS® accomplish this.

Websites used to be cumbersome, difficult to maintain, and could often take a great deal of time to update.  Search engine visibility has always been a challenge for REALTORS®.  In an industry ripe with competition, search engine visibility continues to be a challenge.

Many companies offer real estate specific, template style, "drag and drop" solutions.  I've worked with most all of them at some point over the years.  I've found that although they may offer much of what REALTORS® need, they can be very costly, and all have various limitations... especially when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  I've watched REALTORS® spend a great deal of money over the years as they switch from one company to another... and then to another...  laying out start-up fees, monthly fees, etc... and then spending all that time re-educating themselves on the new platform.  Fortunately, there's a solution.

WordPress is, by far, the best CMS (Content Management System) software available today.  If you want your website to do it, more than likely WordPress has the capability.
5 Reasons to Switch Your Website to WordPress
  1. Cost Effective
    As with any website, you'll have your annual domain name renewal and website hosting fees.  The platform software is free and can be found at  Most add-on modules (plugins) are free.  I'd suggest you seek the help of a professional to assist with the original installation and software set-up.  This should be a one-time fee with no monthly maintenance fees.
  2. 100% Total Control
    You have 100% control over every aspect of your website.  Appearance, layout, categorized links and content, add-on modules (plugins), SEO and more.  Most MLS systems across the country provide REALTORS® with IDX links and code which can easily be integrated into pages, posts, and add-on modules.  No more "settling" with what your template style companies provide you with.
  3. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
    Search engines love WordPress... especially Google.  Virtually every aspect of WordPress offers the ability to include meta tags, descriptions, keywords and phrases.  From individual pages and posts to images, videos, links, categories, and more.  Each of these plays a crucial role in helping with search engine visibility.
  4. Social Media Friendly
    WordPress provides users with the ability to easily include icons, links, and streams for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and others.  It's, by far, one of the easiest platforms for connecting your website with your social networking tools!
  5. Communication, Interaction, and Lead Generation
    WordPress comes complete with powerful communication and consumer interaction tools.   Built right in is the ability for visitors to post comments on articles you've written, pages you've created, and content you've provided.  You can easily add a "Log In" area for users and provide them with "Member Only" content.  Want people to sign up for your newsletter?  Most newsletter services such as "Constant Contact" or "Survey Monkey" provide you with the code you need.  Insert it anywhere in your website.  The opportunities are endless.
This is that rare instance when something that "sounds too good to be true" actually IS true!  If you're a real estate agent, I strongly encourage you to take a look at WordPress.  I can, with a 99.99% degree of certainty, assure you that it's the last website change you're going to make.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Facebook Timeline for Business Pages… 5 Key Visual Changes

If you have a Facebook Business Page, and you've been using the new "Timeline" for your Facebook Profile page, then you're a step ahead of the rest.  If not, then I strongly suggest you start.  Rumor has it that the new Timeline for Facebook Business Pages will automatically switch over by March 30th, 2012.
With the new "Timeline" comes some key things you'll want to know in order to understand and take full advantage of the changes.  Although there are a number of new things you should be aware of, (and I'll touch on those in future articles), here are five of the more significant visual changes (view screenshot #3 below to help visually identify these areas).
  1. Admin Panel: Many of the key administrative features now appear at the very top of the Facebook Business Page.  Notifications, messages, recent activity, and "Insights" or page statistics are now more easily visible and accessible.
  2. Welcome Tab/Page: Perhaps one of the most significant changes is that you'll no longer be able to direct new visitors to a "Welcome" page... or existing followers to a promotional type of message.  Simply put... it's gone.  Everyone who visits your Facebook Business Page will arrive on your "Wall" first.
  3. Cover Photo: This is now your opportunity to capture the attention of your followers and potential followers.  This feature is not without some rules and guidelines.  First of all, photo specifications for optimum results is 851 x 315 (pixels).  Now... what CAN'T you do with your cover photo?  There's nothing to interpret here.  Facebook has provided some very specific guidelines.  According to Facebook, your cover image cannot contain: - Price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it at our website”. - Contact info such as web address, email, mailing address or other info intended for your Page’s About section. - References to user interface elements, such as Like or Share, or any other Facebook site features. - Calls to action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends”. Covers must not be false, deceptive or misleading, and must not infringe on third parties’ intellectual property. You may not encourage or incentivize people to upload your cover image to their personal timelines.
  4. Profile Picture: The large profile banner type photo which used to appear on the left is now also gone.  It's been replaced by the photo which now appears on the bottom left corner of the cover photo.  With the new design, this is the most logical place for a company logo or some other brand type image.  Best size photo will be 180 x 180 (pixels).  You'll find that this will help your image appear correctly alongside any posts and comments you make.
  5. Tabs, Custom Pages & Apps: The tabs (or links) to photos, videos, notes, custom pages and other apps now appear directly below the profile picture and title of your page.   A total of four are displayed at any given time with a total of twelve visible by using the drop-down arrow to the right. (see screenshot #1 below).  By using the "Timeline" drop-down button, a more complete list is available (see screenshot #2 below).  An important note about "Custom Pages" is that the allowable width has increased from 520 pixels to 810 pixels.

Screen Shot#1

Screen Shot#2

Screen Shot#3

As I said... there are many more changes worth noting and I'll address these in future articles.  I'm also developing a PowerPoint presentation which should prove to be helpful.

For now, if you have any questions or would like to know how to take advantage of the new "Timeline" features, post your question below or contact me for a personal consultation.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

EMPOWER Yourself! Rethink Goal Setting

Recently, I was asked to present educational content to members of a local business networking group.  Of course, they were hoping to hear about social networking tools and how to use them with their businesses.  Suspecting this to be the "cart before the horse" scenario, I asked for a show of hands in response to the following questions: "How many had set networking goals?" and "How many had developed a networking strategy?"  Of the twenty in attendance,  only two had set networking goals... and only one of those two had developed a networking strategy.

Networking is a critical aspect of business.  It should ALWAYS be a part of business.  It often takes a back seat when times are good.  When times are tough and business is slow, suddenly it’s something that seems important… and then it’s done using a “shoot from the hip” approach without much thought or planning.

There's a direct correlation between successful face-to-face networking and the use of social networking tools.  Goal setting is a must if you want to be a successful “power networker” both offline and online.  Without goals, you have nothing to aim at.  With goals, you will perform better and get better results.

Setting and achieving goals can be very empowering.  You feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete a task or a project.  You feel satisfaction when you've succesfully connected people within your network.  So, where do you start?  I've chosen to use the word EMPOWER to help define the key elements associated with setting and achieving your goals.

EASY:  Goals need to be within your reach and easily attainable.  Olympic High Jumpers don’t set the bar at the maximum height when they begin.  They ease into it.  The bar is set at an attainable height and is moved a little higher each time they’ve successfully crossed over it.  By setting your goals too high at the beginning, you’ll run the risk of failure.  Failure will demotivate you.  Accomplish your goal and then start including some element of stretch, but don’t set goals that are impossible to achieve.

MEASURABLE:  Goals must include a way of measuring results. This will typically be some sort of number. Setting a goal such as “I want to add more people to my network” is not a measurable goal. ”I want to add 100 people to my network” IS a measurable goal. How many people do you want to meet at that conference you’re about to attend? How many referrals do you want to provide this week? How many business owners are you going to visit today? How many times are you going to post content on your Facebook page this month? How many LinkedIn connections do you want to make this week or month? You get the idea.

PRECISE:  Be detailed and specific.  Include who, what, when, where and how.  Do you want to connect with a specific person?  Someone in a particular industry?  What specfic thing do you want to accomplish?  When do you want to do this?  Where do you need to be in order to accomplish this?  Is it a Chamber event or a fund-raising dinner?  How will you accomplish this?  With a phone call, an email, or a lunch meeting?   This is your road map.  All you have to do is follow it.

OBJECTIVE:  Your goals must have meaning and be relevant to you.  They must have a purpose.  Will achieving your goal build your network?  Will it increase your monthly revenue?  Will it help you attract more “Likes” on Facebook or “Followers” on Twitter?  Setting goals that mean something to you will keep you inspired and you’ll continue to strive to attain them.

WRITE THEM DOWN!  This is the most important step!  You need something to look at and refer to.  You need a visual road map.  You need something you can put a check mark next to when you’ve completed it.

EXPIRATION:  Your goals must have a deadline or completion date. Again, this keeps you focused and will give you that motivation you need. For example, although your goal of wanting to add 100 people to your network is measurable and precise, it’s not going to happen unless you give yourself a deadline

REVISIT:  You need to review your goals on a regular basis. Have you set a weekly goal?  Look at it at the end of the day to see how you’ve done.  Monthly goal?  Review it at the end of the week to see where you’re at.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to set and achieve your goals.  Apply this method to your both your offline and your online networking.  You'll have direction and purpose.   You'll experience a sense of accomplishment.  You'll feel good... and when you feel good, you performance reflects that.  You’ll EMPOWER yourself.  You’ll be surpised at how soon you start realizing success!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

REAL “Experts” Don’t Call Themselves “Experts”

An excellent, eye-opening, and insightful article entitled "Social Media Consultant Gone Bad... Real Bad!" recently written by Pam Moore, (someone I've grown to respect over the past year and consider an "expert"), coupled with something I recently witnessed prompted me to write this article.  I'm not sure if I'm more saddened for the unsuspecting and trusting business owners and non-profit executives... or if I'm more upset by self proclaimed "experts" who have no business being in business!  FYI... "upset" is a mild word and doesn't really express my true feelings at this point.  I'm reminded of an article I wrote back in 2005 entitled "Webmaster... Doesn't Mean Expert".

I'm going to do my best to keep this professional.  In no way do I want to appear critical, judgmental, or condescending.  Part of my job requires me to evaluate and assess in order to help those who come to me.  I'm not a "know-it-all"... and I believe those who ARE successful in their field of choice will admit to constantly learning on a daily basis!  THAT, in my humble opinion, is what separates the "experts" from those who have no business IN the business!

On Monday, I watched a non-profit organization lose seven solid and consistent years of web presence and go back ten years or more with a "flip of a switch" by listening to a self-proclaimed "expert" web designer.   Here's the story.

A website was developed, pro bono, for this group back in 2004.  The original developer, who happens to have 20 successful years in the industry, had been working with it pro bono ever since.  Although the developer moved away from the area physically, it continued to maintain a professional and modern appearance and email requests were handled as they were made.  More significantly, monthly efforts were made in the area of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and, in early 2010, the website was modified in such a way that it included the ability to be viewed correctly on mobile devices.  These aren't things that the average person typically notices when visiting websites.  The group, thinking it was time for a change and thinking it would be easier to work with someone "local" turned to one of their volunteers who claimed to be a web design expert.  A new website was developed and the domain name was redirected to this new website on Monday.

This web design "expert" claims to have 15 years in the business and admitted on Monday to "just starting to learn CSS".  For those wondering... that's the equivalent of someone saying they've been an expert auto mechanic for 15 years... and then asking "What's a wrench"?  My curiosity got the better of me and I started to look at this new website along with some of the others designed by this "expert".  I was dumbfounded.  Forget the fact that they all look like they're fresh out of the 90's with the cartoon graphics, gaudy icons with the "click here" text, and textured backgrounds.  Who knows, this might be the "look" those customers insisted on.

Here's what really disturbed me.  There was not one single element relevant to SEO (Search Engine Optimization)!  The "titles" contained NO keywords or phrases.  There were NO meta tags for "keywords" and "description".  NO "alt tags".  NO "alt text".  If you're a business owner reading this... and asking yourself "What's he talking about?"... these are web development "101" things.  These are aspects of web development that should be second nature to an "expert" with 15 years in the business!  This would be like you taking your car in for new tires and the tire tech not knowing that tires need air!
It's important to know that this particular non-profit organization is located in a very rural area.  The city itself has a population of approximately 4500.  The service they provide is specific to the area.  Here's what they lost the moment the new website went online.

Prior to Monday, they were averaging between 5000 and 6000 visitors per month to their website.  Nearly half of those visitors entered the website, for the first time, through pages OTHER than the home page.  The website itself had a VERY strong presence in all of the major search engines.  Not 4 or 5 pages cataloged in Google... but 4550!  Yes... 4550!  Except for the home page, which will probably lose visibility soon, ALL of those other 4549 pages listed in Google are now broken links.  They were averaging 70 unique visitors per month via mobile devices.   The new website is no longer mobile friendly.  What kind of "expert" suggests "starting from scratch" after seven years of effort and consistency without doing some "homework" to see if anything is going to be disrupted?

I know it's a conundrum for business owners.  You don't know what you don't know.  Read that again.  You don't know what you don't know... and you expect an "expert" to know their field and "have your back".  Examples like this are what hinders us from trusting each other... and "trust" is, without a doubt, the MOST important element in a successful business relationship.

Those who have chosen to become self-proclaimed experts in the fields of web development, SEO, and Social Media have chosen to take on a huge responsibility.  Knowing basic "mechanics" is nothing to boast about.  That should be a given.  It's why we have this mess to begin with.  ANYONE can learn the mechanics.  And they do.  Then they call themselves an "expert".  And then the business community is disappointed.  And the TRUE experts have to work that much harder to gain that trust.  But be assured... we will.  Because YOUR success is the most important thing to a REAL "expert".

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Social Networking Could Land You Your Next Job!

Using social networking, Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn for your job search
I recently wrote an article entitled "Social Networking: Freedom of Speech and Expression vs. Conventional Wisdom" in which I discuss how employers and those responsible for the hiring process are now turning to social networking to screen job applicants.

The news is not all bad.  Sure... 91% admitted to using social networking to help thin the pile of resumes and applications received from prospective employees... with 69% admitting to rejecting an applicant due to material the applicant posted online.  The good news?  68% said they DID hire a job applicant after something they found via a social networking site! 

Whether you're a young person preparing to leave the comforts of home and school to chase your career dreams or you're among the more than 13 million Americans currently unemployed, your social networking activity could go a long way in helping you land your next job!

Those who have heard me speak have heard me tell this story.  "I'm living my dream because I became a fan of a beer page on Facebook".  A good friend of mine began playing around with Facebook in February of 2008.  Like most others, it was a great way to stay connected with family and friends, post and share pictures, and keep in touch.  Life was good.  He was bringing in a six figure income with a college sports marketing company.  He'd spend some of his downtime exploring Facebook.  He'd "Like" different pages of interest.  Back then it was actually called "Become a Fan".  One of those Facebook pages was the "Sierra Nevada Pale Ale" beer page.

Over the months he noticed some posts and comments on this page which prompted him to post and comment.  Shortly after a number of these exchanges, he learned that the person he was interacting with lived in the same region and had similar interests including camping, hiking, and the outdoors.  Soon they became friends, often sitting on his back deck and solving the world's problems while enjoying a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

In 2009, my friend became a victim of the economic crash.  The company he'd spent the last 10 years helping to build was forced to close its doors.  My friend and his wife had just joined the many families who found themselves wondering "what do we do now?"

It just so happened that this new friend he'd meet via Facebook had a temporary job opportunity available and offered it to my friend.  Today, my friend runs a very successful business as a result of what he learned and the contacts he made with that temporary job.  He admits that if it wasn't for his interactions with a complete stranger on a Facebook beer page, he wouldn't be where he's at today and living his dream.

Social networking may have started out as something to do if you want to pass the time.  Today, however, they're no longer just hobbies or toys.  They've become powerful tools.  It might be time to start taking them seriously and use them to your benefit.

What type of job are you looking for?  What are your career goals?  The first step is to begin treating your various profiles more professionally.  Start using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to connect with companies and businesses that you might like to work for.  Join the groups that they're associated with.  Start paying attention to what's being shared online.  Begin interacting with the conversations that take place on their their pages and in their groups.

Has someone made a comment or shared a story that you find interesting?  Before you respond, take a moment to click on that person's name and look for information in their profile.  Who knows... you could be interacting with a president, CEO, hiring manager, or someone influential within the organization without even realizing it!  Remember that behind most every message, comment, and post is a person.  There may be a company logo next to the comment or post... but behind that logo is a person, perhaps several, who will read your response.

Don't just say things like "I'm looking for work.  Are you hiring"?  Have a conversation.  Interact with meaningful and well thought out comments.  This is an opportunity to impress.  Share your insights, knowledge, and opinions in a tasteful, tactful and diplomatic manner.  Over time, you might find yourself with a resume or application on their desk and they may remember you as the interesting individual they've been engaging with online!

Job hunting has never been more challenging than it is today.  Most companies insist that you start the process online.  It's much harder to get that "face time" with the person hiring for that job you want.  You need to take every opportunity you can to make sure you stand out above the rest.  Social networking tools can help make that possible.  Your dream job could be just a post or comment away.

There's definitely not enough room in this article for all the information I want to share on this topic.  Look for additional articles coming soon!

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Social Networking: Freedom of Speech and Expression vs. Conventional Wisdom

A disturbing trend has emerged over the past several years as the use of social networking tools has increased… and many aspects of it are very disconcerting.  The line between our right to exercise “Freedom of Speech and/or Expression” and our choice to use “conventional wisdom” seems to have become blurred.  Adults and youth alike are posting, commenting, uploading photos and videos via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking sites without considering the negative impact it can have on their future.  It seems we’ve forgotten the “Think before we speak or act” advice that most of us, as kids, were reminded about by parents, teachers, and other adults as we were growing up.

So what?  U.S unemployment is hovering around 8.5% and 8.6%.  There are currently an average number of 95 applicants per job opening.  Employers, Human Resource Executives, and even Graduate Schools are using the Internet, Google and other search engines, as well as social networking sites to screen applicants and potential employees.

NOW… let’s look at some interesting statistics.  A recent study involving 300 employers and those responsible for the hiring process for their company, selected at random, resulted in the following:
  • A whopping 91% admitted to using social networking sites to screen job applicants.
  • 76% used Facebook
  • 54% used Twitter
  • 48% used LinkedIn
  • 47% began social networking screening immediately after receiving the application.
  • 69% rejected job applicants as a result of what they found on a social networking site.  A few of the reasons included:
    - Inappropriate photos
    - Inappropriate comments
    - Posts included content about them drinking and/or using drugs
    - Posts included racist remarks
    - Inappropriate comments about current or previous jobs and/or employers
    - Demonstrated poor communication skills
    - Comments and posts were discriminatory
Now… I’m all about freedom… but let’s take a look at what the use of a little “conventional wisdom” can produce:
  • 68% said they DID hire a job applicant after something they found via a social networking site.
  • 39% did so because the applicant portrayed a positive image of themselves and their personality online.
  • 33% found the applicant to have solid communication skills.
  • 33% found the applicant to be well rounded.
So… sure, you’re FREE to post pics and videos from that outrageous graduation party… or boast about being the beer pong champ.  You’re FREE to express your dissatisfaction with authority or share why you don’t like your job.  You’re FREE to post and share your political and religious views.  Whether it’s right or wrong, employers are using information they find about you online to determine whether or not they even WANT to talk to you, get to know you, and give you a chance.  It’s up to you to determine how important all that is in the scheme of things.

Part of “being free” includes being responsible.  Being responsible includes making choices.  Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you HAVE to do something.  In this one instance… it can mean the difference between “job” or “no job”… and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

foursquare: New Burnsville, MN Restaurant Doing it Right

It’s not often that I take the time to promote a particular business because of something that has impressed me… however, in this case, I have to.  Not because of the food… because I haven’t had a chance to try it yet… not to mention I’m not a professional food critic.
What DOES impress me is something I’ve seen them do online as it applies to the use of social media.  As I work with businesses and organizations, I find that most business owners and non-profit executives overlook an important social media tool.  Most often it’s because they’re unaware.  Sometimes it’s because they minimize the significance or feel that, for some reason, the tool just isn’t for them.  In ALL cases… it’s simply a lack of understanding and education.  This business gets it.  The social media tool?  foursquare.  The business?  Ernies Pub & Grille in Burnsville, MN.
Ernie's Pub & Grille in Burnsville, MNA recent article in the Burnsville Patch announced the opening of this new dining establishment… so, as a Social Media Coach and Speaker, the first thing I was compelled to do was take a look at their online presence.  Needless to say… I was immediately impressed.  I don’t often see new businesses start off with their “i’s” already dotted and their “t’s” already crossed.  Not only does their website clearly, yet subtly make visitors aware that they have a “Facebook Page” and a “Twitter” presence… but what surprised me the most was seeing their“foursquare” icon… and THAT was what prompted me to write this article.
First order of business… just WHAT is “foursquare”?  It’s easiest just to use foursquare’s own words.  “Foursquare makes the real world easier to use. We build tools that help you keep up with friends, discover what’s nearby, save money and unlock deals. Whether you’re setting off on a trip around the world, coordinating a night out with friends, or trying to pick out the best dish at your local restaurant, foursquare is the perfect companion.”
“foursquare” was established in 2007 and officially launched in 2009.  There are currently 15 million users worldwide and over 500,000 businesses actively using this platform to promote their businesses, organizations, and events.
WHY should you, as a business owner, be using foursquare?  Simply put… it’s yet another way to promote your business or organization to an audience who otherwise wouldn’t know that your business or organization exists.
HOW you should be using foursquare depends on the type of business you have or the type of organization you represent.  ”foursquare” gives you the ability to create a variety of special “check-in” offers which can be used to entice people to do business with you, come into your establishment and shop, or take advantage of whatever services you have to offer.  Don’t have something tangible to give those who “check-in”?  Use it as an opportunity to build relationships with businesses around you who DO have something to offer.  The opportunities are endless.
Using my “foursquare” iPhone app… I performed a simple search for “restaurants”.  Look at the screen shot.  Which establishment catches your eye?  Seasoned “foursquare” users will immediately notice the orange “SPECIAL” next to “Ernie’s Pub & Grille”.  The user will instinctively be curious and tap it to see what the offer is.  If the offer is enticing enough, “Ernie’s Pub & Grille” will soon be serving that person and whoever he/she happens to be bringing along!
I can’t tell you exactly how many customers “Ernie’s Pub & Grille” has served since opening two months ago on Oct. 24th.  I CAN tell you that as of the writing of this article, at least 78 of those individual customers have “checked-in”.  I can also tell you that they’ve had a total of 109 “check-ins”… which indicates that they’ve had a number of repeat customers just from those 78 “foursquare” users.  This isn’t secret or confidential information.  You don’t need a “foursquare” account to see it.  Click on the photo and see for yourself.
Here’s the thing.  Depending on the type of business you have, there’s a strong possibility it’s already listed in “foursquare”.  If it is, there a good chance that, unbeknownst to you, people have been “checking-in” all along!  If you’re not using “foursquare” you’re missing out on some golden opportunities for your business.
Might I have some observations and recommendations?  Of course I might… wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t.  However, I’d encourage business owners to take note.  ”Ernie’s Pub & Grill” serves as an excellent example of the type of thinking that business owners need to start embracing.  Social media is here to stay.  It’s not just a fad.  It’s going to grow and will continue to play an integral part of doing business today and in the future.  If, as a business owner, you refuse to embrace it and grow with it, you’ll only be hurting yourself… AND your business.

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