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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Social Media ~ Know What It Really Means Before You Hire

Hi friends and interested people; this is hopefully a helpful overview you can learn from, based on my personal growing frustration & observations of late both here in Palm Springs California, Wichita Falls Texas and online worldwide. Forgive the occasional cynicism and instead consider it as a positive encouragement to you, whoever and wherever you are, if you're contemplating social media or hiring someone to help. This isn't a resume, bragfest or about my achievements or talents; you can contact me via email, phone or text through my website if you'd like my help. This is instead a perhaps long overdue synopsis and “help sheet” which you can hopefully gleen some pearls from!

I've been hearing terms like “social media, SEO, brand, branding, soc-med consultant, virtual assistant, etc” for 7 years now; frankly it's making me testy. I have redefined “eyeroll” a few hundred times now; it's a wonder they're in my eye sockets at all. What passes for “professional,” “expert,” and “branding manager” is an INSULT to most peoples' intelligence and perhaps most especially for the poor saps who hire one without doing homework.

If you are considering either bolstering or venturing “into” social media, you had better know a few simple truths right off the bat.

1) NO ONE can give you an instant social media presence (although I can get you on the board pretty quick). It's not a coupon, bus ticket, or purchasable, immediate benefit. Anyone telling you that they can double your store revenue, internet sales, popularity, “brand” (I detest that word) probably knows nothing more than how to press “enter” on a computer. It's like people buying a digital camera and thinking they're Ansel Adams the following morning. It's just not TRUE. It's just not a FACT. It's just NOT going to happen.

2) Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. TEACH him how to fish, and the fish are nervous. It's the same with social media. YOU have to take a vested interest in it. If you “don't have time” you're never going to be “known” in the vein you need to be ~ i.e. “personally.” You do NOT get to suddenly jump on the bandwagon, get 7-10 Twitter followers and a FaceBook Like Page, and suddenly be the Kim Kardashian of fresh fruit grocery stands or brain surgeons or Realtors or political candidates in the blink of an eye. It happens over TIME. Fortunately that window can be a short one but don't fool yourself. Another example are people espousing about “being real and genuine,” and then seeing they're AUTO posting from a script. They're telling you to be real and using a computer to generate the post about being real. It's crap, it's harmful to you, and it's rude to your audience & potential clients.

3) Before you “HIRE” a social media “consultant” you should look at THEIR social media. Do they have 27 likes, 90 FaceBook friends and 22 Twitter followers? Perhaps a brand new Instagram with 22 followers, all spammers? Ooohhh, that'll work GREAT. You're in good hands there. Sarcasm. I've seen people not only representing businesses poorly, with perhaps 1/30th of my reach, but who also never read or learned #4 below (this is a biggie) >>>

4) Someone checking in on your FaceBook “Like” Page is NOT marketing. Like pages themselves are not marketing. They're a joke and mostly a horrid disappointment unless you're Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga or Kim K. Personally, I now use FaceBook for its initial intended purpose: to keep up with IRL friends and follow groups I'm interested in. There are MUCH better avenues for social media promotion available. When you post to your “Like” page, roughly 5-10% of your “number of likes” will see the post unless you pay to promote it. A restaurant with 4,000 likes can still go out of business and indeed one I enjoyed patronizing just did in Wichita Falls. Unless you get SHARES on your FaceBook page or Like page, you are talking to the same 100-500-2500 people over and over again; if you use it as a “shout channel” over and over again for let's say new Real Estate listings, people WILL lose interest, unfollow or unlike/unfriend you.

*** INSTEAD: ***

1) Start slowly. I won't bore you with my social media history, but I initially picked something I LIKED (Twitter) because of CNN's Don Lemon. I saw the Iran Revolution being covered when no reporters could be there and the only “press” were kids running with cellphones and posting to Twitter. I signed up watching Don Lemon because I was fascinated. About 40 minutes later a “light” went on above my head and I thought “this is the greatest thing ever!” You might enjoy other platforms and it's important to pick one you WILL enjoy. Feel free to contact me if you're not sure what might be good for you. But start slow. You don't have to be a mogul in 20 minutes; you WON'T ANYWAY. So have FUN. There are things you should and shouldn't do; there are things that are a complete waste of time. Again, feel free to contact me and I'll save you some time.

2) Show some common manners, courtesy and respect. Do for others if they do for you. NO, you do not have to share/like/retweet everything on the planet for other people. Sadly, and I'll put it bluntly & honestly because that's how I've attained a reach of 1.8 MILLION … most are takers and won't do squat for you. Learn the nice people, and thank them when they help you. It's amazing how often they'll help you AGAIN, because they too are “seeking the nice people.” If someone shares your post, share theirs. If they like your Instagram pics, like THEIRS. It's basic common courtesy and that will go a long way to establishing “connections.”

3) If you don't have a sense of URGENCY … GET ONE. Learn it. 10-12 minutes of doing the right things occasionally will have great rewards.

4) Hire someone who, while putting you out to their LARGE ESTABLISHED NETWORK (and they'd BETTER have one or why & how are they offering you anything?!), TEACHES YOU what to do and to the point of annoyance, pressures you to do it. It's like having a fitness coach. Anyone who DOES NOT want to teach you isn't your friend, your ally, or consultant because they want to extort money on a monthly basis forever... to not do as much as YOU could if you just learned.

5) Most social media platforms have an excellent phone app version. You do NOT have to sit at a computer 5 hours a day liking pictures of cats to start getting your message out. What the phone apps afford is the ability for you to RESPOND to people quickly. That, boys and girls, is very important. It's essential. It's real life. If someone messages you, tweets you, shares a post … and you quickly THANK THEM in a timely manner as we all should have been taught .. lots and lots and lots and LOTS of other people SEE that and you are immediately removed from the sewer barrel plethora of non-caring, self absorbed twits on social media and instead elevated to “human.”

6) Be yourself. Should I type that 11 times? Be yourself. This is where I differ from many, many “experts” who don't have the reach I do. How did I get the reach? See the first words of this #6. Be yourself. Don't be a drama queen, but if you're having a bad day it's okay to vent a little. If you feel strongly about something, post it. Politics and religion, for example, are considered the 3rd rail in social media. You'll see things like this:

Don't for God's sake say anything real or defend a public official or put out a meme about something or other. Just stick with pictures of cats, nice weather and fluffies.”

Horse shit. FaceBook and Twitter especially are full of those gladhanding nimrods; they're usually the type that “in real life,” would give you one single Tic-Tac. An absolute natural disaster can be occurring in their town (I've seen it myself on MY timeline) .. and nary a mention. It's happy rainbows and bunnies and “I have a new listing.” Loud buzzer. Fail. Be real or don't bother. People and their lives matter and if you care, they'll care about you. It's painfully simple and yet often ignored.

The Happy Conclusion, Drinks Available In The Lobby:

Friends, social media isn't pulling teeth. It can actually serve you well. It can and should be fun, it can make you new friends. It can be educational, a release and an inspiration, all while serving a purpose for you and introducing you and perhaps your product or service to the world. Skip the lightweights and phony types and get behind someone who will get behind YOU and show YOU how to effectively handle yet enjoy it.

I hope this helped give you an outline and some things for look for. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Cheers!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Droning On And On

Droning On And On ~ by Paul Roberts

Sometimes the right thing to do is blog about something that will help Realtors without your necessarily having an "interest in it." It's just the right thing to do. This is one of those posts. The “new” fad in Real Estate Photography seems to be the use of drone photography of properties. Here are my thoughts on the merits vs downfalls of using drones from various aspects. As an added bonus, if you read until the end, I'll give you a hint how you can get the shot ANYWAY … for FREE.

I consider myself a “new technology early adopter” in almost all respects. At the same time, I recognize fads, at least when I believe I see them, and I looked into drones TWO YEARS ago. I am friends with several photographers/videographers WORLDWIDE who are using drones to capture stunning images of downtown scenes, meadow landscapes, lakes, volcanoes, hard to reach river beds and other endless views and landmarks ~ they're truly stunning images. I have a bucket list of subjects I'd photograph should I opt to get one.

However, with Real Estate photography for clients, after careful analysis, I don't see their worth for the photographer, the Realtor or the client he/she is representing in order to SELL that property.

We have many “country club” properties here in Palm Springs & surrounding areas like Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells & La Quinta. Often these are in a “tract.” The Realtors won't use that word, LOL! Sorry … “community” or “country club.” They are cheek by jowl with other homes. Taking the right angle of the home to the property line, front & back, with well lit balanced interiors will show that home nicely. Now … let's say we shoot it with a drone. Pool, jacuzzi, backing on to a golf course fairway, lake on the fairway, nice interior that shows even in the exterior shot(s), blue sky reflecting in the bay window. Nice! Right? That'll work. Now put a camera 100-150 feet in the air, bother the neighbors, get a roof shot.

  • How will that be cropped
  • What's on the roof (leaves, palm fronds, dead rat, dismembered hobo skeleton from the 70s, dust, bugs, little Johnny's kite). Happy air-brushing.
  • How do you isolate that property to the seller? An arrow saying “this is the one I'm selling” ~ ?
  • What are HOA rules for flying a drone within grounds airspace? I'm guessing forbidden.
  • What are the neighbors doing? #SkinnyDipping Next door? Again with the airbrushing, and hopefully no lawsuit.
  • If a golfer misses a tee shot because you buzzed him/her, there'll be hell to pay :)
  • Neighbors won't want THEIR home included, especially if doing dishes in the kitchen naked. Many modern drones (as of this date June 14 2015) DO HAVE the resolution to show what's inside a neighbor home.

Further liability issues: There are TWO sets of batteries; one in the magic flying machine itself and another in the CONTROL unit. If either of those batteries run down (average flying life is 10-12 minutes at present) ~ and that thing gets “squirrelly,” it's going down. So is your reputation. What if it takes out a bay window? Straight into a neighbor's pool and electrocutes Mrs. Nesbitt?

Aerial shots, especially if it's a very large property, are indeed nice, and dramatic. Since I believe “dramatic but accurate” PROPER photographs (not computer generated layered litho nonsense) sells homes, drones might have their place. I'd make the rule of thumb 5 acres. If the property is 5 acres or larger, and therefore you can operate the drone WITIN the property lines, and there isn't a noise or neighbor privacy factor, then go ahead. Battery failure and the other concerns outlined above wouldn't be an issue. But what to do with properties smaller than 5 acres? How many properties that large are you realistically going to list? The answer, folks, is free and the images are good. It's called Google Earth. Believe it or not, the Google Earth app for your PHONE is often a better, more “tweakable” one than Google Earth on a computer. As long as you DO NOT REMOVE the Google Earth watermark / logo from the image, and CREDIT Google Earth for that image, you can use one. After searching for the address and perhaps putting the “street view little golden man” icon on the street if necessary, you're “right there.” By placing two fingers on the screen you can not only rotate the angle (go higher); you can swivel around to show front, back, side view of the home/property and position it just how you like it. You will not have exposure control since you're using an existing library image of the property taken by Google. On average the clarity & sky conditions are quite good but you may not get a perfect blue sky. However, it will show layout, bushes, landscaping, the home, the pool, golf course, even the street if you want it as a reference.

Problem solved. I would say in 80% of the cases an aerial won't do much to promote the property; in fact you're probably taking away “visual value” because all you'll effectively show is how close the neighbors and the dumpsters are, and a dirty roof. I'd recommend letting clients assess that for themselves in PERSON when you show it. Let the fantastic, natural interior/exterior ground level shots show the beauty & appeal of the home. After all, that's how you'll see it when you're living there, unless you're 200 feet tall.

The bottom line is this: Good photos, an aggressive agent, longer hours open houses, advertising including social media and “sense of urgency” sell homes. Not cutesy sales pitches about “I'll photograph it with a drone.” If you're approached by an agent who offers “cutting edge” 50 year old remote control plane technology to “get” your listing, ask “How many have you actually SOLD using drone photography.” Giggle and wait for the long pause. I have no aversion to providing equipment & photography (and charging a LOT accordingly) to help Realtors sell a home. I just don't believe in risky gimmicks that afford little or no return. You shouldn't either.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Singing: "I've Looked At Clouds From Both Sides Now"

This relatively short blog will be about YOUR DATA, clouds and their value to some, and some general backup tips & suggestions. First, some important background because it relates to the tips.

Some Background:

I was actually a latecomer to “PCs,” after getting my first used laptop and then an upright as a peripheral for my Palm Pilot. I was a Palm freak, loved tweaking and hacking the operating system, ran hacks and TWO hack managers, and pretty much lived by it. My first was the 505, and later a Tungsten T3. I still miss it for its spreadsheet ability, Agendus calendar, customized icons within calendar, excellent search function, TealScript (which allowed you to personalize graffiti) and many other programs. Sadly, with the attempt to combine with a phone (The Treo) and some awful OS (operating system) “advances,” ~ Palm died a slow death.

Once I had the used laptop 2 weeks (motherboard fried) and I got a decent upright, I was “away for slates” as they say in England. I wanted to learn everything I could about the Windows OS and in a short time was able to do simple programming like plugins for photography, “FiltersetP” used for adblocking in the Firefox Browser (for a long time the most downloaded script in Firefox history, finally beaten by of all things a silly theme! Haha!) and being a daily branch build tester for Firefox starting with version 0.80 (prior to the first public release “1.0PR”). That all meant I had files. A LOT of files. A lot of VALUABLE files, at least to me .. and backup became very important to me very fast. It's common sense, but VERY FEW people back up correctly or often enough. These are the folks that cry on FaceBook or to their friends about “OMG my hard drive crashed and I've lost everything!” Well … DUH. You're an idiot.

Once I started into digital photography, things really got “backup crazy.” I not only didn't want to lose any photos, but I now had a responsibility to clients to not lose THEIR stuff. The reason my 3 Nikon bodies have TWO SD Card slots is NOT to assign one for video or another purpose .. it's because I can set them for BACKUP and take each photo twice. If I'm halfway through a wedding or 2-3 homes in a day and that card fails .. no worries, there's a SPARE.

For almost 6 years I put everything on “The Jesus Drive,” a 256GB SeaGate external hard drive. Still I wondered “what if THAT breaks?” … so I put everything on multiple DVDs. I kept a notebook of 40-50 disks, each 4.3GB, in case the external took a dump. It is still working great, to SeaGate's immense credit .. but recently I purchased 2 1-Terabyte drives (1056 GB each) from Western Digital. They're called “My Passport” Drives .. $60 from Amazon. I formatted them in FAT32 (as opposed to the stock NTFS, which gave me problems in Linux) .. and then mirrored (simply copied over) the entire Seagate contents of around 80GB to both of them. Oila .. 3 externals of backup, all the same, so I could start cutting up the DVDs.

I'm convinced that external hard drives are still the way to go because of cost & privacy. I still don't fully trust ANY cloud for complete security of personal information or in my case, photographs ~ expecially those that might not be watermarked. How could anyone trust internet storage 100%? But the problem is … if all 3 externals are under one roof and there's a burglary, fire, earthquake, flood, etc etc .. you could still lose everything; in my case every digital photo I've ever taken, programs, backup settings, files, folders, etc etc.

EVERYONE has stuff they don't want to lose. It's not just businesses that can suffer tragic, irretrievable loss of “files.” They're no longer “files” if it's your grandchildren, favorite MP3s of songs, that scanned love letter from High School, etc. No matter what you use a computer for, what you put on it has value to YOU.

So get yourself a COUPLE of external hard drives, set up a folder hierarchy (I use subject matter and then yearly folders within them). Initially you can start with “Documents” and “Photos” and then years within those. You might have “cellpics” within “Photos,” or “scans” or “receipts” .. however it works best for you. But get those files ON THERE and do it ASAP, because there might not BE a tomorrow.

You will put your files on BOTH hard drives, in case one of THOSE fails. I had a problem in the SECOND WEEK with the 2nd Passport I ordered .. I suspect it was due to the NTFS formatting. That's when I decided to format BOTH in FAT32, and RE-IMPORT (mirror) the Seagate all over again. It took about 90 minutes for each transfer but I haven't had a glitch since.

NOW … if you want to take the next step, moving to the cloud, and feel comfortable about the information you're PUTTING on the cloud … here's my experience and some suggestions.

I won't name them all but I've auditioned (actually TRIED either on laptop OR my Android phone) … 7 clouds. SEVEN. Google Drive (which comes with a Gmail address) was one of the very first. It's still up there as a favorite, albeit a little clunky at times. You can only upload folders from the Google Crhome browser, and it's Android counterpart is “OK,” but not fantastic (and I'm a HUGE Google fan). Ubuntu (the Linux folks) offered “Ubuntu One” for a while, but I thought that was invasive and kind of “pestering” so I avoided it. Good thing I did … a year later they emailed everyone to say “we're discontinuing our cloud service so get your files off.” Lovely. Thank God I hadn't invested time putting stuff THERE. I initially was only going to use a cloud for CELLPHONE pics backup, and there are a couple of cellphone dedicated Android apps that will handle that but you can't access the uploaded files from a laptop. They also have relatively small data limits.

NOPE .. that wasn't going to do; I wanted something I could access from laptop and/or cellphone, and for several reasons I “dropped DropBox” despite it coming “stock” on my Galaxy Note 3. I had installed and used it extensively on my Galaxy S3, was awarded 52GB for a limited time, and when that wasn't extended I decided I could do better. Boy did I .. and you can too.

The WINNER, in my humble opinion, is … (drumroll) … Microsoft OneDrive. This after, again, trying out 7 clouds. Not only is their WEB interface terrific .. they passed the Android test. I had pretty much decided on “Copy Cloud” and promoted it to friends .. but their Android app was horrific. It would often say “you have no files.” So, after changing my PANTS, I'd look on the laptop and there they were, no problem. They just didn't appear on my phone app. Well folks, that is probably EXACTLY where you'll need them to appear .. you're out and about, perhaps out of town or state or country .. and need something, and “no files” is the last thing you want to see. MS OneDrive has not glitched ONCE on laptop or my phone, and I'm “committing” to it. By that I mean I'm going to use the 15GB they gave me, the additional 15GB they award you when you turn on “camera roll” backup on your phone, but I'll be purchasing extra space. And that's where things get really good.

Benefits of OneDrive:
  • Wonderful, simple interface (I despise “tiles” so I elect for list view)
  • Changeable Sort Order (when you pick yours, select options again and click “remember”)
  • FANTASTIC SEARCH ABILITY. OMG, I can find any house I've ever photographed! Awesome!
  • Price (more on this below)
  • OUTSTANDING Android app … which to me is 70% of the “WOW” factor of MS OneDrive.
Rather than futzing about with getting “500MB for a friend that signs up,” just pay 'em. Presently, 100GB is $1.99/month. Twice that, 200GB, is correspondingly $3.99/month. But go with the Terabyte (1000GB) .. and it's $6.99/month. That's the deal right there. I will never fill that up, because there are many files I won't be PUTTING up (celebrity photos, etc) again for security reasons. If they're not hacked in a year, I might change my mind. But that Microsoft OneDrive cloud combined with 3 external drives makes me comfortable about the safety of my data. Lest anyone think “Paul is nuts and going overboard,” let me say .. I've NEVER lost a file to data loss. Not one file. Not one damn thing. Ever. I'd rather be over the top with backup than “sorry.” Believe me, that's the attitude you should take as well.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you one little annoyance you'll encounter. If you're like me and have 11 years of “stuff” all organized in folders & subfolders & years & shoe size (the last one's a joke) .. that's terrific. But there is a 1000 FILE LIMIT upload at a time. You can't just drag the whole kit & caboodle into the browser upload window and go to lunch. So for example if I've got 65 shots of a Realtor's house in the MLS folder, and the same 65 in the “watermarked for web” folder … that's 132 files. The shots and the 2 folders. So 6 of those would be 792. Close to the 1000 limit already, huh? So don't attempt to upload more than a few at a time. Don't fret, you'll hopefully only lhave to do this ONCE and it's DONE. Theoretically, “forever,” unless you didn't like your cloud or something catastrophic happened to it online. Subsequent incremental backups will take a mere fraction of the time; it's the initial “OMG there's a lot of crap” which might seem daunting. Which is why 1) you STILL keep your external hard drives, and 2) be very picky about what cloud you use. I went through the pain in the a** of deleting all my files from DropBox, emptying the TRASH, and closing the account. I did the same with CopyCloud. So MS OneDrive was my 3rd “investment,” the 7th cloud I'd looked at, and the one I'm finally happy with. I hope you're just as happy.

Remember also that whatever your “internet connection speed” is … and “TW” lie about THAT constantly and forever … DOWN isn't the same as UP. Your download speed is one thing .. upload is dramatically less in 95% of cases. If you have Verizon FIOS, apparently they're the only ones who have same speed up AND down (you'll recall their commercial about the other guys not being fast, but rather “half fast” and the guy's wife doing a “half fast job of uploading the kids' photos). So bear that in mind; it will seem intolerably slow migrating a ton of files to the cloud but again, it should be a one time “deal.”

Hope this helps not only in convincing you to back up your stuff, but that using a cloud while keeping privacy in mind should help many of you access files on your phone without keeping them there using up space. Keeping 2-3 external drives in your home and 80% of their information on a cloud should protect you from data loss. Cheers.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Today We Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr...

Today, January 19th 2015, we observe Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr  day in the U. S. and beyond. Sadly, for some it is just and only that ... a passive "observation."

When I was 8 years old, in grade school in Orange County California, we were told to paint a picture of someone very important in our lives. I painted Dr. King. The TEACHER, who apparently was concerned & confused, called my parents to say "Paul painted a picture of a colored man."  Wow.

Some roll their eyes at today's holiday. Some don't want to acknowledge it at all. Some groan at the very thought of "Black History Month." They have, can and will continue to bask in their own ignorance. However, here's what I find REALLY troubling: Two grand juries in two different states didn't return an indictment in the deaths of two Black men at the hands of the police. In Eric Garner's case in New York,  the Coroner ruled his death a homicide. KILLED by an illegal choke hold and allowed to die on the street with no assistance at all. This for actually being a good citizen who broke up a fight but had a handful of non taxed cigarettes.

Is there no outrage? Should there be? Or is that only confined to "uppity Blacks" to use a racist term? Sure, thousands of people of all colors have marched & demonstrated of late, thankfully. Ferguson, New York and beyond. But not enough... because nothing is CHANGING. And here, now, we celebrate the life and contributions of a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

So to get back to the "really troubling part" for me: seeing peoples' long parade(s) of social media posts & memes from Twitter to Instagram to Facebook as if to pay "proper lip service."

They feel better.
For one day.

Tomorrow they will look down passing "someone" while walking on a street. They will lock their door when "someone" crosses a street. They will change the channel discussing race relations. They will not only not paint a picture, they will not see the picture and question a child who does. They will look around their workplace and their government and never question the mathematical imbalance. They will remain friends with someone so horridly racist that they use the "N word."

We need to do better than lip service, America. It's time. It's BEEN time.

Today would also have been my Dad's 89th birthday. That day the teacher called? He said to my Mother: "What the hell is their problem? I'll burn the damn school down."

This MLK dream goes far beyond "Black and White." Don't hate on people who probably work harder than you but need some paperwork including a driver's license. Two people who love each other want to commit to a lifetime and get married because they LOVE EACH OTHER. Is that going to strain your 3rd marriage!? If so, you have issues. Get over it and grow up. Don't be hypocritical "living in a dream." ACT the dream. Speak up, because Civil rights today for someone else become YOUR civil rights tomorrow.

I guess it's just how you're raced. I mean raised.