Facebook Has Replaced the Annual Christmas Letter

December 25, 2014 2 comments

facebookchristmasI’ve been thinking about this post for a little while as I prepared for Christmas this year. My major life events have been chronicled on social media along with photos to document them. Most of the people I interact with use Facebook so they know what’s going on with me when I see them in real life. And I know what’s going on with them based on what they share.

So it’s not too far of a stretch to say Facebook has made the annual holiday letter obsolete. Then earlier this week Facebook launched a nifty little application called your year in review. You’ve probably seen it on your friend’s timelines. If you haven’t already tried it, year in review takes your most popular posts and creates a short montage. It’s completely customizable, so you can add or delete pictures and text. Personally, I thought it was pretty brilliant and the photos it selected indeed encapsulated my year.

Not everybody thinks the algorithm was good. Eric Meyer called his experience with it algorithmic cruelty.

I know they’re probably pretty proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed. Knowing what kind of year I’d had, though, I avoided making one of my own. I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by others, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Which was, by itself, jarring enough, the idea that any year I was part of could be described as great.

Still, they were easy enough to pass over, and I did. Until today, when I got this in my feed, exhorting me to create one of my own. “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!”

A picture of my daughter, who is dead. Who died this year.

I honestly don’t remember which picture Facebook’s app loaded for me, but I do know the first story it suggested was a picture of my father on his death bed. I didn’t have that great of a year either, but it was still my year. My father died in 2014 and nothing will change that. Not an algorithm change. Not a deleted post or edited picture. Death is a part of life. I know it sounds cliched, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about my Dad. Seeing him again on that bed with my mother next to his side did bring tears to my eyes. But the beauty of that photo far outweighs the sadness it provokes.

Meyer continues by writing,

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it. Yes, there’s the drop-down that lets me hide it, but knowing that is practically insider knowledge.

Further on he suggests some “fixes” so Facebook doesn’t cause this problem again. I submit if Meyer doesn’t want to see pictures of his daughter on Facebook, he shouldn’t post pictures of her on Facebook. I also submit Facebook allows their memory to live on in ways never previously possible. I believe this is a good thing, not something to be fixed.

Going back to my original thought that Facebook has replaced the holiday letter, we have to consider those who aren’t on Facebook or don’t actively use it. While the death of my father was the low point of my year, five months later I welcomed my daughter into my life. I selectively post pictures of her on Facebook, but I have to send emails to my mother who still won’t join. I assume I’m communicating to my other family members through Facebook as well but found out today my brother hasn’t gone on there for months. I suppose I’ll have to c.c. him on my emails to Mom…

He is also evidence the holiday letter isn’t quite dead, but it is most assuredly on its last legs thanks to Facebook.

Does Facebook's year in review replace the holiday letter?

Does Facebook’s year in review replace the holiday letter?

I Just Broke up With foursquare

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Sorry foursquare, you're out.

Sorry foursquare, you’re out.

Dear foursquare,

I hate to do this before the holidays, but we’re through. I uninstalled your phone app yesterday. It’s been a long time coming and as an early adopter of your app, I’ve been patient. But it’s over now and there’s nothing you can do. I will however tell you what you did wrong.

First of all, you messed with the gaming system which is pretty much the reason I used your software. I checked in everywhere…and I mean everywhere…to get points, score higher than my friends and earn mayorships and badges. As a male user, I like rules and knowing if I do this, you’ll do that. You screwed up by changing point schemes, selling badges to the highest bidder and ignoring the game mechanism that made your app so sticky.

That I could live with, because your app provided some utility. I used it to check for restaurants or coffee shops around my location if I was feeling adventurous. I also used it to tell my Facebook friends where I was. But then you created Swarm.

I never downloaded it. I figured it would be a bad idea when I saw Dennis Crowley defending it on a Robert Scoble Facebook post. Then my friends who did download it started complaining about ease of use, functionality and being a phone resource piggy. I still checked in using foursquare.

Like a lot of people, I started seeing a downside to telling all my friends, family and Facebook “friends” where I was all the time. For me, checking in became more of a special occasion instead of a religious compulsion like it was when your gaming system worked.

Last Saturday was the last straw. When you forced me to download Swarm to make a check in, I was through. I wanted to post I was at the football game and your app loaded, it told me where I was, but when I hit check in, it took me to the Play store to upgrade to Swarm. Sorry, I’m not going to do that, ever. So I just checked in with Facebook.

That’s when I realized I don’t need you any more foursquare. It took me a few days to act on it, but I deleted your app yesterday. Unless you do something really amazing, I’m going to stop talking about you as well.

I know you’re probably thinking, “Facebook force upgraded people with it’s messenger app, why can’t we?” The answer is simple, people need the utility found in messenger, they don’t need to check in anywhere…ever. You took the fun out of it, so nobody wants to either. I didn’t want the messenger app, but I had no choice. People have a choice with checking in, with location search, with adding photos and all the other things your app does. We’re just not choosing to do it with you any more.

So, this is it. I’d suggest we be friends, but we both know that’s a lie. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Kind regards,

Your former foursquare user

Real Estate Online Marketing Class

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Real estate marketing training December 2, 2014.

Real estate marketing training December 2, 2014.

Worried how the Zillow/Trulia merger is going to affect you? I’ve identified 5 ways individual agents can compete online. Mixer with light refreshments starting at 5:30. Class starts at 6:00 pm. You won’t want to miss this!

RSVP here!

And I’ll be talking about Twitter

5 WordPress Plugins You Must Have

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

wordpresspluginsIn the last article I discussed the necessity of having a SEO plugin for a WordPress site or blog. Here are five more I recommend, plus a cool option if you have a lot of traffic.

1. Auto tweet new posts – Don’t spend additional time writing tweets. Do it automatically with the WP to Twitter plugin. It even allows custom tweets while you’re writing a post.

2. Make it easy to share – Frictionless sharing is growth hacking. Shareaholic makes it easy to share and you can see your stats at a glance.

3. Post your tweets on your WordPress page – This is great for SEO and adding value for your readers if you don’t have frequent article updates. Really Simple Twitter Feed Widget is exactly what it says it is.

4. Create landing pages and thank you pages on WordPress – The basic version of WordPress creates menu items for every page you add. You don’t want that if you’re trying to create thank you pages for form submissions or custom landing pages. This plugin gives you the option of adding pages or posts to menus – Exclude Pages from Navigation.

5. Google Analytics – See your site stats at a glance in your WordPress dashboard with Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. It automatically adds the tracking code to all your pages and posts with just your GA account number.

If you’re running ads on your site, you’ll like this bonus plugin.

6. Ad management – Maximizing ad revenue is a matter of testing locations. Advertising Manager allows you to custom place ads on your site with no additional coding. It works with all the popular ad networks and allows inline ads on posts.

These six plugins help your site get ranked, grow traffic and increase revenue. If you don’t have them, you’re missing out.

Do I Need a SEO Plugin?

October 28, 2014 1 comment

SEO plugins are a must have for WordPress.

SEO plugins are a must have for WordPress.

Blogs and content framework software like WordPress are by nature SEO friendly. Each post has its own title which becomes the title tag. The keyword tag in the meta section of the head area of the code isn’t very important any more. If your opening paragraph is keyword rich and aimed for a human reader, your description will be pretty good as well. (If there is no description tag used, search spiders index the first bit of page text they find.) So do you need to go to the trouble of adding a SEO plugin for your WordPress site?

The short answer is yes. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, the plugin will remind you to think of SEO when you’re writing. Not every writer does that and a little reminder can go a long way.

Secondly, a SEO plugin can give a writer greater flexibility and creativity with their articles. For the best SEO results, a writer will need to repeat their optimized keyword phrase as early in the first paragraph as they can. That’s limiting. I didn’t do it in this article, but I can remedy that later by optimizing my description tag.

Let’s take a look real quick at an example:

seopluginThis was an article I wrote last week on another site. I wanted to optimize for the keywords “co-working salt lake city.” But I didn’t begin the article with those words. I wanted to put a more creative spin on it. In the screen shot you can see a field for “meta description.” That’s the language that shows up in the search engines.

The SEO plugin also provides statistics and allows alternate titles to be used for publishing on social media sites. I don’t think it matters which SEO plugin you choose so long as it has a custom description tag.

WordPress.com doesn’t use plugins, so how do you create a custom description tag there?

Wordpress.com SEO

WordPress.com SEO

A feature called “excerpts” creates the description tag. If you like your first paragraph, leaving the excerpt tag blank will force the spiders to display the first text they come to. I don’t like to leave things like that to chance, so worst case I’ll quickly cut and paste my first paragraph as the excerpt.

I believe SEO plugins are so important, they’re usually the first type I install. In the next article for WordPress week, I’ll discuss some other useful plugins that are “must haves” for any WordPress site.

How to Choose a WordPress Plugin or Theme

October 27, 2014 1 comment

How to choose the right WordPress plugin or theme.

How to choose the right WordPress plugin or theme.

For small businesses wanting a website, WordPress is a cheap and easy to set up choice. With an open development language, it inspires themes and plugins that will do just about anything and look great straight out of the box. Please be aware this article is referencing the self-hosted WordPress, not WordPress.com. Unfortunately, this can create lots of problems too. Since there is no standard to adhere to, anyone can upload a theme or plugin and sometimes they don’t work. Or they don’t work like you imagine they will.

For this reason I don’t like to play around with WordPress very much. I can do a lot of coding, but I don’t do it enough for it not to be frustrating every time I try. This past week, I did get the chance and I discovered a pretty good way to find themes and plugins that work the first time.

I’ve been working on an idea for over a year. WordPress is great for startups to put together a workable prototype without having to sink a lot of funds into development. So I chose WordPress as my platform. I still don’t have a product. There are a lot of reasons for that, the biggest one being I didn’t find a workable theme.

Contrast that with another startup idea I had. I began work on it last week, finished a workable prototype last Sunday and am ready for a full launch now. The difference? I found a theme right away that did everything I wanted and was easy to use. I also found a plugin that provided the critical piece of functionality I wanted. Here’s how I did it.

Finding plugins

Do a Google search for what you want the plugin to do. You’ll get names of plugins in your search results. What you want the plugin to do may have a widely accepted industry name you’re unaware of. Now do a search for that product and include “review.” What you’re hoping to get here is an article with a five to ten plugin comparison. (Be careful of affiliate review sites that don’t offer any real value in the comparison.) Read that article and you should come up with two or three that really interest you. Now, go to the WordPress plugin finder and search for those plugins.

You’ll see an option to install or to read more. Click on read more. Take a look at the description on the main page, then look at the FAQ page. If everything looks like what you want, check out the review tab. If it doesn’t get consistently good reviews, don’t install it. You’re welcome. I just saved you hours of torment.

Finding themes

There are a million themes available for WordPress. The screenshots you’ll see for them will show them in their best light. You may have to do custom coding in the CSS to get it to look like the screen shot. Again, I recommend searching for the type of theme you want (two column, three column, responsive) and reading the reviews on them. You’ll get a better idea of what the actual work will be like from previous users when you install it.

I did find a theme editor plug-in, on a review site, that looks like it will solve some of the issues with setting up themes. I haven’t used it, but I will definitely try it on my next project.

Other considerations

Some plugins conflict with some themes, so you may have your theme setup exactly the way you want it, install a plugin, and have the whole thing break. That’s why it’s important to know the names of your theme and plugins. Again, do a search for the issue and some kind soul will probably already have a solution.

Be sure to check the last time the plugin or theme was updated and how well the developer responds to questions. I found the more active the developer is, the better the product is.

Real Estate Agents Should be Using Twitter Now!

October 24, 2014 1 comment

Get your listings found with Twitter.

Get your listings found with Twitter.

A few weeks ago I conducted a test to see if I could get a home listing ranked on Google with a Facebook post. The short answer is I could, but it wasn’t the Facebook post that got ranked, it was the tweet I have automatically sent from Facebook. Right now, I’m super excited about the search ranking capabilities Twitter has.

This is especially true for real estate agents. Agents have many challenges getting their sites to show up in search results. First off, many broker sites aren’t SEO friendly. Secondly, agents tend to move brokerages. If they managed to build any search rankings at their previous employer, it all goes away…unless the agent is personally branding instead of brokerage branding. Third, they lack time. Uploading a full real estate listing is time consuming. If they don’t have an IDX feed on their website, it doesn’t typically get done.

Let’s shift gears for a minute and think from the consumer side of things. Home buyers are much more savvy about searching than ever before. Realtor.org says 42% begin their search online. Over the course of their search 92% of home buyers will use the Internet.

Consider this scenario – A couple decides to buy a house. They do their research and identify say six properties to drive by. While at a location they see another house they like that wasn’t on their list. For whatever reason, there’s no pricing information. And they don’t want to call the agent on the sign because they don’t know the price. A quick Google search should bring up the listing and the price. Right? What if it doesn’t? How about that other search engine people use on their phones…Twitter? 2.1 BILLION searches are done on Twitter every day. That’s what I would do. The average age of first time home buyers right now is 31. They are connected wirelessly and they use Twitter.

Remember that address I used for my test? Here’s what the search of it looks like on Twitter –


My Twitter account is the top result. One real estate agent tweeted that listing and they’re not even the listing agent. Do you see the opportunity?

Let me demonstrate further. Here’s what Google looks like for this listing at the time of this post –


My test tweet is on page one…ahead of the MLS. The listing agent at Coldwell Banker holds the top spot, Trulia is second and a handful of other Realtors fill in the middle. Agents relying solely on their MLS listings to sell homes are going to be disappointed. The WFRMLS is out of touch with their technology and their strategy.

This is why real estate agents should be using Twitter.




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