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Take Your Blog from Blah to Brilliant/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/SEPT08/images/Makeover

Our expert shows this sales associate how to strengthen his presence in the blogosphere.

As the broker of a small boutique company in Deerfield Beach that competes with large real estate franchises, Joe Hillner is always hunting for innovative marketing ideas. So, when someone suggested blogging (i.e., writing an online journal, or Web log) he figured he would give it a go.

“Customers are starting their [property] searches online. Creating a blog with useful, interesting or even entertaining information seemed like a good idea,” says the co-owner of Ocean Trust Realty (and manager of the company’s mortgage unit, Addison Mortgage).
Launching his blog was easy. Hillner gathered some content and forwarded it to his Web master, who created (and maintains) his blog at oceantrustrealty.blogspot.com. However, keeping his blog fresh has proved an arduous task. “As soon as we went ‘live,’ I realized I hadn’t really thought it through,” he says. “We put links to the blog on our Web sites and in our e-mail signatures, but we aren’t experiencing anything significant in the way of traffic. I feel as if I’m behind the eight ball.”

Bring in the Expert
For advice on how to create an online presence that will engage readers and keep them coming back for more, Hillner spoke with technology trainer Amy Chorew. Here’s what she had
to say:

1. Study Other Blogs
Although Chorew believes Hillner, like many beginners, had good intentions when he set up his blog, he hasn’t quite grasped the concept. “I’m going to be brutally honest with you, Joe; your blog just isn’t doing it. I love the logo, the banner and your statement about your blog being designed to keep people up to date on issues facing the real estate and mortgage industry, but the content doesn’t own up to that.”

She suggests that Hillner become an avid reader of other people’s blogs before trying to improve his. “Start with Raincityguide.com, a [real estate–focused] guide from Seattle. What I love about it is that they’re passionate about their topic.
“Another good blog is www.realcentralva.com. At least 60 percent of [the creator’s] business comes from it—and he works on it at least two hours a day.

“Theresa Boardman, out of St. Paul, Minn., has a blog [www.stpaulrealestateblog.com] to follow,” Chorew continues. “Her real estate business is basically wrapped around her blog.”

But by no means does Chorew suggest that Hillner limit his cram session to real estate–oriented blogs. “You’ll notice that the blogs I’ve shown you aren’t necessarily works of art, but those people have something to say. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what works.”

2. Power Up Your Content
Those who see a blog as nothing more than a diary-style journal in which to post minutiae about their day-to-day lives, rants and complaints aren’t using it to its fullest advantage, Chorew says. “People, and especially those 40 and under who’ve been brought up on the Internet, believe that’s where they need to research their data.”

Apart from links to Hillner’s company’s Web sites as well as an archive where visitors can access his monthly postings, Hillner’s blog doesn’t offer anything that readers would be excited about, says Chorew.

“Who Joe Hillner is should come out in how you write. You might want to write about what’s going on in town, the market and anything else that gets you inspired. But make it brief so that busy people can gain knowledge quickly. I’d like to see articles about qualifying for mortgages and what that means for first-time buyers, what neighborhoods are doing well, where people are moving to, the pulse of your niche market and things that are going on in Deerfield Beach.”

Since Hillner has a multibusiness operation, Chorew suggests that he find contributors to write about various topics. “Team up with a foodie, a school board member, a city planner or anyone else who might have something to say. But never sell on your blog. Blogs let people hover, and then when they’re ready, they’ll contact you.”

3. Make It Interactive
A real estate professional’s blog should converse with Web site users in a way that welcomes their questions and opinions, says Chorew. “Consumers want deep content, and they also want to make a social connection with a blog.  Since I’m tearing yours apart, Joe, another important component that you’re missing is a call to action. There is nowhere for people to post their comments, or even to subscribe to your blog.”

Chorew explains that consumers subscribe to blogs through their Internet browser, e-mail, handheld devices and through readers—such as an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed. This enables software to automatically download the blog’s content (i.e., text, images, audio or video).

She suggests that Hillner jazz up his blog with hyperlinks, graphics and a three-column format. Bells and whistles, she says, especially widgets (or self-contained code) in the form of a “Contact me now” and a “Joe is online” button, will go a long way to encourage viewer participation.

4. Network Online
If Hillner wants to create a following for his blog, he’ll have to start “working the blogosphere.”

“When you’re just getting started, for every blog post you do, make five comments on other blogs,” she says. Why? This will encourage other bloggers to check out Hillner’s blog. “Likewise, when someone comments on your blog, thank them for stopping by and return the favor by checking out their blog.

“There is a viral aspect to blogs,” Chorew adds. In other words, when people like a blog, they tend to pass information about it on to others. “I can tell you’re a wealth of knowledge, Joe, you just have to get it out there.

This column provides advice from industry experts concerning marketing, technology and business issues. It won the Silver Award in the 2007 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.