RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
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Mary's Blog

How to Build a Better Mousetrap with Social Media

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Ever play the game Mouse Trap? The goal is to build a contraption that’s set into motion when a player turns a crank. The crank spins gears that push a lever that smacks a boot that kicks a bucket that spills a marble that rolls down a chute, hits a pole and…well, you get the idea.

In the end, it catches a mouse – if you’re lucky.

Seeing how media has evolved reminds me of Mouse Trap. Get a mention in a newspaper article and find an online link to share on Twitter. Your followers retweet it to their followers, who post it on Facebook, where someone finds it and mentions it on a talk-radio fan page and, before you know it, you’re a guest on a show!

Of course, that’s a simplified scenario with a dream outcome, but it gives you the picture.
Connecting these different platforms integrates your publicity with social media. At EMSI Public Relations, we have Jeni Hinojosa, our Social Media Campaign Manager, turning the crank. She writes and posts blogs and comments, and tweets updates, on behalf of clients to build a large, credible following for them. I asked her to share a couple of the ways she has spread our clients’ messages and to give you a few tips for handling your own social media.

Hinojosa, by the way, has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a specialty in social media. She studied the “socialsphere,” how it evolved into its own subculture and how we interact with it. In short, she knows how it works – and she knows how to work it.

Here’s what she wrote:

People who casually use social media may send a few Tweets, update their Facebook status and write a weekly blog post. They connect with people whose content they’re interested in: family and friends, co-workers, fellow hobbyists, groups with shared interests or causes.

If you have serious goals, however, such as building an audience for marketing purposes, you need to do all of that and more. One strategy I use for our clients is generating “third-party conversations.” Instead of simply posting on our clients’ own social networking sites, I visit blogs, websites and fan pages of people with similar interests. I comment on their content in hopes of engaging their audience in a conversation that ultimately brings new traffic to our clients’ websites.

Here’s an example: We have a client whose message involves maintaining healthy romantic relationships. I found a great article on this topic and shared it with a comment on other sites. The article prompted conversations and I stayed involved in the discussion. When it seemed appropriate, I shared a link to our client’s blog. In this case, she got new followers on Facebook and Twitter through that one action.

Another strategy I use is promoting our clients when they’re featured in traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and TV, which all seem to have an online presence. We recently had a client who was also on board for our talk radio campaign. I promoted her upcoming interviews to her friends and followers. Then I visited the stations’ websites for links to their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. I joined their networks, friended their friends, and plugged the upcoming interviews there, too, e.g. “I’m so excited to be chatting with host’s name here on Friday about topic here.”

As a result, this client made lots of new connections among the stations’ listeners.

These are all strategies anyone can use; all they require is time and imagination. To help ensure your success, here are some tips:
• Don’t over-promote yourself. That’s the No. 1 rule. People are turned off by those who seem interested only in selling a book or product. A good rule of thumb is to make sure 80 percent of your content is light, interesting, informative or fun.
• Don’t bury your followers in an avalanche of content. Limit Facebook status updates and Tweets to three or four a day.
• People new to social media often regard those with similar content as rivals or competitors. Actually, these can be your new best friends. When you promote Chef Shane's cooking blog, he’ll likely tweet about the great chocolate cake recipe on your website. Become a partner in sharing with online personalities where messages are similar to yours and you’ll soon have a vast support network.
Integrating publicity and social media takes some thinking, some effort and, as Hinojosa says, some creativity. But isn’t that always true when you’re trying to build a better mousetrap? And this marketing costs nothing – not with free Wi-Fi available almost everywhere you turn.
Marsha Friedman is a 22-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. She also co-hosts "The News and Experts Radio Show with Alex and Marsha" on Sirius/XM Channel 131 on Saturdays at 5:00 PM EST.

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7 Steps to Finding Scholarships

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Scholarship funds, even in a down economy, are readily available to high school seniors going on to college. They range from government and community grants to need-based aid and academic or athletic scholarships.

The key to finding scholarships, according to Gen and Kelly Tanabe, authors of several books on college planning, is starting early – as much as a full year before high school graduation. The Tanabes suggest seven steps to make the hunt for scholarships more efficient:
• Buy a book and visit a website – Investing in a good scholarship guide book will give you invaluable information on where to look for awards based on career goals, hobbies and interests, and more. Much information is also available online, at sites like supercollege.com and others.
• Check with a high school counselor – Most have extensive information on available opportunities on the local, regional, state and federal levels. You can help narrow the search by preparing for a counselor meeting with information about your family’s financial status and your child’s special interests or talents.
• Treat activities as scholarship leads – If you belong to a community organization, or if your child is involved with church activities, athletic or other pursuits outside of school, the supporting organizations may be a good source of scholarships. Check them out.
• Contact community clubs and civic groups – You can probably find a list of all local organizations through your local city hall or Chamber of Commerce. Letters or phone contacts to organization officers may yield valuable scholarship leads.
• Local business leads – Many local businesses give back to the community by awarding scholarship grants. Start by checking with your own employer, then obtain a list of the area’s largest local businesses from the Chamber of Commerce and call or write to their public relations or community outreach executives.
• Check professional organizations – Whether you want to be a doctor, a teacher, a hairdresser or an airline pilot, there is almost undoubtedly a professional association for it in your state. You can get that information from people working in the field, or check with trade magazines – or do an Internet search – and begin to make scholarship inquiries.
• Don’t forget big business – Many of the nation’s largest companies, from Coca Cola to Microsoft, offer scholarships. They should be listed in your scholarship book, or check with those connected with your child’s field of interest.

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Word of the Day

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Contractor. One who contracts to do something for another. For example, in construction, a specialist who enters into a formal construction contract to build a real estate structure or handle renovations, improvements, and additions to an existing structure.

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Question of the Day

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Q: Should I avoid an adjustable rate mortgage?

A: Because adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, fluctuate with the market, they offer less stability than fixed-rate loans. If an ARM is adjusted upward, monthly payments will increase, and for a lot of people that can be too big a risk to take. On the other hand, should rates drop dramatically, homeowners can reap the benefits of lower rates without refinancing, thereby saving thousands of dollars.

Lenders first introduced ARMs in the 1980s when interest rates soared into the double digits, forcing many people out of the home buying market. They tied the rate to a variable national index, such as U.S. Treasury bills.

Today, many first-time buyers who have difficulty qualifying for a home loan, still settle for adjustable rate loans because the initial, “teaser” interest rate of the mortgage is normally two or three points lower than a fixed rate loan. ARMs are particularly attractive if you plan to be in your home a short time. They tend to adjust yearly or every three years, usually within certain limits, or caps, that prohibit the interest rate from shooting up too high. Make sure terms such as these are spelled out in any ARM agreement you choose.

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5 Design Tips for Small Backyard Patios

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Don’t let a small backyard space inhibit your creativity; get tips on incorporating a new concrete patio to fit a yard of any size. ConcreteNetwork.com has compiled a list of five design tips to help you create a perfect patio for a small backyard by incorporating decorative concrete techniques.

As more housing tracts are developed and living spaces across the U.S. get smaller, homeowners are faced with making the most of the space they have and that includes optimizing smaller backyards. Concrete patios are a great way to incorporate an outdoor living and entertainment area, without worrying about space restrictions.

Here are ConcreteNetwork.com’s five design tips for small backyard patios:

1. Incorporate curves so that the patio blends with the landscaping.
2. Add a pattern or stenciled design to give the look of natural stone.
3. Include a border to clearly and cleanly define the patio area.
4. Create a wide array of decorative effects by incorporating colors that complement surroundings.
5. Allow enough space for desired outdoor furniture to fit properly.

For more information, visit www.ConcreteNetwork.com.

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Herbs and Spices That Can Boost Your Health

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Most cooks know how well herbs and spices can boost the flavors of food. But, many nutritionists say, the extra benefit of flavoring our food may be the hidden health boosters in many herbs and spices. From the health gurus at Fitness Magazine, here is a list of commonly used flavor-boosters that may be good for your health—along with tips on how to use them:

Cinnamon – One fourth to one half teaspoon a day can reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol. Sprinkle cinnamon on toast or cereal, or mix with low-fat sour cream and use as a dip for fruit.
Turmeric – Contains curcumin, which can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Try adding up to half a teaspoon when cooking a pot of rice.
Rosemary – May help reduce damage to blood vessels that raise heart attack risk. Add to spaghetti sauce or combine with seasoning salt and thyme for a tasty rub on chicken or fish.
Garlic – Studies show one or two cloves weekly may provide cancer-preventive benefits. Chop fresh garlic and let sit a few minutes to develop phytochemicals. Then sauté the garlic in olive oil over low heat and mix with pasta or vegetables and parmesan cheese.
Paprika – Contains capsaicin, whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer (also found in cayenne and red chili peppers). Sprinkle on chicken or cooked vegetables or combine with ground thyme and ground red pepper to liven up popcorn.
Oregano – Gram for gram, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs. Use it fresh or ground to liven up tomato soup, cooked veggies and pasta or pizza sauce.
Ginger – Can reduce motion sickness and nausea; may reduce arthritis pain and swelling. Chew on candied or crystallized ginger for nausea. Ground ginger is nice sprinkled on cooked carrots or sweet potatoes, or on fresh or canned peaches. (Caution: Ginger can hinder blood clotting, so discuss with your doctor if surgery is in your future).

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Child-Related Tax Tips and Benefits

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

Having a child is a significant milestone, and during tax season, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® is reminding parents that there are many valuable tax benefits available to taxpayers with children.

"Parents know that having children can be expensive, but come tax time they can also be money savers," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Services Inc. "For many hard-working American families, child-related tax credits can bring back significant, and much needed, refund dollars. The first step is to make sure your children meet the qualifying criteria, which include age, relationship, support, dependent status, citizenship and residence. A qualified tax preparer with current knowledge of tax laws can work with you to determine eligibility."

For taxpayers with children getting ready to file their 2011 returns, here are some child-related tax tips and benefits for which you may be eligible:

The Child Tax Credit – The Child Tax Credit is a non-refundable credit that provides up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under age 17 at the end of the year. Generally, a child qualifies if he or she is a U.S. citizen or resident for some part of the year, lived with the taxpayer for more than half of the year, did not provide more than half of their own support and is claimed as a dependent.

The Additional Child Tax Credit – The Additional Child Tax Credit is any remaining Child Tax Credit for which the taxpayer is eligible after the Child Tax Credit is used. Taxpayers can receive this remaining credit as a refund, which is equal to the amount left of the remaining Child Tax Credit (after the taxpayer's taxes have been reduced to zero), or 15 percent of their earned income over $3,000.

Education Credits and Benefits
– Parents who are paying a child's qualified tuition and related higher education expenses may be able to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which requires the student to be enrolled at least half-time in one of the first four years of post-secondary education. The credit can be up to $2,500 per eligible student. If the student does not meet the requirements for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, they may be able to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit. Alternatively, parents may choose to claim the Tuition and Fees Deduction for a child, which covers up to $4,000 in expenses for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution, and is available to those with a modified adjusted gross income of less than $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly).

Adoption Credits – Those who adopt a child and pay adoption expenses may be eligible for a refundable credit of up to $13,360 in expenses per child. If the taxpayer's modified adjusted gross income is over $185,210, the credit begins to be phased out. The credit is not available to those with a modified adjusted gross income of $225,210, or more.

For more information, visit www.jacksonhewitt.com.

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Home Maintenance 101: Purchasing a Hot Water Heater

April 5, 2012 4:00 pm

The water heater is the second biggest energy drain in the home behind the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system—also known as the HVAC system. Yet when it comes to understanding the requirements and specifications for water heaters, most homeowners don't know the basics.

According to GE, almost 80 percent of consumers purchase a water heater only when their current unit breaks or leaks and they are forced to look for a quick replacement. But it's important to know the facts about water heaters and consider different options before making such an important purchase. The following tips will help you choose the best model for your home:

Look to energy guides and rebates
Pay attention to how much energy each water heating unit uses and pay special attention to those models that are Energy Star-qualified. By selecting an Energy Star-qualified appliance, you'll not only gain the best energy savings, but these water heaters may also qualify for utility rebates, which can lead to a savings between $100 and $1,000 depending on your region. This savings often means replacing your water heater can be relatively inexpensive, allowing you to invest in a more energy-efficient model that will help with continued savings down the road. Check the rebate finder at www.EnergyStar.gov for a list of rebates in your area.

Don't purchase based on price alone
If you're looking to save money, a moderately priced unit may seem appealing. But the truth of the matter is that water heating systems aren't all created with efficiency in mind, and a cheaper unit up front may end up costing you more over time.

Study fuel source and size
Before purchasing your replacement water heater, make sure to study the size and fuel source of your previous heater. You don't want to downgrade to a smaller system, and you want to make sure you have plenty of space for your new appliance. In addition, make sure to replace an electric water heater with an electric model, and a gas heater with a gas model. Also, look for models with a heat pump, which helps with efficiency.

When in doubt, call the plumber
While some models boast of do-it-yourself capabilities, others require a plumber's expertise. Plumbers can also provide recommendations for purchasing water heaters and can help ensure you choose a model with the proper connections.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

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Word of the Day

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

Contingency. A provision in a contract that keeps it from becoming binding until a certain event happens. A satisfactory inspection report might be a contingency.

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Question of the Day

April 4, 2012 10:00 pm

Q: Is a home equity line of credit similar to a second mortgage?
A:
A home equity loan, like a second mortgage, lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. But because it is set up as a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs. The withdrawals can be made gradually as you begin to pay contractors and suppliers for handling your remodeling project.

The interest rates on these loans are usually variable. Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home.

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