Examples of past writing and content creation.

January 26, 2017 – CliqStudios.com/blog

Codes, Inspectors, and Horse Skulls

At the risk of stating the obvious, the way we build our homes today has evolved drastically from eons ago when our ancestors erected the first hut. Today’s building methods and materials generally ensure a very sound structure made to last for many, many years to come. Modern building codes guide tradespeople during construction and give them a solid foundation of knowledge to rely upon when erecting new structures. Then as a final measure to ensure the safety of our homes, we send in the building safety inspector to check all the construction work was done correctly.

Of course, this was not always so.

It’s true that we have called upon the skills of trained stonemasons and carpenters for millennia. But not long ago – certainly not as long ago as one may think – it wasn’t building codes or safety inspectors that ensured a safe and prosperous home. It was superstition and magic. Up until the early 20th century, it was common practice to incorporate or “immure” objects imbued with special powers into the very building itself.

The older a home, the more likely it is to have one of these magical devices hidden somewhere. Stories these being found in older European homes is quite common. If your home in the Eastern United States dates back to the 1800’s or earlier, you can almost bet there’s a “concealed object” protecting your home too!

One of the most regularly found items within or under homes are the bones and skulls of animals. Irish builders were known to have the superstition of burying horse skulls underneath the thresholds of dwellings. They were meant to bring good luck and keep out the bad.

Another common find are “witch bottles.” The earliest vessels were made of glazed stoneware, and can date back several centuries. In later years, smaller glass bottles came into use. They were filled with items to trap or scare evil away, and hidden in special places in the home.

However, the most commonly found object embedded within a home are shoes. Yes, shoes. They’re routinely found around windows, doors, rafters, and behind chimneys. To further the mystery, no one seems to know how or when the practice started, or what these shoes were meant to do. The latest concealed shoe was found in a home constructed in 1935!! Finding shoes is so common in fact that — wait for it — The Northhampton Museum and Gallery in England (which holds the largest collection of historical footwear in the world) has a Concealed Shoe Index!

If you’re lucky enough to own a historic home and your kitchen renovation will include removing plaster or changing or removing walls, keep your eyes peeled! When you do find a concealed object in your home’s walls, floors, or attic, here’s what you should do:

  • Leave it just where it is! (if it hasn’t fallen out and/or broken)
  • Take several photos from different angles to properly document your find. It will make a great story after the renovation is done. If you get a really good image, a framed print of the object makes a wonderful conversation piece.
  • Call your local historical society. They may have more information on the history of your house and what the object could mean. If it turns out to be especially significant historically, they’ll know what to do and whom to contact.
  • Consider leaving this piece of history right where it is! Respect that this magical charm has been watching over your home for generations, so let it do its job. If you found something while removing a wall, think about other places in your home that it could be moved.

Further Reading

  • https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/20/realestate/the-history-hidden-in-the-walls.html
  • http://irisharchaeology.ie/2015/02/buried-horse-skulls-folklore-and-superstition-in-early-modern-ireland
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/advice/propertymarket/3302771/What-lurks-behind-your-walls.html
  • http://the-toast.net/2013/10/28/shoes-walls-keep-witches-away/
  • https://northamptonmuseums.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/concealed-shoes/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_bottle


Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

February 9, 2015

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

I sent out my most successful Tweet ever last night. After over 5 years on The Twitters and nearly 11K Tweets sent, here it is — the peak of my social media career:

A bit of background.

Better Call Saul is a spin-off tv show from the phenomenally successful series Breaking Bad. (Apparently, BB currently holds the Guinness World Record as the highest-rated TV show of all time.) Breaking Bad is about a terminally-ill and disgruntled high school chemistry teacher who teams up with his strung-out ex-student to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine. Saul Goodman is his lawyer, advisor, and money launderer. In addition to his legitimate law practice, Saul could be better termed as an underworld concierge, helping to connect people in a bad spot to people that do bad things for money. This is his story.

Better Call Saul premiered last night to much hype. When Breaking Bad was winding down in 2013, it was announced that this spin-off was coming. Speaking as a fan of BB, it’s been a long wait to return to this world and these characters. Judging from Twitter last night, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

The hashtag #bettercallsaul was trending on Twitter last night for several hours. Fans were discussing the show’s events as they happened in real time, posting quotes from the characters, and generally sharing their enthusiasm. I had to join in! I quickly composed a message at a point in the show that I found truly confounding, hit “send,” and off to the interwebs it went.

That’s when it happened. The show’s Twitter handle Retweeted my Tweet!! They shared my message with their 75K+ fans who were very tuned in at that point, both to the show and to Twitter. It got Retweeted again, and again, and again. It got even more people marking it as a “favorite.” (as of this writing, retweets and favs keep coming in) I’ve also gained about a dozen or two new Twitter followers.

It is by far my single most successful Tweet. The most interaction I have ever received on Twitter to a single message. The only times I’ve gotten more action on any social media platform perhaps was when my son was born or when my wife and I changed our Facebook “relationship status” while still at the alter, mid-marriage ceremony.

So, is there anything that we can learn from this stumbled-upon success that could be applied to our social marketing efforts?

The takeaways.

Timing matters. More specifically, timing and relevance.

“Social Media” no longer happens in a vacuum. Sure, in its early days, it was a bit of its own world. Today, social media is as much a part of our ‘real lives’ as is your daily commute and the chicken salad sandwich you packed for lunch. What happens IRL (old-skul internet speak for “in real life”), is clearly and instantly reflected on social channels. Nevermind the massive political change that occurred during the “Arab Spring,” which would have been — and was — impossible without Twitter and Facebook.

My Tweet was relevant to the thousands of people watching the show and following the conversation on Twitter at that time. It was relevant to the plot turns and twists at that very point during the show. It was relevant to what they were feeling at that time. Which brings us to…

Authenticity matters.

That was a very authentic Tweet. I didn’t filter anything. I didn’t think about it much. It was my honest feeling at that point during that show — that is to say utter confusion. Again, I clearly was not the only one. That message struck a chord with numerous other fans. Yes, the fact that it was Re-Tweeted by the show helped it get in front of more people. However, if it wasn’t real, authentic, and relevant, the show wouldn’t have paid attention to it anyway.

Being witty matters. (or at least being witty enough)

If you’re not familiar with the term Whiskey Foxtrot Tango, then take another look at the first letters of each word and see what acronym it spells out. If you’re still confused, ask your 12-year old nephew. It’s a term used to convey confusion and/or disbelief. I meant to convey both sentiments last night.

Simply Tweeting WTF or the actual expression last night would have been too parochial. Nobody would have cared about a WTF Tweet — those are a dime a dozen. Further, had I Tweeted the full f-bomb that the actual experssion includes, the show’s Twitter account would never have Re-Tweeted it. Although the show is geared toward an adult audience, it’s still a show on basic cable that has to adhere to certain vocabulary standards. To a large degree, this standard carries through to their social channels.

If you can’t be witty, be just witty enough. This is a case of “witty enough.”

I was not the first person to use the phonetic alphabet to make a slightly racy comment slightly more acceptable, nor shall I be the last. I was able to recycle something that’s somewhat funny in a new circumstance to a [new to me] audience. Sometimes that’s all we need! Not necessarily 100% new original content, but simply using an old standby in a new way can work just as well. Rummage around in your brain or toolbox, see what you’ve already got and see if you can repackage it for your current needs. (I’m working really hard to avoid using the phrase, “No need to re-invent the wheel.”)

Hashtags matter.

This Tweet would have gone nowhere had it not been for the hashtag. Straight and simple. If you want to reach your audience talking about a certain topic, do the research. Find the right hashtags to join that conversation.

Clearly, this was an easy one. Most likely, you need to talk about something specific to your business or however you pay your rent. Odds are, there’s a Twitter conversation happening around that topic, or close to it. There are plenty of tools to help you discover and research hashtags. I enjoy using hashtagify.me, if only because I like the visuals they use to illustrate hashtag relationships. I’d also recommend you take a look at this great post from Social Media Examiner with several other tools worth checking out.

The second part of the Better Call Saul premier airs tonight. Let’s see if I can top my Tweet from last night!!


September 3, 2014

Let’s Buy an Email List!

Or don’t. Probably don’t.

If you’re just starting up your email marketing program or are expanding into a new market, then perhaps you’re considering purchasing an email list. And why not? Purchasing mailing lists has a long tradition in marketing. Even today, I’m sure you get direct mail from companies that you’ve never heard of, but somehow found out that you’re in the market for a new driveway or dryer.

So what’s wrong with buying an email list?

Well, to start off, the use of purchased email lists is greatly discouraged in the marketing world. I know some marketing guys who would use the phrase “frowned upon.” I’ve even heard the word, “shady.”

Email is a much more personal medium than direct mail. Nevermind that everyone is already inundated by daily offers from Groupon, updates from Twitter, and pictures of the kids/grandkids/nephews, etc.

Email lists purchased from a “list broker” or similar source lack pretty much everything you want in an email list. First, there’s a total lack of “opted in” status. Would you opt-in to a list that you know would be sold to the highest bidder? I wouldn’t either. Second, there’s little or no accountability. Sure, you’ll get some good contact names and will certainly get some responses — that’s why SPAM still exists. Must most often, lists from a broker contain addresses that are old, “harvested” from public online sources, or may not exist at all.

What if I’m ok with all that?

Industry leading, reputable Email Service Providers (ESP = Constant Contact, MailChimp, iContact, HubSpot, etc) do not allow the use of “purchased, rented, or third-party” email lists. True, many times ESPs may not be able to tell through their automatic testing whether a list is purchased or “legit.” However, if the campaign has an extraordinarily high bounce rate (bad addresses) or high SPAM report rate, your account could get flagged for Terms of Service (TOS) violations. This means that the account could get disabled for a time; get deleted altogether; or you would have to go through a phone interview with your ESP to verify what’s going on.

Why would they care? Reputable ESPs are very sensitive about maintaining high deliverability and low SPAM rates.

SPAM reports are just that, it’s when an email user clicks “SPAM” or “JUNK” on a message. This doesn’t just delete the message from their inbox, but also sends a report to their email address provider. SPAM reports impact deliverability.

Deliverability means the rate at which your email marketing campaign will get to your contacts’ inboxes, versus their SPAM folder.

ESPs use a certain number of servers to send out all the email campaigns for their clients. If an ESP’s clients’ email campaigns start to get a lot of SPAM reports, it not only reflects negatively on themselves, but on the ESP as well. If – for instance – Hotmail notices that a lot of SPAM reports are being reported on email campaigns coming from “server X,” then all future campaigns coming from those servers will be subject to closer scrutiny. Closer scrutiny could mean lower deliverability rates. The lower deliverability, the less attractive using that ESP becomes.

To conclude, ESPs that do allow purchased lists likely have low deliverability rates. Purchased lists usually contain a lot of bad email addresses. So the question is, why would you send an email campaign to a list of bad email addresses, using a provider whose service is unlikely to get your message in front of the remaining handful of good contacts?

The one exception to this whole ideal against purchased email lists, are lists that come from a Chamber of Commerce or industry/trade group. In these groups, members understand that their contact information may be shared with other members of that group. The thought being that people who join those type of member-based organizations want to network with each other as they share many similar business goals. Also, those lists are coming from the organization’s leaders, which most likely use the list themselves to communicate with the group. Thus the list is assumed to be “clean” (real, opted-in, current email addresses), and if they are not, the leadership is held accountable.

Please note: This “Chamber exemption” is my opinion, and is still technically against the rules of most reputable Email Service Providers. (ESPs) But, as I state above, it’s my sincere belief that it is in the best interest of the sender and receiver to get these types of messages.

For many smaller and start-up businesses, using another organization’s email list may be the only option to start an email marketing program. Again – in my professional opinion – this is a bit of a gray area. However, one that I never feel bad about taking advantage of.

To improve deliverability and reduce SPAM reports when using this type of list, I recommend a few simple tactics. First, use your name in the “from” line to make it more personal. Second, use a subject line similar to, “News from a Chamber member…” (or some permutation thereof), as it helps to improve “open” rates and tells people why they’re getting that message right off the bat.

I’d love to learn your thoughts on this. Please leave your comments below. Tell me about your successes or troubles using a third party list.