10 Days To Go – Brown Britches Time

The frequency with which I post about personal things on this site has become a rarity akin to a day without TMZ posting a wardrobe malfunction. In some ways that’s a sad thing for me, as this site has been a cathartic release for me for over a decade, however, it’s also a sign that life and business are good. That is to say, business is keeping me too busy to post anything unrelated, and life is too good for me to have much to complain about – besides exhaustion, my ever-present companion… I’m telling you 18 – 20 months old and separation anxiety… oh man!

If I’ve learned anything over the past 15+ years of blogging (an amazing 10 of which are archived on this site) it’s that there’s an ebb and flow to my writing that is not only governed by my passions but also by what’s happening in my life at the time, so I try not to sweat it.

That said, I am sweating right now. Not literally sweating – mentally. Scarlett Elyse will be born in 10 days and her impending arrival is causing me all sorts of anxiety. It isn’t that I’m not excited – quite the opposite. I couldn’t be happier and more excited, but I am afraid.

I was afraid when Malcolm “Stormageddon” Tennant O’Flaherty was born too, but this is different.

You see, Mal was my first and as such my parenting skills were entirely untested. 20 months later and I would have to declare my parenting skills still largely untested. It’s not that I’m not heavily involved in my son’s life, because I like to think I take a more active role than most, but beyond stating that “I haven’t managed to kill the child yet”, I can’t really attest to doing things right.

“The proof is in the pudding”, as they say (I don’t know who they are, but they clearly know a lot about pudding).

Unfortunately the pudding of parenting isn’t ready to eat for about 18 years.

Sara doesn’t berate me much for my parenting style, so I guess that’s something – but now I’m about to have a second child to morally corrupt / screw up / turn into the worlds first evil genius with the ability to actually defeat James Bond and even worse, manage to get through interrogating 007 without divulging any of her plans or secrets.

What can I do. What will become of the world?

I know I’m probably over-reacting. I’m betting that this is standard pre-birth paranoia for most parents. I just don’t want to get things wrong.

I want the best for my kids, and I want to be the best for my kids.

I guess the adventure is worth a little sweating and a fistful of new gray hairs!

It Is A Very Silly Email Address…

Monty Python - Very Silly Email Address - Paul O'Flaherty

What’s your name? What’s your company name? What’s your email address? Ask those 3 questions fast enough and it almost sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

Just like the “Bridge of Death” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” if you answer incorrectly then cast into the chasm you shall be.

If your email address ends is @yahoo, @gmail, @comcast, @aol or any other service other than @yourcompany then you’re inflicting a serious flesh wound to your reputation and deserve to be mauled by the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Reputable companies do not use disposable, throwaway email accounts.

Image: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Fake It ‘Til You Make It – The Thin Veneer Of Social Media?

The Higton Bros may have hit an uncomfortable nail squarely on the head with this video about the reality behind the status updates of our friends and those we follow online.

Facebook can be depressing because everyone else’s lives are better than yours… But are they really?

The video hasn’t last any of its relevancy in the 6 months it has taken to come to my attention (hat-tip to Fast Company) and should serve as a stark reminder that many people who suffer from social anxiety (which I guess we all do in some form or another,  except the most confident of us) are not only dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out syndrome) but with social pressure to be as interesting as everyone else.

It’s a reminder to all of us to take everything we see online from the happiest status update, to the most blistering outrage, with a healthy pinch of salt. It should also bring to the surface the necessity of reaching out to people “in the real world” and finding out what is actually going on before relying on oft ambiguous social updates.

Finally, it’s a stark reminder that if you really want to have awesome stuff to post online – you need to get off your ass and do stuff!

The Beatles Had It Right – Can’t Buy Me Love

Valentines Diamond

So, Valentine’s Day, eh?

My beautiful wife is rather fond of pointing out that “all men pay for it in the end”, and yes Sara’s talking about sex.

She’s not implying that all women are prostitutes, but instead referring to how relationships function and the simple fact that if you want to get something, 99% of the time you have to do something first.

Another way to put it is – lazy, inattentive, unappreciative husbands typically only get two things – nagged at and then divorced. And rightly so. May I add that it also works the other way around.

I have no problem admitting that I dislike Valentines Day. Not because I don’t want to show my appreciation for my wife. Trust me when I say that she will be treated like royalty tomorrow – pampered, have her favorite meal cooked for her, be lavishly spoiled with gifts and I’ll be spending as much time with her as possible.

No, I dislike Valentines Day not only because it is so commercialized but because so many people appear to need Valentines as an excuse to go the extra mile and show their partners how they feel, and so many others are only putting in the effort because, well… It’s Valentine’s Day.

I do not have an ulterior motive when it comes to February 14th. This isn’t a “I’ll treat her like a princess today, and she’ll let me into her castle tonight” kind of thing. Yes, it’s an excuse to buy an extra present or two and maybe go out for a special meal, or to cook her favorite food, but if we are honest with ourselves, we should be doing it all the time.

If you find yourself in a relationship where you are essentially bribing or being bribed in order to get a little “jiggy jiggy” on Valentine’s Day, maybe you need to reevaluate…

I think the reason Sara and I are so happy together is that we don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to roll around in order to make each other feel special. There’s always random “just because” gifts that don’t even have to be expensive, it can often be as little as randomly picking up someone’s favorite ice cream when at the store, or cooking their favorite dinner. They’re just little things that say “I’m thinking of you”.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not perfect. We have our bad days. We argue, we’re grumpy, we piss each other off, but…

We’ve each been around the block before. We’ve learned from our past relationship mistakes and each know how important it is not just to feel loved in a relationship but to make your partner feel loved too.

We always tell each other how we feel, how much we love each other, and we try to talk through an empathize with issues that we may each be having. We make a point of kissing when we see each other, holding hands when we’re out together, message each other and finding time everyday just to be together and talking about our days.

Sara is not just my wife, the mother to my children and the person whom I share a house with. She is my best friend, my confidant, my partner, my lover and everything I could ever want, and more.

If you feel about your spouse, partner or significant other, the way I feel about Sara, I can’t imagine how you could wait or allow yourself to be limited to one over-commercialized day a year to show them just how much you love them.

Native Advertising on Forbes Magazine Cover – Right Or Wrong?

Forbes Cover Page

Image: Forbes

As a consumer I am not a fan of so-called “native” advertising, which are basically advertising pieces that are dressed up to look like editorial content. It’s become a relatively prevalent practice on the web, and in print you’re used to seeing them as advertorials.

Side note: I’m not discussing In-Feed units, recommendation widgets,  paid search units, or any of the other “looks almost like the real thing except for the disclosure” forms of “native” advertising in this post.

No matter how we gussy it up, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that native advertising isn’t about creating a better experience for the reader (although we say it is) , it’s about creating more revenue streams (which we say it isn’t really) and creating adverts in the hopes that the reader doesn’t realize what they are consuming and takes it as a genuine editorial endorsement (no, no no nevah!).

You can put lipstick on a pig…

According to Ad Age, Forbes will run a cover on Monday includes native advertising, can you spot it in the image?

That’s right, it’s the black box on the right shilling for Fidelity, who purchased a two-page infographic in the publication and for what I can only assume is an obscene amount of money.

Forbes aren’t the first to do this. Time Inc., ran Verizon ads on the covers Time and Sports Illustrated last year, but they haven’t tried it again since. Despite this, undisclosed ads on the front of magazine covers remains a new phenomenon.

Mr. Mark Howard, Forbes Media’s chief revenue officer doesn’t see an issue with this:

The cover line doesn’t specifically state that it’s an advertisement. It does, however, include the term “FidelityVoice,” which is how Forbes marks its native ads — melding the advertiser’s name with the word “voice.”

Mr. Howard doesn’t think the cover line is misleading. “When you look at the color scheme and the box, it’s separated, it has a different background,” he said. “For readers of Forbes, they’ve known for four years that when you see FidelityVoice that that is content that’s coming from one of our partners.”

Mr. Howard might not see an issue with this but I do. Granted, the hardcore Forbes readers may recognize this as an advertisement, but the average person at an airport newsstand looking for something to read on their flight will not. Heck, Forbes gets delivered to my house every month and I wouldn’t immediately recognize it as an advert.

This brings to mind the FTCs 2009 guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials and how they affect bloggers. The entire point was to protect consumers (and I suppose search integrity) from fake reviews, essentially forcing bloggers to disclose their advertiser or product owner relationships so that consumers wouldn’t mistake advertorials from unscrupulous bloggers and advertisers with genuine reviews.

The FTC acknowledged in the document that traditional media doesn’t have to do the same thing for reviews because the expectation is different:

The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides.Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.

Granted, this Fidelity advert is not a review, but it does fly in the face of the traditional expectations of magazine readers – which is NOT to find advertising on the front cover, especially advertising that is not marked as such.

What do you think? Did Forbes go a step too far?

Dear Podcasters, You’re Ruining My Run (Podcast Loudness)

Audio stereo WAV in Audition CCI’ve been making a concerted effort to get back into shape and while I’d love to say that my beer-gut is diminishing, sadly the most noticeable result has been a growing irritability caused by podcasts that are all published at different audio levels.

Let’s talk about LUFS:

Loudness, K-weighted, relative to Full Scale (or LKFS) is a loudness standard designed to enable normalization of audio levels for delivery of broadcast TV and other video.

LKFS is an abbreviation of:  Loudness K-weighted Full Scale, and one unit of LKFS is equal to one dB. The LKFS term is used in the ITU BS.1770 standard and the ATSC A/85 standard also operates with this term. Other organizations, such as The European Broadcast Union (EBU), uses the term LUFS, which is an abbreviation ofLoudness Units Full Scale. Despite the different names, LFKS and LUFS are  identical.

The LKFS standard (ITU standard) is what allows you to listen to the radio at a consistent level without having to turn the radio up or down every time a new tune is played (unless they’re cranking out some AC/DC then you have to turn up the stereo – it’s the law). That’s awesome right?

What’s not awesome is when I’m on the treadmill and every other podcast is barely audible over my headphones, while others are way too loud, forcing me to have to repeatedly fiddle with the audio levels on my phone.

Let’s face it – I’m not the most graceful of people at times. One of these days, pulling my phone out of my pocket while running is going to result in my breaking a leg as I go flying backwards off the treadmill and into the min-fridge.

The solution is to make sure that every podcast has consistent audio levels, and the magic number that has been settled on is -16 LUFS. I’ve embedded a tutorial by Mike Russel from Music Radio Creative so you can see just how ridiculously easy it is to do Adobe Audition CC.

I don’t know if Audacity can adjust LUFS out of the box (it’s been years since I’ve used it) but I’m sure there are plugins for it (a quick search found this LUFS meter), and even mobile podcasting apps like Auphonic can automatically adjust the levels as they process the audio.

So fellow podcasters, there’s really no excuse to now have your audio at the correct levels and give podcast listeners the best experience, is there?

LinkedIn’s Group Spam Problem Is Almost Unbearable

LinkedIn Spam

Not the first to complain about the spam problem that plagues LinkedIn groups, but I shall definitely jump on the bandwagon because it feels like it’s escalating lately.

I’ve been rather careful about the groups I’ve joined (a mere 20) and changed all my settings to receive only digest emails only for the groups I’m most interested in, weekly for others and turned them off altogether for others, yet it feels like the spam levels have increased. I may have to excuse myself from most of my groups just for the sake of email sanity.

I know that the vast membership of LinkedIn tend to be typically unengaged unless actively seeking new opportunities, but the successful groups are more engaged and with their high numbers are a tempting target for the less scrupulous of our profession.

Marketers. I guess they’re why we can’t have nice things.

Empower Your Community To Spread Your Word

Evangelism Marketing - Paul O'Flaherty

I was contacted by a fledgling religious oriented startup that wanted to get various celebrity ministers and church leaders to make a specific declaration during one of their sermons.

Their goal could not have been achieved given their budget and timeframe so I offered some free advice which also happens to apply to almost every business no matter it’s size:

Send forth your evangelists.

Every business, no matter what type, has its fans and believers – people who actually care about the business, its products or goals. These people, whether acolytes within or believers on the outside, are your best marketing tool.

Evangelism marketing is the next step up from Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM), but the goal is the same – to have passionate people talking about your product!

Evangelism marketing is … in which companies develop customers who believe so strongly in a particular product or service that they freely try to convince others to buy and use it. The customers become voluntary advocates, actively spreading the word on behalf of the company.

As they act independently, evangelist customers often become key influencers. The fact that evangelists are not paid or associated with any company make their beliefs perceived by others as credible and trustworthy.

It costs very little to enable customers to spread your message, but it will take time and effort to promote them from simple customers to passionate advocates for your business.

Listen to them. Share their stories and incentivize them to spread the word as your advocates. Enable them to share their experiences on social media and in real life.

Organize them into a community, and show them that you care about their opinion. Interact with them and let that interaction be part of a larger conversation.

In the case of the startup mentioned above, I recommended that they organize their friends and followers as volunteers. Explain their mission and what they want to achieve to their volunteers, and create fun community events around achieving that goal.

Have group events to make calls, tweet, share and send emails, while you provide food, snacks, fun distractions and the thrill of achieving a common goal. Get everyone t-shirts and share pictures and updates from these events on social media. Spread the word about what they are doing and not only give them something to talk about online, but give them the means to do it too.

Taking this approach the startup would get a lot more “bang for the buck” and a longer sustained campaign, while also building a community around their message.

How you empower your evangelists is up to you, but must do it and you must make them part of your community.

There are very few things that a passionate community cannot achieve.

Distraction Free Blogging? I’d Pay For That!

Distraction Free Blogging

While I applaud the efforts made by the WordPress team to include a distraction free editor, it unfortunately does little (and cannot for technical reasons) to stop the myriad of distractions that occur on my desktop or laptop. The only real way to stop the flood of email notifications, IM’s, phone calls is to disconnect from the internet completely, turn off my phone and write my posts in an offline editor – none of which have feature parity with the WordPress platform.

When I look at my kindle e-reader I see a device perfectly setup for distraction free reading – all you have to do is silence your phone and go into another room, and I find myself wishing for a simple tablet like device that only allowed me write and save drafts to my WordPress site.

I’m thinking a 7 – 8 inch, tablet-like device with a foldout keyboard, can have a cheap low-resolution screen because it serves one purpose only, to push blog posts to my CMS via an API.

I’d buy one in a heart-beat.