How I Sold A Site

I didn’t think it could happen, even though I’d read about it happening, and if it could, definitely not to me! But it did happen.

I developed a site…and sold it!

The idea for What Are Chatbots was germinated one summer afternoon last year when we were brainstorming with the founders of Skilla on how to explain the concept of chat bots to clueless investors. So I recruited an intern and we started reading…about the history of Artificial Intelligence, the first chat bots, more recent forays in this world of conversational technology and its many applications.

After a fortnight of research, I started compiling a white paper, only by that time we had decided to bootstrap some more and avoid the whole investor loop till Skilla had reached a certain stage. So I took the white paper, broke it down into individual posts and put up a Medium publication. What better way to get readers for the hard work done by my intern and me?

The site looked good and started getting traction – we even started getting followers!

The quick success confirmed our hypothesis that there was a need for a publication that talked about chat bots in an informal, non-techie way. A blog whose target audience was the same as the target market of the chat bots – the average millennial who was curious about this new phenomenon and wanted to find out more about it without having to deal with the jargon, preferably in short snippets of information easily consumed while waiting for a friend at the bar or cabbing it to work. So I continued writing for the site whenever I came across an interesting chat bot and had some free time.

Much to my delight, a friend who works for a communication consultancy based in Bangalore, reached out and asked if we could meet. They were curious about chat bots and thought that their clients would be interested in this new trend…and what better way to clue them in on chat bots, than a blog that talks about them?

A few discussions later, I found myself sending them a proposal and before the month was over, I had sold What Are Chatbots

Time to bring out those champagne glasses! Once the jubilation subsided, I did feel a twinge of sadness when I realised that I would no longer be the person who took all decisions regarding the site (logo, layout, appearance or even the editorial style and content). But I continue to write for the publication, pitching in an article whenever a bot strikes my fancy, while the team of writers at the agency now manage its growth and maintenance.

The experience made me realise several things:

  1. I write well – even when its about something I might not necessarily understand and in a style that’s not really mine.
  2. People buy sites, even regular hobby sites by very regular writers – it’s not a random myth.
  3. If built with focus and drive, even a simple hobby site can attract attention – and eventually be sold!
  4. Chat bots are the next big thing – and not just because Mark Zuckerberg says so – but because they do make sense!

Writing For A Chatbot

I started moonlighting for Skilla a few months ago. For the uninitiated, Skilla is a chatbot (currently in closed beta on Facebook Messenger) that allows people to create a professional page to showcase their skills and eventually find people with complementary skills for their project / startup. Users can message Skilla and answer some quick questions about their job, skills and behaviour patterns to get a simple yet very sleek page which can work as their visiting card on the Web.

One of my first tasks on the Skilla team was to script the conversation the Skilla bot would have with the users. Now, I’ve written for websites and blogs, both corporate and personal. I’ve written my Masters thesis and also written some white papers. The tone, the style and the content has been a mix between the casual and the professional. But I’ve never written for a chatbot and hadn’t the faintest idea what a chatbot should say.

What’s the best tone? How much should the bot say?

Clueless, I looked for tips on Google. Here’s what my first attempt yielded:

As you can see, the query “writing for a chatbot” brings up much more technical results. Nothing to do with the conversation the bots will have with the users. So I tried changing the query to “tips on writing for chatbots.” “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, My mother told me to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U.” Just one relevant result. Not much to go on with…

A similar search for social media or corporate blog brings up some really good articles and great tips. (I personally recommend the article by Grammarly – it’s got excellent advice, especially for beginners.)

Apart from the guidelines on the Facebook Developer’s page, there were very few guidelines and best practices available for chatbot conversations. A little frustrated, I realised that I’d have to roll up my sleeves and figure this one out myself. So I took to trying out different bots and comparing their styles. (Read about my experience with one of the most popular chatbots here.)

It’s obviously not rocket science. But it helps to have some basic guidelines when you start writing a dialogue for a chatbot:

How long should your messages be? Is it a good idea to use images & GIFs? What are “quick replies” in Messenger Bots? Should you use buttons or quick replies? 

Find out what I learnt during this experience on the Skilla Blog.

How Being A Social Media Ballerina Got Me A Pot Of Mustard!

Food Trucks are quite the rage in Bangalore since last year and you can eat a wide variety of stuff ranging from kababs to to pav bhaji to burgers to pancakes! My favourite of course is Le Casse-Croûte, a French food truck which launched in September 2015 and serves sandwiches (or croques as the French call them) with some delicious sides. When they launched at the Alliance Française, the serpentine queue made me balk and I had to wait several weeks before I finally caught them at their now regular stop at 6th main, Indiranagar. One croque, fries and a crème de la crème and I was hooked!

It goes without saying that I became a regular when they launched on Swiggy earlier this year – what could be better than getting a tasty croque with some fries, both still deliciously warm, delivered to your doorstep after a long, tiring class or in the middle of a brain-storming meeting with a startup?

A loyal customer and ardent supporter, you can imagine my distress when one evening Swiggy refused to deliver our favourite croques! I refused to give up though and got the husband on customer support with Swiggy, while I took to Twitter.

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15 minutes later, we had a solution and barely 45 minutes later, we were curled up in our armchairs munching with great content on Monsieur Martin and Monsieur Dupleix protecting our fries and the mustard sauce from our very greedy gourmand dog!

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Little did I know that my enthusiasm for Le Casse-Croûte would earn me a pot of their excellent mustard free! I woke up the next morning to this tweet from them :

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A few exchanges on Twitter and Whatsapp later, I found myself with an offer to choose between their home made tomato ketchup mustard or crème de la crème. It didn’t even take me a minute to choose – the Casse-Croûte mustard sauce is one of the best I’ve had outside France. In fact we love it so much, that we often order extra mustard not just for the fries, but also to use later as a dressing for salads or to whip up creamy mustard sauce for a chicken filet meal.

Since I seem to have a constant stock of the extra mustard (yes, we order from them EVERY week), I was a little tardy in picking up that free mustard, but I finally got it today – my first pot of mustard earned simply by being a loyal customer and ardent supporter of a brand on Twitter! Youpi! I can’t wait to try out some new mustard-y recipes over the next few weeks!

You can follow Le Casse-Croûte on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to know where they are parked – or of course, if you stay in or around Indiranagar, Swiggy zindabad!

An Instagrammer’s Best Friends

I joined Instagram rather late, resisting it as a platform for the frivolous, selfie obsessed millennials. But once on board, I found myself instantly addicted to the endless stream of beautiful, inspiring photos on my fields of interest: books, food, travel and dogs of course! I realised that there’s more to an Instagrammer than posting beautiful self portraits and tantalising images of the food consumed and the places visit. It’s about choosing the right image, editing it carefully with the right filters and then sharing it at an opportune time to ensure that a maximum of people see it. It is also about using the right hash tags. However, unlike the other hash tag based platform, Twitter, you can’t post the same content several times. So you gotta get it right the first time.

So I learned. Slowly, steadily, with each new photo I posted. I discovered accounts, launched FranceSay as a part of an attempt to encourage students to learn a new French word everyday and started studying how brands could use Instagram to gain popularity. Needless to say, I post quite often (sometimes more than once a day!) and now actively suggest Instagram as a part of a brand’s social media portfolio.

Being an Instagrammer though isn’t always easy – I have a plethora of supporting apps to help me get through a typical day as an Instagrammer.


Layout

My go-to app for creating quick collages of images by combining two or more images. It’s easy to use and quite addictive. Once you launch the app, all you have to do is select photos from your phone’s gallery and the most suitable layout.  There aren’t many editing options – you can replace images, flip them or add  a border. The experience is so smooth that I have to sometime refrain myself from posting only photo collages!

 

Repost

The most frustrating part about Instagram is not being able to share images you like with a simple click. After a few months of impotence, I finally downloaded Repost. The app allows you to share images posted by other Instagrammers and give them credit too. Instagram’s new rules have made it slightly complicated to repost images. You now need to copy the URL of the image you want to share and then launch the Repost app. Once you confirm the post details, Repost will redirect you back to Instagram where you can paste the caption and finally share the image! Phew! Quite a process ain’t it?

Later

Soon after launching FranceSay, I realised that I need an app to upload and schedule Instagram posts. In Later, you can schedule images to be published much like you do on any other platform to schedule social media posts. Unfortunately it isn’t an automatic process like for Facebook or Twitter. To publish your scheduled posts, you need to launch Later and select the image to be published. You will be redirected to Instagram, where (like with Repost) you can paste the caption and share your image.

 

Buffer

I like Buffer to schedule posts for Instagram for the startups with whom I freelance, since it gives me neat, little previews of the image and also reminds me to share the image at the scheduled time! Buffer functions the same way as Repost and Later for the final publishing process, so you can switch accounts (if necessary) and confirm before posting the image.

 

How many Instagram apps do you use? Which are you favorite apps?

Canva iPhone App: From Template to Buffer in 5 minutes!

A Canva junkie, who’s been creating social media graphics on the platform since November 2013 (yeah, I was one of those early users!), I was delighted to join Canva’s Inner Circle group on Facebook a few months ago and then receive Rose Powell’s email inviting me to join the Beta Tester’s group for their iPhone app!

I have to admit – it was really difficult restraining myself till the official launch. I loved the app from the very first TestFlight I received. As smooth as the web platform, the iPhone app has just made my life as a freelance social media consultant so much easier. No need to create slots for creating images on Canva – I can now create images while I’m on the move, before a meeting or even while I’m waiting for my (often tardy) husband to pick me up after work! The Canva app allows you to do pretty much everything you can do on the web, with the same ease!

I created my first image on the app for the Instagram account of Skilla, a chatbot startup that aims to help people find team members with the right skills. {Spoiler Alert!} It took me 5 minutes from the point where I chose my template to when I added the final image to the Buffer queue, ready to be published this Sunday!

Quick tips for using the Canva iPhone app:

  • Let’s start with template options – Facebook (posts and cover images), Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube Art, Blog Graphics, Flyers, Visiting Cards, Invitations, Posters and even Presentations. Pretty impressive for an app!
  • Once you’ve chosen your template, you can select a layout – as always, you’re spoilt for choice, but if you like working on a clean slate, you will have to search for “grids” under elements.
  • Replacing the background images in the templates with stuff from your phone’s photo library is easy…as is editing the images with the various filters, but you can’t alter the transparency of the image yet.
  • To edit text, you need to double tap on the text. You can change the fonts, edit the font style & size and even modify the text spacing! How cool is that ?!?
  • The elements library has a tons of shapes, grid options, illustrations and funky icons, but they don’t have any photos yet, so you might need to access of your photo library on the phone.

Download the Canva iPhone app from the App Store.

Social Media: My Favourite Tools

A social media consultant since several years now, I’ve seen the requirements for this position change much over the last few years. From being a purely text based content creation job, it has evolved into a full-time vocation requiring multi-tasking skills, design thinking and a more holistic marketing approach.

The tools of the trade have, very obviously, evolved over the years from MS Word and blogging sites to include a wide array of platforms. My three favorites, over the years, highs and lows, which have helped me stay on the top:

HootSuite: a social media management tool, which allows you to manage multiple platforms and profiles from a single dashboard. You can schedule your posts, follow-unfollow and interact with followers all from within HootSuite. It’s been a life saviour, especially when the holidays are coming up!

Pixabay: who pays for stock images any more? Pixabay has 530000 high quality photos, illustrations, and vector graphics – all free, for commercial use! The site has bailed me out EVERY time I needed an image to illustrate my social media posts. I’ve finally started buying the contributors’ a coffee every now and then as my small token of gratitude!

Canva: the solution to all social media posts. Canva allows you to create designs for web and print: graphics, presentations, social media posts (with customised sizes for each platform), infographics et al. I can no longer imagine being dependent on a professional designer to quickly churn out my social media posts, as is obvious on my Canva profile.

Social Media: My Tools Of The Trade

Social Media ProfessionalA social media consultant since several years now, I’ve seen the requirements for this position change much over the last few years. From being a purely text based content creation job, it has evolved into a full-time vocation requiring multi-tasking skills, design thinking and a more holistic marketing approach.

The tools of the trade have, very obviously, evolved over the years from MS Word and blogging sites to include a wide array of platforms. My three favorites, over the years, highs and lows, which have helped me stay on the top:

HootSuite: a social media management tool, which allows you to manage multiple platforms and profiles from a single dashboard. You can schedule your posts, follow-unfollow and interact with followers all from within HootSuite. It’s been a life savior, especially when the holidays are coming up!

Pixabay: who pays for stock images any more? Pixabay has 530000 high quality photos, illustrations, and vector graphics – all free, for commercial use! The site has bailed me out EVERY time I needed an image to illustrate my social media posts. I’ve finally started buying the contributors’ a coffee every now and then as my small token of gratitude!

Canva: the solution to all social media posts. Canva allows you to create designs for web and print: graphics, presentations, social media posts (with customised sizes for each platform), infographics et al. I can no longer imagine being dependent on a professional designer to quickly churn out my social media posts, as is obvious on my Canva profile.