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.

Two Amazing Delivery Apps That Are Ruining Us

A few weeks ago, we asked some friends to come over on a Friday evening for beer and kebabs – what was to be a short affair, became a full fledged dinner party and we found ourselves wondering what to feed our guests.

Swiggy zindabad, I yelled!
Try Dunzo, said one of our guests.
What’s that you said? A new delivery app? Let’s try it, quipped the husband.

Refusing to budge and deny my favourite delivery app another opportunity to serve us, I insisted on placing an order on Swiggy, while my husband placed the rest of the order on Dunzo. We placed bets on who would come first – Swiggy won (of course) but by a few minutes. We had barely accepted the food from the Swiggy delivery guy that the Dunzo fellow rang the bell!

What followed was weeks of what I can only describe as lazy indulgence. Already in the habit of swiggying my way out of many weekday dinners, I found myself turning to the husband (I have of course refused to install what I perceive as competition to Swiggy on my phone) to Dunzo our way out of all kinds of silly things. Why pick up chicken en route after class, when for a mere 30 rupees, it can get delivered to your doorstep?

It wasn’t just chicken…before long, we found ourselves asking for tonic water, filtered coffee, peanuts, chips and even a loaf of bread (which is available a few metres from our home) because it was so bloody convenient.

I woke up one day to the horrible realisation that I have let the delivery apps control my life to such an extent, that I’m no longer running an organised, planned household. It was okay to run out of stuff, because Dunzo would come to our rescue. Youpie!

We were also not going out anymore – I mean who wants to deal with that nasty traffic when food from your favourite restaurants can get delivered to your doorstep in less than the time it gets to reach the restaurant? How terribly convenient!

Convenient yes, but at what cost?

Convenience really is the new synonym for lazy decadence. How else could I justify that I was no longer taking the effort to walk down to the neighbourhood market/grocery store/supermarket to pick up fresh fruits, vegetables and other necessities, but simply commanding the anonymous Dunzo delivery boy to do my bidding? And how awfully feudal and pompous of me, to say that my time is too valuable to waste in running errands! Or that peanuts and chips to accompany that glass of beer are crucial to the success of my evening!

And let’s not forget what we are doing to the environment. In a city that’s losing its identity in the quagmire of nasty traffic jams, every time I send a Dunzo dude running to a store to pick up something completely random, I am adding one more vehicle to the insanity. One more vehicle that is weaving its way through the already choked streets, breaking traffic regulations to deliver in time – lest I turn to social media to vent my impotent anger at a delay in delivery and attack the brand. One more vehicle that leads to that much more pollution in the air, f***ing with our respiratory systems and blackening our souls.

Drama much?

Perhaps. But it’s true isn’t it? The price of convenience is the destruction of this beautiful city, once toasted as a city of gardens with the most clement weather in the country.

So have have we deleted the apps from our phones? No, despite everything we haven’t. But I am back to being an organised creature, planning my meals and making weekly visits to the market to buy stuff I need for the house and delegating some chores even to the husband. And oh, guess what? Tomorrow is date night after what seems like aeons! Dunzo and Swiggy could do with earning a wee bit lesser…if they are making any money at all to begin with, but that’s another story!

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.

Organised At Home And Organised At Work Makes Me Healthy, Wealthy And Wise

Storage_jarsI’m a sucker for neat, organised spaces and spend my weekends labouring over my storage spaces. My mother, a perfectionist whose cupboards are always immaculately arranged, doesn’t need to do this as often as I do and I find myself constantly running to catch up with her. I think I’ve finally found the solution: storage boxes and containers. I recently invested in a whole bunch of storage trays to keep my spaces uncluttered.

The obsession for orderly spaces extends to my work space as well. I need a neat and tidy work space, so quite obviously I have spent a fare amount of my weekends arranging my documents in folders – the pretty plastic/paper ones and the virtual ones as well. Working as a teacher and a social media freelancer for various organisations, I have documents of all kinds and if I don’t keep them in systematic manner, I won’t ever find anything on time.

A few lessons I’ve learnt on this journey to the perfectly organised space:

  • FilesLabel stuff – develop a system that speaks to you. I prefer using color codes in the kitchen and elaborate names for documents and folders to track the content, author and versions. Here’s an example: B2_ExamenFinal_CO_Doc1_20102015
  • Categorise and store stuff in files and folders. The document I just cited as an example is in a folder named B2_ExamenFinal_2015. Don’t forget to hierarchise so that’s it’s easy to find stuff that’s more important / you use more often.
  • Use the cloud. Changing and updating computers has been a no-brainer ever since I started saving documents on Google drive and Dropbox.
  • Save important documents in multiple places – on your hard drive, in a USB drive and on the cloud. You never know what will misbehave when. I’ve had times when the Internet has failed at work and I’ve been unable to access an important document saved in my Dropbox folder.
  • Don’t feel shy to use applications to up your efficiency quotient at work:
    • Quip: to collaborate with colleagues on documents, spreadsheets and checklists.
    • Slack: for real-time messaging with your team members and keeping an archive of all communication and file exchanges.
    • Wunderlist: to create personal / professional to-do lists and discuss them with others. Feedback always helps!
    • Hootsuite: to plan and organise your social media posts in advance. Once you’ve scheduled the posts on Hootsuite, you can do other stuff and never have to stress about publishing on time!