The “Automation” Guide for Web

cover The “Automation” Guide for Web
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Let the web do your work for you. A variety of web automation tools are dedicated to saving time. From email to social media or even your own website, you could be wasting valuable time doing things that free services could do for you, automatically. Finding these services and getting them to work for you takes a bit of knowledge, time and creativity, but that effort almost always pay off.

Interested? Then it’s time to read “Web Automation, Part 1″ by author Rahul Saigal. This guide outlines uncounted tips for automating your online life, all in the name of saving you time. To quote the guide’s introduction:

“Some say necessity is the mother of invention. Nonsense. I think laziness is the mother of invention. Our ancestors invented things too, didn’t they? Mankind develops new technologies quickly, all to make our lives simpler and more comfortable. Simple is just another word for easy, however, so you could argue we made such great progress because we didn’t want to do quite so much work.”

Laziness is good. It’s time to let the web do the work. Read this web automation guide today.

Table Of Contents

§ – Introduction

§1 – Control Your Email

§2 – Control Your Relationship With Social Media

Introduction

Some say necessity is the mother of invention. Nonsense. I think laziness is the mother of invention. Our ancestors invented things too, didn’t they? Mankind develops new technologies quickly, all to make our lives simpler and more comfortable. Simple is just another word for easy, however, so you could argue we made such great progress because we didn’t want to do quite so much work.

Amazing thought, isn’t it? The world absolutely condemns lazy behavior, but deep down we are all engaged with it. We have dishwashers so we don’t need to manually wash dishes, and robot vaccums so we don’t need to push a vaccum.

So why not let tasks you have to do on web be done by the web itself? Welcome you to the world of web automation, where we have started to control the web in our own way.

Imagine these situations:

  1. You have multiple social accounts and it is becoming difficult to share data between accounts, not to mention contacts. They are scattered everywhere (email, social media, phone).
  2. You are spending lots of time organizing and filtering thousands of messages in email.
  3. You are spending lots of time doing backups and saving them to a cloud storage service.

It may be daunting to some of you to perform these tasks, and some may not realize there is any other option available. However, it is possible to automate these tasks and it’s up to your judgment to decide whether automation is a good or bad thing for you. Later on, as you become adjusted to web automation, you may realize that it is saving you time and increasing your productivity.

This manual is created for readers like you, who spend much of their quality time digitally and would like to manage daily tasks effectively. I, the author, do not have any affiliation or financial commitment to any of the tools or services discussed in this manual.

Thoughout the manual I will teach you how I use automation tools in order to improve my life. Don’t feel like you need to follow them to-the-letter; instead, think of them as ideas you can use as you search for your own web automation solution.

With that in mind let’s get started!

1. Control Your Email

1.1 Email overload: Why is it a major problem for users?

Email brought a revolution in the field of communication and for the past few decades it has developed from a simple asynchronous communication medium to an omnipresent application covering a range of information management functions (to-do list, calendar, contacts management). The purpose of email is to exchange digital messages from an author to one or more recipients globally without any restrictions. Today we are not using email only for what it was meant for, causing information overload.

If you spend some time analyzing the nature of the emails in your inbox it may fall into the following categories:

  1. You are co-coordinating your schedule via email with your friends for organizing events such as birthday parties.
  2. You co-ordinate your work back and forth as email with attachments. For instance, you may be an author discussing article changes with an editor.
  3. You are keeping your to-do list in your email inbox.
  4. You are keeping piles of notes, bookmarks and important documents unsorted in your email.
  5. You are storing usernames and passwords for website logins are kept in emails.
  6. Your email contacts are your main address book of your contacts.

If your email happens to fall in the majority of these categories then you are a victim of email overload. Email overload is often measured in terms of the number of messages which the user needs to process and which demand their attention. But, is it really a problem? Yes, because we are managing our professional and personal lives through one platform that provides the strong functionality a user needs, but at the cost of simplicity.

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So how does email overload make a user less effective? Here’s how:

  1. Prioritization becomes difficult. Even if the user knows which messages are important, the inbox is not built in that order. It may also be the user doesn’t understand the implications of a given message at a glance of the subject line.
  2. It makes it hard to find messages with same person or subject line, so the user opens every message in order to find the correct one and if he is unable to find it, either he will waste time searching or request that the sender re-sends it.
  3. If you are using Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird, then overfilled inboxes may crash the program, leading to loss of contents.

There is still controversy in the subject of managing email overload, and there may not be one ideal solution. A simple Google search will result in endless amount of articles online, each written by people who have devised individual strategies around better managing the email deluge and maximizing productivity. The onus on the user is to intelligently manage the influx of email, and if users are given tools and freedom to develop their own system with sensible guidelines it can be managed effectively.

1.2 Organize your inbox and unsubscribe from mailing lists

Managing the flood of email messages that most of us need to interact with on a daily basis is a growing challenge. Getting a good grip on it with a good systematic approach is critical for staying sane. Because of the volume of discrete messages and the speed with which they show up, email seems to be a unique demon and the sad part is that it cannot be managed with a single solution. It requires good tools, freedom and a certain dedication to keep your inbox free from junk, which allows you to regularly empty it.

Let’s start with those countless newsletters that you have subscribed to, and now you don’t even care to read. If you are not reading a given newsletter what’s the point of staying subscribed to it?

1. Unroll.me

Unroll.me is an effective solution for those who want to get rid of junk newsletters from their inbox. The concept and execution is pretty simple. Select your account type and input your email address. Authenticate it to allow connection with your inbox. Now they will import all of your mail headers into their system and identify the lists you are subscribed to. Unroll.me has created an itemized list of all the newsletters that I am subscribed to, and I can simply click on minus icon to clear the list. The good thing about this app is the simplicity, and while doing the import, I can clear the mailing list as soon they get identified.

Another helpful feature is “Rollup”, which behaves like a digest to give you an overview of all the subscriptions received each day (customizable). You can filter it by categories or add items to favorites. It also keeps a list of all newsletters so you can re-subscribe to them if you have unsubscribed and then change your mind later on. If some messages are picked up as a newsletter that shouldn’t be included, then you can move it to the “Direct to inbox” category. So, this process is not 100% accurate but at least they offer you the option to correct it. Right now, this app works only with Google email accounts but they are working to integrate it with other email services.

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2. Swizzle Inbox Manager

Swizzle Inbox Manager is another service that scans your email to find newsletters and subscriptions. The concept is simple: select your account type and input your email address. It works with all email services, including AOL and iCloud. Authenticate it to allow connection with your inbox. Then it will start scanning the inbox. It has created an itemized list of all the newsletters that I am subscribed to, and I can simply click unsubscribe to clear the list.

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The process is not 100% accurate and some sensitive messages are also listed which are not newsletters, but they do not offer any option to direct that message back to inbox. Swizzle Inbox Manager also includes a deals/newsletter browser, where you can read and look for deals from brands in all categories without subscribing to them.

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3. OtherInbox

OtherInbox’s opening statement is exactly why I’m writing its review: “Email is our life, so it doesn’t have to be yours”. They have two different tools, the first of which is the Organizer that automatically organizes your emails based on their category. The second tool is Unsubscriber, which easily unsubscribes you from any junk newsletters.

To start using Organizer, just sign-up and select your email address (currently supports AOL, Gmail, Yahoo and iCloud). Authenticate it to allow connection with the inbox. This application requires Flash so you must enable it if you haven’t yet. The processing of email takes time if you have lots of messages in your inbox, but if you are already organized it may take less time.

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The basic idea behind OtherInbox is to categorize emails on the basis of their source. If the source is Amazon, all emails from Amazon are automatically placed in one folder and if the source is Facebook, all the notifications will go into another folder. The change is not instantaneous, and it will show you the preview of its planned organization so that you can accept or decline the changes. The user also receives an email digest showing you the summary of all the automated messages and what OtherInbox has done with them.

I found that it took a long time to search through my emails and it created more folders than I wanted. After a detailed search I found out OtherInbox were bought by an email certification and reputation monitoring company, Return Path. Nevertheless, if you have lots of emails in your inbox and organizing it for now is a mess then give it a try, but if you are already organized and can make better decisions with your emails yourself, then maybe it’s not worth it for you to use this application.

4. Sanebox

Sanebox is a service that works by filtering your email inbox and shows you only the emails that must be dealt right away as compared to the ones that can wait for few hours. The service looks surprisingly similar to Gmail Priority Inbox, but Sanebox works differently: it gives the entire control to the user. According to its privacy policy, Sanebox is not a spam filter and doesn’t read the body of your email, change any headers or store email on its servers. It works with almost any email service including Android and iPhone clients. To start using Sanebox you can sign up for the free trial (14 days) and authenticated it with your Gmail account. Once you set it up, it scans your inbox headers to determine if each message is important or not. If it is not important, it will go to the @SaneLater label using its own algorithm.

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The filtration of Sanebox is highly effective, but as with any service the algorithm may not be 100% correct. To combat that you can train Sanebox to suit your needs by moving the email to the correct category. This feature is certainly unique. They also email the analysis of your email so you can better understand its algorithm.

If you add your social networks to Sanebox, it will prioritize emails from people you follow on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It is faster to follow these low priority emails when they are batched together. I was able to search email normally and found the messages don’t get lost.

Another feature of Sanebox is the daily email digest. It will email you a conventional list of all new and unread @ SaneLater email. This feature looked nice, though I didn’t find a use for it. It may be due to the low volume of email messages I process per day.

There are loads of other SaneLater features:

  1. Folders according to the category (e.g. All important mails go to @SaneTop, All receipts and reference mails go to @SaneBulk, All old mails go to @SaneArchive). I can even add a custom filing folder.
  2. Move email to @SaneBlackHole and you won’t ever get that mail from that address again. Even in my limited testing time it was effective. So, it was much easier than creating filters.
  3. You can also create a @SaneRemindMe folder to notify you when an important email you sent wasn’t responded to within a certain time.
  4. You can connect with Dropbox to save attachments (customizable), to add links and more. This is really helpful if you use any email service with limited storage options.

There were some minor issues with Sanebox too; it was not able to differentiate the summary and breaking news that I get periodically from Google Alert. Since Sanebox does not read the body of your message, it’s quite understandable and I was able to work around it. After my trial was over I was worried about whether it will restore my email account to the way it was, but there were no issues at all. The service costs $5 a month, which is not bad considering the features it offers. It will certainly save you time.

So let me summarize whether web automation can help in this aspect of email management or not:

  • Web Automation is good if you have to process lots of email per day, if you have multiple newsletters that you want to unsubscribe to, and if you love organizing everything.
  • Web Automation is bad when these services are not perfect; you have to train them to certain extent. If you have certain privacy issues with giving control of your email to these services, then it may not be ideal.

1.3 Set up automated rules to filter messages

Email filtering is the processing of email to organize it according to specified criteria. The criteria could be to automatically process your incoming messages, spam or outgoing messages according to certain rules. For example, you may want to create a filter to have all newsletters separate from your everyday mails. You may create filters for work, family members, spam or anything. So basically, each filter is a rule with one or more conditions and an action, wherein the conditions include:

  • Specific addresses in the From:,To:,Cc: addresses in the email header.
  • Words/characters in the strings in the subject or body of the mail message.
  • The presence or absence of file attachments.

And actions include:

  • Moving the message to another specified folder/label.
  • Forwarding the message to another address.
  • Skipping the Inbox (To archive it).
  • Never sending messages like this to spam.

Creating Filters

How to set up a filter or a rule varies depending on what you use for email. The following instructions assume you use Gmail.

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To set up an email filter, click on the icon that looks like a gear and then select Settings. If you already have filters set up, they will be displayed. As you can see in, my first filter has one condition and its action is to skip inbox, delete it. So if I now want to create a filter, scroll down and simply click on Create a new filter. You will then be prompted with a popup box to provide criteria to base the filter on. You can set the following criteria:

  • From: Whom the email is from. This could be an email address or a phrase (e.g. MakeUseOf).
  • To: You may have email forwarding or POP access set up on your Gmail account so all your work emails get sent to your primary Gmail account. Enter your primary Gmail account in the To box, then the filter will automatically send your specific, incoming messages to that email address.
  • Subject: If you enter a phrase in the Subject, any emails with that phrase in the subject would have the filter applied.
  • Has the words: If the contents of the email has the words you specify, then filter will apply.
  • Doesn’t have: For all emails that do not contain the phrase you specify, the filter will apply.
  • Has attachment: Any email with a file attached will trigger the filter.

We will now fill up the From field with the email address of MakeUseOf. Since our condition is now set, let me list out some of the most common filter rules:

  • Forums - I can’t deny that forums are an evergrowing part of the Internet, just like social networking sites. Forum users usually receive messages once they get registered or subscribe to threads with email notification. It’s usually perfectly fine until we observe that our inbox is getting filled up. We can then create some filters on the basis of their default email template. The key is to type in Subject “Reply to thread”, “You are subscribed to the forum”, “Topic reply notification” or Has the words “Your password has been securely stored in our database and cannot be retrieved”. There can be many words/subjects like these but if we want to clump two or three filters together at a time, then it would be better to learn Google search operands or make this operand as a sticky note.
  • Search - We can create filter for frequent search queries. Just type your query in the “Has the words” box. For example has:attachment (messages that include attachments), filename:.pdf (messages that include pdf attachments), is:unread (collects all the messages you haven’t read yet), label:voicemail (the voicemail from Google Talk).
  • Separate your identities - We can a create filter to forward messages from other email accounts. Just enter the appropriate mail address in the To field when you create each filter. One specific thing I would like to mention is about Evernote.

Evernote users can send virtually any content to their private Evernote email address. I have created a filter for forwarding student assignments to Evernote, while annotating them and tagging them as results. Simply add the name of the notebook preceded by the “at” symbol (@) and add any tags by preceding them with tags (#). The syntax should look like this: Results! @ Notebook #tag1 #tag2. The notebook and tags should exist in your Evernote database already and the note title must come first, followed by tags and notebook.

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  • Newsletters - We can create filters for daily newsletters, just fill in the email address or phrase in the From field or Has the words “unsubscribe” and share: select any action, which we will discuss later on.
  • Blacklist - If you don’t want to read messages from certain people, create a filter that sends their messages to the trash. Just enter their email address in the From field or if you want to clump more than one email address then separate it by OR in the From field.

There are endless possibilities to play around with filters. Have you created filters for managing shopping lists or details from bank accounts? Think about the common words that are present in the body of the message such as “receipt” or common subject such as “invoice”, “order”. Experiment with it, and once you are done you will have to select certain action for that message (consider the example of newsletter from MakeUseOf). After verifying the email address, click Create filter with this search. A new pop-up box will be activated.

Tick Skip the Inbox and apply the label of your choice. Finally click Create filter. After applying this filter, the entire incoming newsletter from MakeUseOf will directly go to that label, without your intervention.

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1.4 Schedule your messages automatically

Why schedule an email to be sent later? There must be some reasons:

  1. Create scheduled emails to send greetings or congratulations for marriage anniversaries, birthdays and other important occasions.
  2. Set up a reminder of particular task, e.g. to backup emails, submitting quarterly or monthly reports of the company.
  3. Set up scheduled emails to clients and customers about product information or discounts or regular updates.
  4. Set up a schedule for your newsletters.
  5. Follow up on important email messages.

We are going to setup the Thunderbird email client to schedule email messages. By default, Thunderbird does not offer email-scheduling options and it requires a manual workaround to send out emails at a specified time. We’ll use an extension called as Send Later 3, which does exactly what to the name implies it will do. If you have the latest Thunderbird release, I would recommend using the latest beta version (make sure you backup your emails before that, just in case). The latest extension can be downloaded from here.

  1. Download the extension. Save the .xpi file in a folder.
  2. From Thunderbird Tools menu, choose that addon and go through the installation steps.
  3. When you want to schedule a message for later delivery, either select the File>Send Later command or hit Ctrl-Shift-Return. This will pop up the following dialog.

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From this dialog:

  1. Specify a specific time at which to send the message. Enter date/time and you will notice that the button below it will become active and “Enter a valid date above” will be replaced with what you entered. Click the button to schedule the message.
  2. Send the message using one of the preset buttons. Click “15 mins later”, “30 mins later”, or “2 hours later” to send the message the indicated amount of time into the future.
  3. If you click Put in Outbox, the message will be copied into your Outbox and the message will be sent when you go into and out of offline mode, or if you restart Thunderbird.
  4. If you click the Send Now button the message will be delivered immediately.

There is an option to configure a specific date and time for the selected message at which it will be send. There is a complete documentation of this extension, so make sure you go through its advanced features too. Scheduling the email will definitely give you the control over your email, but there is one more aspect that cannot be ignored. There are probably email messages in your inbox that need follow-up, and you may need to set up a reminder of the followup.

This sort of feature is not part of Gmail. However, many such applications are available and there have a set of features that are common to each other. So it’s a matter of preference, price and management that will guide you to select the application. The choices are: Boomerang, Right Inbox, Followup.cc, FollowupThen.com. The table listed below features the overview of all applications. Pricing may be subject to change. Refer to the relevant website for future changes.

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1.5 Automate repetitive replies

If you are on a vacation, we can use email vacation responder to let people know you won’t be able to get back to them right away and may be a few days. It will automatically reply to anyone who emails you. Here’s how to set up a vacation response:

In Gmail:

  • Click the gear icon in the upper right, then select Settings.
  • From the General tab, select Vacation responder on in the Vacation responder: section.
  • Enter the subject and body of your message in the Subject: and Message: fields.
  • Check the box next to “Only send a response to people in my Contacts” if you don’t want everyone who emails you to know that you’re away from your mail.
  • Click “Save Changes”.

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In Yahoo:

  • Click Options, then select Mail Options.
  • Select Vacation Response, and enable auto-response during these dates.
  • Fill up the data and click Save.

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If you want to send automatic email responses for specific email addresses, you can use an add-on called Canned Responses available in Gmail. To add Canned Responses to Gmail, click the Settings and then choose Labs. Click the Labs tab and then check the radio button labeled Enable for the Canned Responses Entry.

If you are using Thunderbird as your default email client, you can use the Quicktext extension available from Mozilla Add-on Repository. The Quicktext Extension saves collections of reusable text snippets to quickly answer routine, repetitive emails. It has the ability to insert different signature into your emails depending upon whom you are sending the email to.

Here’s an example: You have the latest Apple iPod for sale and you post it in discussion boards, classified advertisement sites or in a local newspaper. It may happen that you receive a lot of emails from potential buyers in your inbox. Commonly, we’ll select the text, paste in notepad, and reply individually to thousands of emails. Indeed, that is really painful, so now let me ease your pain through this Quicktext extension:

  1. Download the Quicktext extension. Save the .xpi file in a folder.
  2. From Thunderbird Tools menu, choose that add-on and go through the installation steps.
  3. Click the Write button to write new message, and then select from Tools>Quicktext.
  4. Click the Add Group button and enter the name of group, say Apple iPod Sale.
  5. Select your new group; then click Add Template. In the Title input, name this template bidding, and in the text area below the Title, enter your snippet of text. Also set the keyword to bidding. Enter the Subject “Re: Apple iPod Sale” and enter your preferred Shortcut key (Alt +0) and save the settings.
  6. After the setup, open a message about your Apple iPod sale. When you press the shortcut key, the subject along with the first name and entire response is automatically inserted into the message body.

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This is just the tip of the iceberg as this extension has many capabilities. Check out the Quicktext homepage and see all the variables. There is a free version and also a pro version. If you are using Thunderbird as your default email client, this web automation extension is excellent. Go ahead and see what it can do for you.

1.6 Send paper mail right from home

E-mail and social networks have replaced paper mail, right? Think one more time. Well, sometimes you should or must send letters or postcards. There may be several reasons, such as:

  1. Your grandparents live in remote town or villages where they don’t have computers let alone access to the Internet.
  2. You recently got married, or celebrated your birthday party with your friends and relatives and want to send some photographs to your grandparents for a personal touch.
  3. Sometimes antiquated institutions, book publishers or government services require paper mail.
  4. You are traveling abroad, and need to communicate with someone in the UK, and either can’t trust, or don’t have time to wait for the local mail service.
  5. You are on vacation and want to share a lasting memory with friends and family.

All the web based postal mail services discussed below are carefully listed with their service and features on the table. Before going further, you must clarify with them about service areas, pricing or terms and conditions, if any.

  • Postal Methods: More useful for bulk mail as price decreases with volume. Advanced web services API allowing developers to integrate mail-sending abilities into business application and automating mailing process.
  • Mail a Letter: You can add a self-addressed envelope with the letter.
  • Click 2 Mail: Recommended for bulk mail. Supports Product Flyers, Booklets, Certified letters, Certified Self Mail, Priority Letters, and Business Cards.
  • EZGram: Supports USPS for larger documents, Priority Mail for quick delivery.
  • L-Mail: Supports Braille and audio letters. It has its printing station in Mumbai, India.
  • PC 2 Paper: Offers a real UK based postal address for incoming post, Sends password reminders by post.

2. Control Your Relationship With Social Media

2.1 Social media automation – right or wrong?

Social media is all about user-generated content. If the purpose of social media is to mediate human communication and humanity, automation is a bad thing, right?

I need to clarify the meaning of web automation before going any further. Here, I am only talking about automating certain activities on social media and not all social media activity. The activities can range from scheduling a post in advance, managing multiple accounts or understanding user behavior on social media. Social media activities take enough productive time, and content creation and management is a hard work too.

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It is not surprising that people resort to automation to achieve a balance in between personal and professional life and to make work easier and more manageable. So the question is – is social media automation right or wrong? My answer would be both and it depends on many factors:

Social Media automation is good when:

  1. You can manage your time to allow for other activities, rather than constantly fooling around with social media.
  2. You can connect with your users intelligently, without destroying the entire point of using a given platform.
  3. You can manage multiple social media accounts with the right balance of sharing content and engagement.
  4. Your followers are increasing (not decreasing).

Social Media automation is bad when:

  1. Your friends, readers or followers are describing you as spammy.
  2. Your followers are not engaging with you.
  3. You get penalized by the service for dependency on third party applications to post content.

Let’s take a look at what your social media automation strategy should include to ensure you are doing it the right way and not sacrificing the personal element that got you or your content the social media success it’s currently enjoying.

  1. Selecting the right tools.
  2. Scheduling the content at right time.
  3. Diversifying the content across social media sites based on its value.
  4. Staying true to your social media roots.

2.2 Schedule your posts cleverly

When it comes to scheduling posts in social media, the first question that comes to mind is whether you should schedule posts at all. Generally, the clear answer would be “NO” but there are exceptions to this rule. Even Facebook felt the need introduce scheduling a few months back. Social media is like a content eating machine: every time you post a good content it will digest it within few seconds, and the cycle never seems to end because we simply love sharing content. So there are reasons to schedule content.

The primary reason is time. Social media requires your involvement: you share content in order to gain useful engagement with your followers/fans. We cannot say that this involvement is bad. It’s generally good, but in some scenarios it becomes a distraction. When you are busy with professional or personal work (in my case, writing articles), then social media becomes a fuel for a constant source of distraction. Scheduling posts means you can engage your readers while getting things done.

It’s also worth thinking about at which times people are likely to read your posts. We would certainly love it if all our content was seen by each and every fan/follower in the world, but it’s a dream because we belong to different time zones. We cannot drink coffee all night just to post content when people around the world will see it, so scheduling is our good friend.

Another reason could be when you are on vacation/or out of office for business purposes. I use post scheduling frequently when I am out of town for conferences, so my followers keep seeing new content.

With that in mind, here are some tools for the job:

a. Facebook Post Scheduling for Pages - Write your post as you normally would – it can include links, photos or video. In the lower-left corner of your post, click on the clock symbol. You can add the year, month, day and time you want the post to go out. You can schedule your post up to 6 months in the future. You can schedule the minutes at 10 min interval (e.g. -10,-20,-30 and so on). You can also add language and location targeting in your scheduled post. Once you have set everything, review it once and click the blue Schedule button. If you wish to make any changes to your scheduled post later on, click “Use Activity Log” by accessing the admin panel at the top of your page “Edit Page”. You can then see all of your scheduled posts. Unfortunately, you can only change the time and not the text. To change the text, you have to cancel the post and redo your scheduling.

Another point to remember is that you cannot schedule some other types of post such as posting of events, questions, offers and milestones.

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b. Hootsuite - Sign in to your Hootsuite dashboard and click “Compose a Message”. Now add your message with a link, set your date and time, then click Schedule. You can add an attachment and location and there is an option to receive an email when the message is sent. Mobile apps are also available, which makes scheduling messages easy on the go. I mostly check Twitter through the Hootsuite dashboard because I can build a Twitter list to better organize ongoing discussions and special interest groups. I have also set up saved searches in Hootsuite to find out if people are talking about me or the website. I am also able to manage @mentions, @ direct message and @Sent messages in a common dashboard.

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c. Bufferapp - It provides users with a convenient way to collect and share Tweets, Facebook posts and other content automatically. After signing up you can download a browser extension or bookmarklet and authorize the accounts you want to use with Bufferapp. Once that’s done, you will need to schedule the times you want the tweets to publish. Bufferapp already pre-sets the scheduling, but if you want to control the time of tweets you can set your schedule once and it will let all your tweets get published when you choose. The free Bufferapp currently allows you to have 10 tweets in your buffer queue, which has proven to be more than enough for me, since I tweet only occasional interesting articles. I can also browse the history and analytics, where I can review important information such as click numbers, potential exposure, retweets and favorites for each tweet. I think the best part of this tool is the add-on and mobile app, because I can now manage tweets either from web browser or mobile when I am traveling.

While there are a plethora of apps to schedule tweets and schedule Facebook messages you must remember, these tools are nothing more than an aid. Social media needs you in order to succeed and nothing can take the place of healthy community building that comes with actually engaging with your fans/followers. Therefore, you must have a plan to schedule posts cleverly.

  1. When you schedule posts, don’t adopt a set-it-and-forget-it policy. If you have already scheduled tweets for twelve hours from now, think twice before you confirm because later on you may find more interesting content, then you have again go through the process of re-scheduling. Not every fan/follower are the same, but if you work in a particular industry, you know your audience well and you understand the type of content that works for them.
  2. It is also important to remember what type of content you are scheduling. Is it a blog article or a message that asks “How was the opening ceremony of London Olympics?” Can you spot the difference in the content? So, if you’re not around to monitor and instead an automated bot replies a thank you message to that follower, what do you think will be the consequence? I would recommend planning your content accordingly and deciding when you can give a quality time to your fans/followers.
  3. Every social media platform is unique. Twitter has a 140 character limit. Tumblr is a short-form blog. LinkedIn is unique to build your own professional network. This means that we can’t write one block of text and blast it to every social media platform. The specificity of service and audience are different. So before you use such tools, think twice and evaluate yourself on how it is going to work for you.

I don’t think auto-scheduling is bad because it helps me to save time and I am able to achieve the right balance between scheduling and authentic, real time engagement.

2.3 Automate your social activities and manage multiple accounts

If there’s one major problem with web apps, it’s that it can be incredibly hard to get them to work together. Try getting Google Docs and Dropbox to work together, for example: it can’t be done on its own. As the web becomes more and more social, users find themselves having multiple accounts on social networks, cloud storage services and so on. Instead of managing the nitty-gritty of sharing data between accounts why not automate the whole process?

Enter IFTTT a simple web app which lets you tie your favorite services together. It’s completely free, and the only requirement is that you enter your account information for any accounts which you want to link together.

It’s based on one simple statement: “If this then that”. You give it a condition (”if this”) and then it does the job (”then that”) for you. The condition is called a trigger and the job is called an action.

The trigger and action are related to your web-based tools, herein called channels. Each channel has its own triggers and actions. The channels include major online services like Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs, Evernote, Pocket and many more. Put one channel’s trigger together with another channel’s action and you created a task, or “recipe”.

Once your signup is completed, we’ll “Create a Recipe” in their dashboard.

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In the next step we’ll click on the big blue “this” and choose a channel to trigger your task. For example, choose the Pocket icon and you can set a Trigger to fire every time an item is marked as read. So, we have created a “Trigger”.

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Now click on the big blue “that” and choose a channel to complete the action. In this case I have selected the Delicious icon and then logged in to Delicious. You can create an action that will either add a new public bookmark or private bookmark to your Delicious account, while I have selected “Add a private bookmark” for an example.

Complete the recipe by specifying the necessary details such as tags or notes. After filling up the details click “Create Action”. Add some description and now you have successfully created your recipe.

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IFTTT usually polls your data every 15 minutes, so there might be a slight delay in the action. When you turn a Recipe off then back on, it resets as if you had just created it.

You can either create a Personal Recipe or Shared Recipe. Every member is free to share his Recipe, thus we have seen the huge explosion of the popularity of the service because of this sharing. It’s time to create your own favorite Recipe – which one is your favorite? As of now you can glue many services together, but the recent news is that IFTTT has been forced to remove its Twitter triggers after recent changes to Twitter policies. Apparently, triggers that allow the syndication of tweets out to other services or locations will be removed, while actions that post new Tweets to Twitter will remain.

Other web automation services include Zapier and Tarpipe. Zapier is similar to IFTTT but it provides an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. They have their own premium plans and as of now it includes 102 channels (such as MySQL, Hubspot, Mailchimp, PayPal) that can benefit business professionals a lot.

Tarpipe is a more flexible approach when it comes to publishing data on the web. The workflow tab lets you decide what part of your data will be published where. Tarpipe is your solution when you want to customize the flow of your data more granularly (pause it whenever you want). They have their own premium plans and as of now you can create simple or complex workflow to update several applications in one fell swoop.

Having multiple online accounts means you get access to variety of digital content, but managing it all can be very tedious. These tools can greatly decrease your maintenance tasks by truly putting the web to work for you.

2.4 Understand and follow your followers scientifically

When I started blogging a year back only quality content mattered to me. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were out of sight and social media was unimportant for me. I continued writing in the hope that someone would get some benefit from my blog. But hello: who is this someone? What does he/she think about my blog? How do I know my content is relevant to them?

These were some of the questions that haunted my mind. I was aware of the popularity of social networks and Facebook fan pages, but I didn’t know how to implement them usefully. After days of research, I created my own Facebook page (filled in the information, tweaked some settings, written a welcome message) and was good to go. Sharing some good content didn’t create much traction, until I thought to post my own blog content to my Facebook page. I started to gain some followers (their feedback, comments and the big aspect of engagement) and realized that the Facebook page is a great way to get your content out to a larger audience and engage with new people.

The page insight information of a Facebook page is excellent and as you see below it gives detailed information on:

  1. Total likes: The number of unique people who like your page as of the last day of your selected date range. The data is based on either the distribution of gender and age, or by location (countries, towns/cities, language).
  2. Friends of Fans: The number of unique people who are friends with your fans as of the last day of your selected date range including your current fans.
  3. Talking about this: The number of unique people who have created a story about your page during your selected date range. A story is created when someone likes your page, comments or shares your page post, mentions your page, tags your page in a photo and many more.
  4. Total Reach: The number of unique people who have seen any content associated with your page (including any ads or sponsored stories pointing to your page) during your selected date range.

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These features were quite good enough, but later on a few thoughts cropped up in my mind. I need to understand my followers – I want to know which post they liked most, and when my followers get online most, so I can post at that time for maximum visibility. I need stats on how many times my content has been shared and re-tweeted and which content has gone more viral. Who are my most engaged followers? An added bonus would be to get analytical data of the impact of my posts in both Facebook and Twitter.

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Crowdbooster – is an application that provides Facebook and Twitter analytics. The results provided are formulated to show targeted recommendations, at-glance analytics insights about each message, follower and fan growth, deep audience insight and to manage multiple accounts. It calculates and scatter plots each message to determine the most effective ones for a user-defined time period and the entire data is presented in the form of interactive graph to visualize the messages. Sign-up to Crowdbooster is completed in three easy steps, as shown at right. I have found the following features useful:

  • I can schedule my post or tweets at the best time. It will be based on past performance and typical audience activity.
  • Stats of followers, tweets, mentions and retweets for Twitter as well as fans, comments, mentions and likes for your Facebook page.
  • I can switch data between both accounts easily, and creates charts and tables pivoting off user-defined dates.
  • It will discover the content that was liked best with the fans on Facebook and I can then share this post with the followers on Twitter.
  • Every week it will generate a message that mentions top fans of the week. This seems to be a good feature and I am going to see how it can be used best in future.
  • It will also identify a group of high influencers based on Klout score that they recommend me connecting with as well.
  • I can connect short URL service, bit.ly.
  • Recommendations on where to source relevant content.
  • Weekly updates through email in relation to comments, likes, fans and recommendations on when to schedule post to get maximum visibility.
  • The best part is that the bulk of the service is completely free. However, the premium account will give me chat and phone support.

The result tabulation takes time, since it will crawl my Facebook account. It has not given me any recommendations right now but I can see the graph of Fan Growth and my Top Fans, below. The data will be updated as and when Facebook stats get updated.

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There are some other services that I found, such as Social Flow and Sprout Social, but they are both premium and though their features are quite lucrative, it will be good for people who promote their personal brands or for businesses where social media engagement is a priority.

2.5 Monitor web search, services or products automatically

If I want to get any kind of product information – say, for example, about the Samsung Galaxy Note – I can do a typical web search to get news, price, reviews, hardware information, benchmarking studies and software upgrades. At certain times we are overwhelmed with product information, but at other times to satisfy our appetite we log in to our favorite gadget sites or check Google News for up-to-date intelligence. Sometimes we may end up running the same search every day or even several times per day.

Why not flip things around and let the results come to you automatically, at designated times? That’s the idea behind Google Alerts, a free Google service that delivers search results either to your inbox or RSS reader. A Google account is needed to configure and manage the alerts.

Google Alerts are useful to:

  • Monitor a developing news story to read breaking news.
  • Keep track on a competitor’s progress or your industry.
  • Get the latest news on your favorite celebrity or event.
  • Keep tabs on your favorite sports team or athlete.
  • Find out when people link to your website.
  • Discover new websites to generate ideas for writing topics.
  • Track news about software releases or version upgrades.
  • Ego surfing: Track your influence on the web.

To set up an alert, start by entering one or more search terms, just like you would for Google search. Then click the Result type field to specify what source Google should use: News, Blogs, Videos, Discussions, and Books or if you want all of the above let it remain as “Everything”. Next, decide how often you want to receive alerts: “as it happens”, once a day or once a week. The first option is sufficient if you’re following any breaking news on local news channels, but keep in mind it can lead to huge influx of messages to your email or RSS reader. Google also gives you the choice to select the amount of news from your source, and ideally “only the best results” seems to give me quality results, but it depends on the type of content that you want.

Step 1: Pre-plan your list of topics before setting up Google Alerts. If you have your own website/blog, the importance of creating quality content cannot be ignored, but often you may find that generating ideas is becoming difficult. Google Alerts can help you, as Google filters out the best content from the web and you can keep a track of the articles that are more viral or have gained a good reputation in social media. Therefore plan your Google alerts topics carefully.

Step 2: Navigate to google.com/alerts and enter your search query in all the relevant boxes. For example “Samsung Galaxy Note” [Result type: Everything, How Often: Once a day, How many: Only the best results] as shown below.

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Step 3: You can edit or delete any alert by clicking Manage Your Alerts.

Tips for Google Alerts:

Use single alert for related topics and separate queries using the OR operator. It takes time to set the best alert, so experiment with it.

Always enclose alert queries inside quotes and make sure your spelling is correct.

Learn some Google search queries. It will help you in the long run in prioritizing the content you receive from Google Alerts.

While Google Alerts is an excellent tool to get up-to-date content, we cannot ignore social media for monitoring relevant content. We have already considered an example to get product information (Samsung Galaxy Note), but leaving aside the details we are also interested in the reputation and feedback of the product in social media. It helps you to make a decision and we get to know the product through user reviews. However, getting the information from social media is not easy. It would be convenient if we could get the results aggregated from social media automatically. Since I want to get only product information, real time social search may not benefit me, but it depends on the content that you want to explore.

SocialMention – is a social media search platform that aggregates user-generated content from across the web into a single stream of information. Its biggest strength is that provides information intelligently on the basis of strength, sentiment, passion and reach. It also allows you to create alerts for your searches and an option to install a real time buzz widget on your website.

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Topsy – is a real-time search engine for the “social” web which includes just about any social media or social media based website. It tells you what topics are trending right now, and breaks it down by links, tweets, photos, videos and expert opinions. Basic searches include the option of instant search and advanced searches include the option to filter words, domains, Twitter users, specific results type, languages, relevance and time of publication. It also allows you to create alerts for your searches either by email or RSS.

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Social Buzz – is a real-time search engine for Facebook, Twitter and Google+. At its most basic level, Social Buzz lets you type in a search term and then scours Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ automatically. However, its advanced capabilities let you refine search by locale, popularity, language and type of media. It includes powerful operands to customize search, has the option to install plugins in browsers to search for content in social networks with one click and also has an Android app for mobile.

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Mentions.net – is a real-time search engine to monitor the “web”, “social media”, or just any social media based website for one’s brand, industry, company or even competitors. It scours the Internet for mentions of one’s name or of the keywords that they are following. It also learns over time what kind of mentions can be disregarded as junk or homonyms and which are applicable. Additionally, users can utilize the Mentions.net app with colleagues to assign tasks to them. You can program this app to react to mentions, including re-tweeting certain mentions or sharing the mentions on Facebook. This app is available for all platforms and even for Google Chrome. The free plan is limited to 1000 mentions/month.

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Check out the second part of this web automation guide: Web Automation, Part 2

Guide Published: October 2012

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