Cool Apps: Chatbots

In the last year, chatbots have exploded. A chatbot, short for chat robot, uses artificial intelligence to imitate a conversation with people. One place they have exploded is the Facebook Messenger app, which is a free instant messaging platform.

To get Facebook Messenger, you can download the app on your smartphone or go to https://www.messenger.com on your PC or Mac in any browser.

In Messenger, a chatbot looks just like a person. All you need to do to connect to a chatbot is to go to the People section and enter the name of the bot you want to connect with. Typically, there will be a Get Started button. The bot may ask you some setup questions such as your time zone, city, or topic preferences.

Bots can do many things. There are bots to deliver the news daily (Chat Newswire), bots that entertain and play games, bots that help you find recipes and restaurants, bots that improve your productivity, bots that help kids with their homework (Christopher Bot), and even a bot that connects with QuickBooks (Freelanzr).

Each bot works a little differently. In general, you will receive a welcome message, then the conversation will begin. The bot will prompt you to ask a question, enter a phrase or a word, or select from a group of horizontal button choices.

Bots are useful for your daily routine. You can get daily news, weather, reminders, and tips. If you are stuck standing in line somewhere, riding public transportation, in an Uber or taxi, or experiencing other downtime, you can have several conversations with your bots to pass the time.

If you don’t know of any bots or wonder about a bot that does a specific thing, there are lots of bot directories available. To get you started, here is one bot list: https://botlist.co/.

The cool part is you can design your own bot for your business which can be fun for customers. The Facebook Messenger platform is open, and you can find out more about how to create a bot here: https://messengerplatform.fb.com/.

There are more platforms for chatbots besides Facebook Messenger, including Twitter, Android, Slack, and Amazon Echo, to name a few that you can explore if you don’t care for Messenger or Facebook.

It’s still early for bots. The effectiveness of the bots depends on how well they are designed as well as how much time the user spends learning how to work with the bot. Try connecting with a couple of bots to see if they will be productive for you. If nothing else, your kids will love the game bots while they are standing in line with you.

Cool Apps: Hootsuite

Social media is an awesome marketing tool, but it can also be a huge time drain. If you post regularly, or want to post regularly, and use multiple social media platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+, then an app like Hootsuite can save you a tremendous amount of time.

Hootsuite allows you to schedule social media updates or posts across multiple platforms. If you are posting in real time, logging on several times a day, then Hootsuite can save you a lot of time. You can enter tweets, posts, or updates ahead of time and tell Hootsuite when to post them. You can also enter one post to be posted on multiple platforms all at once.

All you need to do is write your posts ahead of time. Once you have a week’s worth, you can log in to Hootsuite, enter them, and let Hootsuite know when and where to post them.    

One of the biggest benefits of Hootsuite is that it allows you to become far more consistent with social media, rather than posting when you feel like it. You can decide ahead of time if you want to post once a day, three times a day, or ten times a day. Then, you can write your posts all at once. If you want to post three times a day, then you’ll need to write 15 posts a week. Plan to write them on Friday morning, and schedule them for the coming week. You’ll be all set with your social media until next Friday.

Writing a post and using it on multiple platforms can also save time. There is little need to create separate posts for each platform, and with Hootsuite, you can enter your post and have it update your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ account all at the same time. In addition to those four, Hootsuite integrates with WordPress, YouTube, and Instagram.

Even if you still log into your social media platforms every day to increase your interactivity and engagement, you can still automate your posts to save time. Hootsuite is free for customers who have three or fewer social media platforms connected. Look for it at Hootsuite.com.

Cool Apps: Google Forms

google-formsDo you ever need to collect information from your customers? There are many ways to do it: a form in Microsoft Word®, a fillable PDF, and a Web form are all very common. Less common but slicker than the rest is the option of using Google Forms.

You’ll need a Google ID, and most people use their gmail account for this. Go to Google Drive from your menu, or you can access it from this URL: https://drive.google.com.

In Google Forms, you can have customers complete a line or paragraph of text, select from multiple choice, check a box, select from a dropdown, rate an item on a linear scale, or enter a date or time. To design the form, decide what questions you want to ask your customers.

Start creating your new form by clicking the button labeled New in the top left corner of the screen and select More, then Google Forms.

Title the form by typing over Untitled Form. Your first question is already formatted for you. Multiple choice is selected, and you can change the question type by clicking the arrow on the right side of the Multiple Choice option. Over on the left, you can type your first question or label. Let’s say you need to know their name, so you would enter “Name” in the field and change the question type to Short Answer.

To add a field, click the plus sign on the vertical menu to the right of the form. Repeat this until you have all your form fields entered. If you need to add instructions, choose the TT option on the vertical menu just below the plus sign. You can also add images, video, and sections to your form using this menu.

Clicking the Send button allows you to email the form, get a link (click the chain icon), or add it to a web page (click the <>).

There are dozens of options and settings for your form. You can change colors (palette icon at top right), preview your form (eye at top right), or modify your settings (gear icon). The three vertical dots at the top right provide more functions. If you need a team member to access the responses or edit the form, you can Add Collaborator from this menu. You can even turn the form into a quiz.  

Once people start submitting their answers, you can review them by clicking the Responses tab at the top of the form.  

Google Forms are versatile, professional-looking, and best of all, free. Give them a try next time you need to collect information from your clients.

Cool Tech Tools: Cloud Storage

cloudsHave you ever wished you didn’t have to buy yet another server? Do you have to delete old files on your hard drive to make room for new ones? If disk space is an issue in your company, the good news is there may be a better and cheaper way: cloud storage.

You might think cloud storage is only for large companies, but it’s surprisingly easy to use no matter whether you have a full technology department or you simply call your neighbor when your PC starts doing something strange.

One such vendor is Amazon with their S3 product in their AWS or Amazon Web Services division. The three S’s stand for Simple Storage Service. It works just like your PC’s hard drive. Think of a filing cabinet where only you have the key to all your business’s private files. Instead of folders (or file drawers), Amazon calls them buckets, and instead of files (or Pendaflex®), Amazon calls them objects. Once you set up your account, you can create buckets and upload your files as objects in the cloud.

If you have large files like video files, old records you need to keep for tax purposes but don’t access any more, or just a need for more disk space, this service is perfect. Amazon charges three cents per GB monthly, which is much cheaper than an additional server, website hosting rates, or even external disk drives.

There are many options beyond basic storage, including who can access your files. You can also use it to store data used in programming and there are developer guides for companies that have that need. The S3 product is not designed to be used to share files like a DropBox-type product although you can make certain files publicly accessible. The S3 is also much cheaper than file-sharing products as well.

You can check out the S3 product here: https://aws.amazon.com/s3/

Get smart about storage options and you’ll save a lot of money down the road.

Cool Tech Tools: Boost Team Collaboration with Slack

slackSlack is a relatively new collaboration tool that is designed to cut down on emails among team members and boost productivity. It provides messaging by topic or channel so that threads of communication can be streamlined and accessed easily.

Slack is a searchable messaging portal that allows document sharing from a team member’s computer or integrated apps such as Google Drive, DropBox and more. Slack has 300,000 paid accounts and 1.1 million active users per day. There is a free option.

Once all your team members are in Slack, they can create channels and have conversations within the channels. Channels can be organized in any way you want, such as by:

  • Departments
  • Projects
  • Clients
  • Locations
  • Trips
  • Office talk

Channels can be made public within your team or private.

You can also direct-message anyone else in the group so two or more team members can have a private talk. Conversations can be followed on any device – computer, tablet, and phone.

You can add documents to the message stream so team members can review and make comments. These documents can come from your local computer or one of the 900 integrated apps. And the messages are searchable to boost efficiency.

If you’re looking for a tool that reduces the number of emails across team members, try out Slack at slack.com.

Cool Social Media Apps: Periscope

periscopePeriscope is one of social media’s newest darlings. It enables cell phone users (iPhone and Android) to capture and steam live video from their phone. Periscope was acquired by Twitter in February 2015, and it launched in March. As of August 12, 2015, Periscope announced they had 10 million users watching 40 years of video per day. Here are a couple of tips to get you started using Periscope:

Getting Started

If you don’t already have a Twitter account, do that first. Periscope uses your Twitter info to log you in. Start following people and they will follow you back.

When someone you follow is broadcasting live, your phone will whistle and you can join in the broadcast. Once you do, tap the screen to give the broadcaster hearts (likes), which will display and float up the right side of the screen. You can make comments or ask questions during the broadcast as well; it’s designed to be very interactive.

Your First Broadcast

You can broadcast anything:

  • A new product or service you’re offering
  • Events you’re attending
  • Interviews with people
  • A great view at a party
  • News like a police, fire, or weather event
  • A speech you want to give

Make sure you’re on long enough for people to join in, unless you’ve invited them ahead of time.   You can also keep your videos private if you want to.

To start the broadcast, use the third icon on the bottom which looks like a lens with a small red part. Title your broadcast, then hit the start button and you’re live. Double-click the screen to toggle the screen toward you and away from you. For long broadcasts, consider getting a table tripod or a GorillaPod tripod (by Joby®) with a cell phone holder so your picture will be steadier than handheld.  

Broadcasts are listed for 24 hours and then they drop off. If you want to save your broadcasts to your camera/video roll, be sure to go into Settings under your profile and turn on Autosave Broadcasts. You can also send your video to the cloud using Katch.me.

Have fun with Periscope; it is a great way to get the word out about your business.

Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly?

iphoneYou may have heard that Google has rolled out a new search algorithm that ranks mobile-friendly websites higher than sites that are not mobile-friendly.   You don’t need to worry too much about this unless you rely on website leads for new clients to build your business.

If you do rely on website leads for new business and your leads have dropped off over the summer, the reason could be that your site is not mobile-friendly and has been ranked lower because of it. Here are three steps you can go through to determine the status of your site.

Take a Free Mobile-Friendly Test

Go to this link and enter your domain name.

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

It takes about a minute or two to find out whether your site is mobile-ready.

If your site passes, you’re done! You don’t need to do anything. If it doesn’t, then go to step 2.

Contact Your Webmaster

Ask your webmaster for an estimate to get your site mobile-ready.

Take Action

Google started making changes to the search algorithm the week of April 20, 2015 has now implemented it worldwide. To benefit from mobile traffic and a higher search ranking, make plans to get your site mobile-friendly sooner rather than later.  

Cool Tech Tools: Automate Your To-Do List

checklistKeeping a to-do list is a great way to be productive, avoid having things fall through the crack, and unclutter your brain. How you maintain your to-do list varies: some people use pen and paper because they love the feeling of crossing tasks off, others use Excel or Google documents. Still others might try Evernote.

If all of those still have you feeling unorganized, then you’re in luck. There’s a whole new genre of apps to automate your to-do list. Here is a list of things to consider:

  1. Would it be great to access your to-do list from any device?
  2. Do you need subtasks?
  3. Would you like to set priorities and due dates?
  4. Do you want notifications or reminders?
  5. Do you want to share tasks with others?
  6. Do you have repeating tasks that need to be handled differently?
  7. Do you need to be able to make comments or notes for each task?
  8. Would it be nice to forward an email to your to-do list and just have it logged?
  9. Do you want to be able to print your to-do list?
  10. Do you want to be able to set hash tags, filters, and labels for each task?

Once you’ve thought about your requirements, now you can look for an app that meets it. Here are two to get you started:

  • ToDoist.com
  • Wunderlist.com

If those don’t work out, Google “to-do list apps” and you’ll have a bevy of selections to choose from. These to-do lists will work for not only business projects but also major life projects like weddings, vacations, and more.

Try these new to-do list apps and let us know what you think.

Cool Apps: Zapier

zapier-logoDo you need to get data from one app to another? If so, it’s time to check out Zapier.

You might be moving data manually from, let’s say, your shopping cart to your CRM or from Evernote to Google Docs, or something like that. Zapier allows you to automate the process with what they call a Zap.

In the Zapier app, click Make a Zap, and you’ll see two dropdown menus: Trigger app and Action app. Your trigger app is the one where the data is stored and your action app is the one where you want the data to be moved to.

Continuing the shopping cart example above, you would choose your shopping cart app as the trigger app. Zapier support BigCommerce, Ontraport, Infusionsoft, Shopify, Magento, and more. It will then ask you for details about the transaction and the type of data you want to port over. Your action app will be your CRM, and Zapier supports dozens of them. It will ask you for your user ID and password for each application and some more specifics about the type of data you want to transfer.

You can run your zap one time or every fifteen minutes, depending on the nature of your data transfer. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • From Evernote to Google Calendar, add an event.
  • From your blog to Facebook, post your latest blog entry.
  • Create QuickBooks Online sales receipt from PayPal
  • Create QBO customer from Salesforce (or other CRM)
  • Create Constant Contact contact from QBO customer
  • And several thousand more combinations!

The admin time you will save will amaze you. Data entry and moving data around is truly becoming a thing of the past. You can go to Zapier.com and create a free trial. There is a charge for a larger number of zaps.

And, as always, if you’d like our help, please reach out.

Cool Tech Tools: When There’s No Internet, Use Your Personal Hotspot

iphone-macHave you ever been in a situation where there’s no internet and you needed it? Or perhaps you’re at a hotel and don’t want to pay the extra $15 per day for wireless internet. If so, you’re not alone, and luckily, there’s a gadget for just about everything. This time, it’s a gadget you probably already have: all you need to do is whip out your cell phone.

iPhone

Your cell phone can act as your wireless modem. Plug the iPhone into your PC using your USB connection. Go to Settings on your iPhone and one of your settings will be labeled Personal Hotspot. Tap it and toggle it to “on.” Set a password.

On your PC, view your wireless internet connections, and the name you’ve given your phone will show up. Click to connect and enter the password you set on your phone.

Voila, internet!

Android

If you have an Android, tap More… and select Wireless and Networks, then Tethering and Portable Hotspot. Check Portable Wi-Fi hotspot. Tap Portable Wi-Fi hotspot settings and you can edit the Wi-Fi network name, and choose a password.

On your PC, view your wireless internet connections, and the name you’ve given the Wi-Fi network will show up. Click to connect and enter the password you set on your phone.

Fees

Ask your cell phone network provider if this hotspot feature is included in your package or is an extra charge. You may also have to call then to enable this feature.

Once you’ve used this once, you’ll be hooked. You now have a new internet access alternative anywhere you have cell phone coverage.