At KPFdigital, we love to make websites that work — I mean, websites that actually do some work for you.
One important job a website can do for you is to save time. Save time by making it easy to log in and update. Save time by minimizing effort. And save time by automating some important manual work or tasks.
I’d like to share with you now, the story of a website I recently made that really does some work for its owner (and saves him lots of time!)
The Circus Fruits Weekly Specials
Circus Fruits is a fairly large open-air fresh fruits and vegetables market here in Brooklyn, NY. (They’re actually open 24/7/365!)
One of the most important things Circus Fruits does each week, on Wednesday mornings, is to publish their new weekly specials flyer. Customers eagerly look forward to seeing the new specials each week, before they come to the store to shop.
The weekly specials flyer itself is designed each week by their print graphics guy, and gets published in the neighborhood newspaper every Wednesday morning.
The specials graphic also gets emailed to Circus Fruits, and they then post the flyer on their website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile. They also send it out as a newsletter to their email list on Mailchimp.
As a result, their customers can view the weekly specials every Wednesday morning, on any of the above different channels.
But that’s 4 different logins and updates for Circus Fruits to make each week; the website, Facebook, Twitter, and the mailing list.
Not Enough Time
The problem is that Circus Fruits’ owner Tony Loverde is busy managing the store, staff, and customers, and has little time to update the website, let alone make posts to Facebook and Twitter, and to send out a mailing list message.
To solve the not-enough-time problem for Tony, I set up a nifty system which allows him to do all of the above — in only 15 seconds. Only 15 seconds!
Better yet: He can do it in 15 seconds… from his cell phone… and without logging in to a single website!
The 15 Second Solution
I set it up so that Tony simply needs to forward the email/graphic he receives from his print guy each week, to a dedicated Gmail address we set up. He just has to change the subject line of the email* and then hit send.
That’s it. Takes him about 15 seconds to do.
*The subject line of the forwarded email will become the title of the automated posts — e.g. Weekly Specials: Aug 23 to Aug 29.
What happens next is where the real magic takes place.
From that Gmail inbox, a string of automated events gets triggered, which results in the weekly specials being posted to the Circus Fruits website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and a mailing list message sent out to all subscribers.
Here’s how we make that all happen.
Step 1: The Website
The Circus Fruits website has a Weekly Specials page where each week’s flyer is displayed. This page is effectively a blog, but it displays only one blog post at a time; the current weekly specials post.
Each Weekly Special post is composed of only a title (e.g. Weekly Specials: Aug 23 to Aug 29), and the flyer graphic itself.
The big trick, which actually triggers the whole publishing/posting cascade, is to convert the email and graphic Tony forwards from his phone, into a published post on the website.
For this step we use Postie, a WordPress plugin, which allows us to publish a post on the website simply by sending an email. In this case, that’s the email which Tony forwards to the Gmail address we set up.
Postie literally logs into that Gmail account every 30 minutes, and checks to see if there are any new emails from Tony. On Wednesday mornings, Postie sees the email Tony has forwarded there, retrieves it, and publishes it onto the website’s Weekly Specials page.
Postie is configured to grab the email’s subject line, and use it for the title of the post. Postie also grabs the attached image, and inserts it into the blog post body. (Postie will ignore any other text that may be in the body of the email.)
Beautiful! The weekly specials flyer has now been posted onto the website, simply by forwarding an email.
Step 2: Facebook, Twitter and Mailing List
Now that the weekly specials flyer has been published on the website, we need to share it to our social networks, and send it out to our mailing list.
For this, we use another great WordPress plugin, the Social Networks Auto Poster, or SNAP.
SNAP can be configured and authorized to post to Circus Fruits’ Facebook page, Twitter profile, and Mailchimp accounts.
Each time a new Weekly Specials gets published to the website by Postie, SNAP will automatically send that post out to our social networks and mailing list.
The specific text, formatting, and layout for each of the social network shares and mailing list message are configured right in SNAP. So each of these additional shares looks just like we want it to when it gets published to those networks.
We use the post title, and the weekly specials graphic, and also place a text link back to the Weekly Specials page of the website. For the email message, I add a bit more info; store address, telephone, etc.
Lastly, each week Postie emails me a confirmation that it has accessed the Gmail account and successfully posted the flyer to the website. And since I’m on the email list, I can see that the mailing list message has gone out. If there any errors or problems with SNAP, it will email me about the error. This all helps me oversee the whole process with almost no effort at all.
It’s All Working
It’s been about 9 months since we set this all into action.
So how’s it working?
In the 90 day stats chart below, you can see clear and consistent spikes of website traffic every Wednesday.
Customers are clearly clicking through to the Circus Fruits website every Wednesday on a regular basis.
All of this takes a only tiny blip of time and effort for owner Tony Loverde to achieve each week. (And the sad reality is, that if it wasn’t this easy to do, he probably wouldn’t do it!)
There’s no doubt that the local newspaper ad, website post, Facebook, Twitter, and mailing list messages are doing their job; getting the weekly specials out to the customers of Circus Fruits, and those customers into the Circus Fruits store.
Now THAT’S a website that really does some work!
PS: The Circus Fruits website also features another nifty bit of technological problem solving. You can read about that here.