All your accounts in one place

We've all heard of Hootsuite and Klout. But have you tried out ThoughtBuzz yet? It's a lively looking app/website/service that provides analytics for all your social media accounts in one place. What's more, it lets you view and assess the number and quality of your fans and interact with them accordingly. Here is a step by step guide to using ThoughtBuzz.

1. Choose which plan to sign up for

You cannot access the dashboard until you sign up. They have two plans - basic and premium on the lines of LinkedIn. While basic gives you insights for two social media profiles, premium offers insights for five. Premium scores over basic on a few other parameters as well. However, I'd suggest going for the basic plan initially if you're planning to check out Thoughtbuzz and see if it suits your needs, which is what I did.

2. Link your profile to your social media accounts

In my case, I linked my Facebook travel blog page and my Twitter travel blog page. I started these pages recently for my travel blog Trail-stained Fingers, a repository of philosophical travelogues and experimental writings and photographs of Mumbai, India and the world (in that order). The social media platforms have no economic motive behind them; they are just a way for fans and travel lovers to stay updated about the content I post.

3. Add feeds from your social media accounts and schedule posts

You can choose which feeds to add - tweets, timelines, mentions, likes etc. This interface reminded me of Tweetdeck and it performs well on mobile phones as you can simply keep swiping to see various feed trails. Like Hootsuite, you can also schedule posts to be put up at a later time and date without having to do it manually. Not only is this a time saver for brands with exhaustive content, it is also a handy tool to target times when most of your fans tend to be online.

4. Import your fans and followers

This is a simple one-click process and then you have all your fans on one page. In addition, you can also see how many times they have engaged with your social media presence and in what way.

5. Engage with fans and assess engagements

You can see trends related to the area you operate in as well as notifications in the form of likes, comments, shares, favourites, retweets and replies from all your social media accounts in one place. What I liked most was the 'top fans' tab which puts the spotlight on those who are engaging most with your brand. This way, you can even reward your top fans if you have a budget for it.

The coolest feature of ThoughtBuzz perhaps is the graphs and analytics tab, where you can see detailed analyses of the reach of your content and the extent of engagement. You can also select a time period for which you want to see the statistics, though there is a limitation for basic plan users. Depicted pictorially so that you can grasp the general trend quickly, I found this feature really useful.

ThoughtBuzz claims to be Asia's leading mobile first, social media management and analytics platform. First or not, it certainly seems to deliver on its promises efficiently.

I am checking out Thoughtbuzz as a part of an activity at BlogAdda

Why I love continental breakfasts

I've just returned from a trip to Manali and while my friend went straight for the parathas and aloo puri on the breakfast menu at our resort, I was irresistibly enticed by the muesli, toast, omelettes, baked beans and hash browns. I've always loved a hearty continental breakfast and I think it all began with the childhood attraction to Kellogg's.

Kellogg's is to breakfast cereal what Maggi is to instant noodles. And while many preferred to Indianise their staple cornflakes, I loved it just like that, with milk and honey. Sometimes, I'd add some oats, chopped dates and almonds to spice things up. What reminded me of Kellogg's (apart from the wonderful muesli I had on my trip) is this new advert:

I was curious. What sort of recipes did they have up their sleeve? I went to their Facebook page to get a glimpse of the naashta options at Guptaji's place. I chanced upon coconut ladoos with their crunchiness enhanced by Kellogg's cornflakes, cornflakes with succulent flakes of sitaphal, a nutritious chivda made of cornflakes and chappati bits, delicious dessert balls made of cornflakes, cocoa powder and walnuts and a fresh, lovely salad with crispy cornflakes, vegetables and fruits. This was taking 'innovative' to a totally new level! I've seen a lot of brands employ the technique of inventing enticing recipes with their product as the main ingredient but I must say, I'm quite tempted to whip up a few of Guptaji's naashtas in my own kitchen. 

So, before you head over to check out some of these recipes for yourself, here's my favourite way to have Kellogg's cornflakes:

Rich cornflakes and oats melange 
1 handful oats
2 handfuls cornflakes
5 dates, chopped
5 almonds, chopped
1 tbsp honey
2 cups warm milk

1. Soak the rolled oats in one cup warm milk. 
2. While the oats are soaking, chop a few dates and almonds. 
3. In a bowl, pour the oats and another cup of warm milk. 
4. Sprinkle cornflakes, chopped dates and almonds and 1 tablespoon honey.
5. Mix lightly and serve. 

This bowl of porridge is tasty and filling and it's one of my favourite comfort foods for breakfast or teatime. The oats add bulk to keep you full and the cornflakes add lots of crunch to keep your palate interested. It's naturally sweet because of the honey and dates and thus makes for a slimming snack. 

So coming back to my love for continental breakfasts, it's obvious why I'm partial to a simple bowl of cereal. Here are my top five reasons:

1. It's quick.
2. It's healthy.
3. It's tasty.
4. It's adaptable. 
5. It's satisfying.

If you're creative, there's no end to what you can do with a bowl of cornflakes. And if you can't be bothered to concoct your own recipes, there's always #KellloggswaleGuptaji.

Making sense of life, together

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It's at those moments when we're feeling low in life that we realise what really matters - the ability to reach out to those with whom we share the mutual bond of love. For some it's immediate family and for others, it's their close circle of friends. For animal lovers, it's their dog or cat and nature lovers will often turn to their plants for solace. I could tell you about the way I tided over my teenage bouts of depression through long, soul-searching conversations with my mother. Or I could tell you about the intensely close bonds I formed on campus during post-graduation and the way we pulled each other up, when the other had lost the sheen of optimism. But I'll tell you something different - I'll tell you about the trees outside my house.

Throughout my growing years, I'd be incredibly fascinated by the trees outside our windows. Fortunately in those days, the foliage around the building was a lot denser than it is now. As a child, it stupefied me that while one could converse with humans and even animals via signs and gestures, one couldn't exchange a single word with a tree or a flower. And so after a fight or a trying day at school, I'd watch the asoka tree outside our bedroom window, wishing they'd talk to me. They'd rustle gently in the afternoon breeze, seemingly oblivious to my presence. But after a while, a strange sort of magic would occur. In spite of the breeze, the tree would cease to move. The leaves would be absolutely still; as though listening to me. Encouraged, I'd tell the tree about the friends who'd betrayed me at school; about loneliness, disappointment and disillusionment. These were heavy emotions for a child to bear and yet as we all know, childhood is not as hunky dory as it's painted out to be. Those of us who aren't sociable or popular sometimes have a hard time 'fitting in' and understanding the ways of the world. The tree would listen without judgement. And then I'd ask a question; usually a sort of reassurance. In my heart, I'd decide that if the tree began waving in the wind, it was a yes. It would also be a sign that it was my friend. And I kid you not, whether or not there was any breeze (often there wasn't), the dear asoka tree would begin waving and the breeze that wafted towards me was symbolic of the friendship we had forged.

At heart, I'm an optimist. But often, this outlook is shrouded by the daily discontent that I experience and sometimes, I forget that it exists altogether. I even wonder whether I'm actually a cynic. It is as those times that I turn to my best friends - the trees; both near and far. They have hearts far purer than people for they know no evil. I believe that these beings are perhaps more sentient than us and they have been around for many aeons longer than man. Trees are so different from us; as though carved from a different hand of creation altogether. But they embody many things that we are not - peace, oneness with nature and unconditional generosity.

I love the people who make my life worth living. But I was devastated when most of the asoka trees outside our bedroom were hewn to make space for more light. I shed tears every time I read about deforestation in favour of development. Nature is the ultimate embodiment of optimism for me and I hope I never have to face a world without her in it. 

My top 5 ways to de-stress

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Unless you're a Buddhist monk, you have been a victim of stress at some time or the other. Not only does it damage your health and decrease your productivity, it also hampers relationships. Because those around us tend to bear the repercussions of our stressed selves. Short of taking a holiday, what can you do in an hour or less, to beat the demon called stress?

1. Watch a cartoon

I don't mean the noisy, action-oriented ones. Pick a 1970-80 Japanese anime and lose yourself in the tragic yet happy stories of little kids in the Swiss Alps, Canada and London. Cartoons require less mind space than films and adult television shows. They are innocent and merry and they remind us of the selves we used to be.

2. Gaze at the world outside my window

The best way to beat stress is to be actively idle. That sounds like an oxymoron, right? But that's exactly what I do on quiet weekend afternoons. I perch by the window and sit still for a while, watching the sky, the cats and the pigeons and the strangers on the street outside. I watch the flow of the world and something about its lazy pace soothes the tempest within me.

3. Go for a walk

For me, movement is worship. Let your feet be your wheels or go for a random ride in the first bus or train you see. Of course in Mumbai, public transport is not all that relaxing. So your best bet is to go for a walk. I don't always prefer to walk in parks. I like to explore unknown streets and memorise the names of new shops and buildings. Behaving like a tourist in my own city is a unique stress-buster for me.

4. Write a story

An even better way to beat stress than watching or reading a story is to create one. Put pen to paper and watch your thoughts refocus like magic. Once the process of ideation has begun, you will forget all about the stress-causer. You don't have to be a great writer and it doesn't have to be the world's best story. In fact, if writing isn't your cup of tea, you can even narrate a story to your child.

5. Bake a muffin

Elaborate cooking is not relaxing for all. For many, it may cause more stress instead of driving it away! But if you pick a dish that is simple yet aromatic, you are bound to feel calmer and rejuvenated when it's ready to eat. My favourite is a whole-wheat muffin. The aroma that fills the house when this simple dessert is being baked is like a treat for the senses. I adore baked products but I think I might enjoy preparing some lemon grass soup as well.

I am going to try a new quick way to de-stress & #SlowDownZindagi using Parachute Advansed Aromatherapy Oil in association with BlogAdda. Will you? Watch the new advert here:

I don't understand modern-day friendships.

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I don't understand modern-day friendships. I don't understand tagging people, sharing private conversations and declaring your fondness for special ones to the world. I don't understand the attribution of degrees like best and better. I don't understand the constant shifting of people under the tag of 'best friend'. I don't understand competing and kiss emoticons and 100 different 'close friends'. I simply don't understand Facebook likes (and the failure to do so) and keeping in touch with 50 different 'friends' over 10 different platforms every single day. I don't understand the baring of hearts to so many different people at different points.

Small talk, parties, dances with veritable strangers ('good friends' a day after meeting them), inclusions, exclusions (of those not 'cool' enough), back-biting (in the name of humour), flattery laced with malice, frenemies, compartmentalised buddies - all of it is Greek to me.

All I understand is this: loving a few and loving them truly; enjoying their company irrespective of Facebook status updates and Foursquare check-ins and boastful selfies on Twitter. I understand trivial conversations and philosophical arguments. I understand baring my heart to a special person or two. I understand cherishing the great moments and putting them up on the walls of my memory (not virtual walls). I understand the occasional post when you're truly overwhelmed; its specialness ensconced in its rarity. I understand friendship like I understand nature - silent and deep, with an occasional ripple.

Yes, I have only a few good friends and perhaps, that's my karma. Perhaps my folly lies in judging those with a 1000 invitees to their wedding. Perhaps, they have a lot more colour and fervour in their lives. But I'll never be them. They'll never be me. And never the twain shall meet.

A new life

When I was a kid, my favourite game was one I'd devised; and it was called 'New life'. My sister and I - we'd set a time for a 'secret meeting' in the veranda with snacks and drinks on the agenda. At the appointed time, we'd sit down with an ornate diary (for inspiration) and pencil and proceed to plan our 'new life'. We'd list the things we'd change; the habits we'd introduce and we'd lose ourselves in imagining this life of perfection. Solving 'mysteries' was almost always a major part of this new life. Why such an obsession with newness, you might ask. I don't really know. I think we used it as a way of brightening our moods and getting ourselves out of a 'funk'. Little did I know that I'd be playing this game for real, later on in life.

If I had to list the times when I embarked on a 'new life', so to speak, they' be the following:
1. When I left school and joined college
2. When I left home for my post-graduation
3. When I joined the workforce

So that's basically the life transitions that everyone goes through. The first one was particularly difficult for me because I was a diffident, introverted child who'd studied in a school with a dismal environment. Transiting to the dazzling, super-talented and uber cool world of St Xavier's was quite a shock and I did not cope as well as I should have done. I shudder to think of what my life would have been if I'd never managed to shake off that air of not 'being good enough'. But that's the thing about life - it ensures that the status quo never remains constant. This is both a good and a bad thing - because neither the good times nor the bad will go on forever. I do believe in some constants though - these are the pillars that stay with you through thick and thin. And a life well lived is a life with at least one solid pillar, in the form of a person, passion or initiative. So when I joined a new college to pursue my graduation in mass media, I decided that this time, I'd truly begin a 'new life' and I did.

It's simple really - all you have to do is imagine who you want to be, and then start acting like that person immediately. 

I wanted to be more confident, sociable and pro-active and there wasn't a single day at college when I wasn't doing something to strengthen one or more of these attributes. It's only the beginning that's difficult - eventually, the person you want to be, becomes an indelible part of you. Of course, you may need to prod yourself now and then to remember all that you're capable of, but that's an effort you have to be willing to make. Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk even wrote a novel titled 'The New Life'. The concept has obviously found favour in philosophy and I'm not surprised - there is something extremely attractive about wiping the slate clean. But in my dictionary, starting anew is not about letting go of everything you've been until this point. It's about taking control of yourself and directing yourself in the direction you want.

For that matter, even brands need to #startanewlife now and then. Sometimes, it's an essential aftermath of a crisis; at other times it's merely the need to shake things up and get rid of stagnancy. Here is how did it:

Do you wish to #startanewlife? Tell me how you plan to do so as a comment below.

Optimism: The only way to face tomorrow

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There is in the cheer of birds
And the gleam of well-woven words
An unveiled ode to optimism.

I believe, we're all living two parallel realities at any given time - our limited version and the world's unlimited one. Even as we suffer setbacks and disappointments; sometimes as minor as a scuffle in the train; other times as major as a dismissal from a job; the world continues to generate breathtakingly lovely sunsets, rivers continue to flow their course; tiger cubs continue to grow to regal, fearsome adulthood and nature continues its unceasing, relentless creation of magic and beauty. Even as some people commit heinous crimes, others continue to strive to alleviate poverty and deforestation. The good and the bad - they run on parallel axes and both are ceaseless. Our tiny destinies and the universe's infinite one - they unfold; both at the same time. What does it all mean? It's a question that has bothered every human being at some time or the other; some more often than others. And the answer I have found acceptable is this - you can either choose to live as though your finite reality were the only one; allowing mistakes and failures to overwhelm you over and over; or you can choose to be aware of the greater reality at all times; drawing strength from it to find beauty and goodness even in the midst of the most impenetrable darkness. Victory is in the latter choice because frankly, optimism is the only way you can face tomorrow and be happy about it.

It takes magnanimity and humility to confess that the life you're living may not be all-important; that the misfortunes that befall you aren't exactly having a monumental impact on the planet. But once you attain this mindset, you realise that there is always something to be happy about; something to be grateful for; even if it's just the air you breathe or the sunshine warming your wintry toes. You start deriving positivity from people and phenomena that aren't directly connected to you - such as a wayward flower or a stranger child. Your spectrum of happiness widens to encompass so much more than your immediate surroundings and events; and eventually if it widens to encompass the whole wide world, don't you think your cup of joy would overflow for all eternity? This is my definition of optimism - the unwavering capacity to find joy in that which doesn't directly affect you; the ability to derive pleasure from undiluted expression of the spirit; be it a birdsong, a work of art or a joke that someone cracks. Then, even if you had not a cent to your name or a person to call your own, you'd still be happy. Because there is so much in this world that's good and beautiful and pure. We are all immeasurably wealthy for we can smile; every single moment that we please. We can feast our eyes on colourful flowers and innocent babies; play invigorating games; run, dance, skip and jump as often as we please! And even if our abilities are impaired such that we cannot do all of this, there is still so much that we can enjoy; so much we can find pleasure in! Optimism is in fact the only logical way to be; any other attitude is but woefully short-sighted and blinded.

It would be hard to pinpoint one favourite story of optimism; because everyday, I come across marvellous tales of superhuman courage, benevolence and creativity. So I'll simply tell you the most recent one that made an impact on me - this is about a girl in Orissa who was born to poor parents with no hands. Suryakanti's parents were dismayed at the prospect of a fresh financial burden but as time progressed, the young girl displayed a passionate thirst for knowledge. Unable to send her to school, her mother began teaching her at home. Eventually, our determined young woman learnt to write expertly with her toes and she went on to become a school teacher. Today, she is employed with a primary school as a teacher and is responsible for taking care of her whole family consisting of her ageing parents and teenaged brother. Suryakanti could have abused her fate for denying her what almost everyone had - the use of her hands. She could have borne grudges against her older siblings for saddling her with the duty of looking after her parents and sibling. Instead, she surmounted all odds to overcome her disabilities and took on the onus of taking her care of her family selflessly. If this is not optimism, I don't know what is. I am certain that despite everything, Suryakanti faces every day with a smile and the hope that it will turn out well. My life is not even half as difficult as hers. Is yours? Then, let us take a cue from her and discard the weighty rags of needless negativity and pessimism. Let's #lookup at the sky and find something to be glad about, in it's limitless expanse.