The art of delegation is one of the key skills any entrepreneur must master.Richard Branson
For better or for worse, social media have fundamentally altered the mass media equation. There are business models that do not require mastery of social media, but there are fewer of them every year. More and more, all media is social, and entrepreneurs who don’t get it are conspicuous by their absence from the conversation.
So if you are reading this, the odds are overwhelming that you have a social media presence… and if you are successful, then the odds are just as overwhelming that your social media presence is overwhelming you!
As Sir Richard was kind enough to point out at the top of the page, the answer to this problem is delegation: get somebody else to do your social-media grunt work for you. Social media delegation can take a lot of forms, including:
- A trusted assistant carries your phone around, stands at your elbow, and posts while you dictate.
- An authorized automation application like SocialPilot queues your posts and releases them on schedule.
- A social media marketing firm in another city or a VA on another continent runs social media campaigns in your accounts with little direct participation from you.
- Third-party automation running on your desktop (or on a cloud server with an Estonian IP address) acts on your behalf in your social media accounts.
The first two of these are easy: your assistant’s proximity to you and the trusted automation connection guarantee that your agents can wear your face on social media with little trouble.
The last two scenarios can pose some problems. Social media platform Terms of Service (TOS) are written to discourage abuse, and the policies that enforce TOS make little effort to distinguish between the black-hat spammer and the grey-hat delegator.
From the entrepreneur-customer’s perspective, frequent consecutive logins from the home office in Arizona, the agency office in Mumbai, and the automation server in Estonia can raise red flags at the social media platform that result in account logouts, restrictions, and suspensions. This is bad for business.
From the agency’s perspective, managing social media accounts for multiple clients poses its own set of problems. Many agencies (Tribify is an example) run automation that depends on an authentication token generated by a manual login using the customer’s credentials. When the agency logs out of one client’s account and into another, this authentication token can be invalidated, forcing another round of manual logins.
Solving the first problem requires a proxy server: all traffic for a given social media account runs through a designated server in a stable location, eliminating the geo-hopping red flag that often precedes an account suspension. The second problem applies to the customer as well as the agency: it’s easy to hit the Logout button, but there can be consequences!
Put all of this together, and the entrepreneur/agency team needs a proxy solution that…
- Allows the customer seamless access to his own social media accounts via proxy service.
- Allows automation to access the same social media accounts via the same proxy service.
- Allows the agency to switch efficiently between different customer accounts on the same social media platform—often running through different proxy servers—without generating a logout event that will require an automation manual reset.
Tribify runs an extensive network of automation servers and also has occasion to access customer social media accounts directly. Solving this trio of problems in a coordinated way took a little doing, but our solution is simple, effective, inexpensive, and scalable. There are doubtless other approaches that might work, but this is where we landed.
We use ProxyMesh.
There are plenty of effective proxy services out there. We like ProxyMesh because:
- The price is reasonable.
- Any significant account provides access to several proxy servers. If you can find a proxy connection near where your end customer is physically located, that person doesn’t need a proxy connection at all!
- ProxyMesh supports password authentication. This is necessary because we use PhantomBuster as our automation provider and their IP addresses change frequently, so IP authentication into our proxy service is impractical.
- We can create a subaccount for every user, which allows us to distribute proxy passwords securely.
- We can track bandwidth and set usage limits on each subaccount, so we if somebody tries to watch Netflix over our proxy connection, we can shut them down before it gets too expensive.
ProxyMesh has great documentation and the service is simple to set up. Just remember this key guideline: create a subaccount for every geographic user. Meaning, if the entrepreneur, his Filipina VA, and Tribify all need access to his social media accounts, we would create three distinct ProxyMesh subaccounts and distribute one to each.
Google Chrome & LinkedIn
This article assumes that everybody is using Chrome to access the end user’s social networks. Our solution depends on Chrome extensions, so if you absolutely MUST use Firefox, the principles presented here are sound and there are probably equivalent Firefox extensions, but otherwise you’re on your own.
We’re also going to focus on the LinkedIn use case, because this is the social network where all of this becomes a problem for us. Again, the principles will apply to any social network, but the specifics are up to you.
In any case, whether we are operating as the end customer or the agency serving multiple customers, we’re trying to solve two problems in our local browser:
- Choose the correct proxy server for a given customer.
- Switch between accounts on a given social media platform without generating a logout event.
Proxy SwitchyOmega Chrome Extension
The name may not inspire confidence, but this Chrome browser extension is our go-to tool for seamlessly choosing the correct proxy servers for a given user. Find it here in the Chrome Web Store.
The power of this tool lies in its ability to define two different kinds of profile:
- A Proxy Profile represents one of the proxy servers set up at ProxyMesh, authenticated by the appropriate ProxyMesh subaccount. You’ll want one of these for each proxy server you might access.
- A Switch Profile is a set of rules, based on matching with the target URL and a few other things, that tell the browser which proxy server to use (if any) on a given resource load.
Note that I said resource load, not page load. Many pages take their data from multiple sources, and SwitchyOmega has the ability to proxy ONLY the parts of a page that actually need it, which can save you a bundle in proxy fees!
Here’s an example from our setup.
These are our Proxy Profiles. There is one for each available proxy server, authenticated with the subaccount of the browser user (that’s me).
The Default profile is a Switch Profile, which chooses one of the Proxy Profiles when certain conditions pertain. We’ve configured it with a single rule covering LinkedIn because that is our social platform of interest, but you could configure similar ones for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
This profile is configured as the Startup Profile, which means it is the one selected when the browser starts up. We’ve chosen a Proxy Profile corresponding to my personal LinkedIn accounts, since that’s where I am most likely to go when I start a browser.
Now say I’d like to log into a client’s LinkedIn account. We have another Switch Profile set up for this client. He’s located in the Midwest, so we’ve configured him with an Illinois proxy, but I don’t need to remember that when I am selecting an profile. I just need to know which customer I want to operate as.
All of these SwitchyOmega profiles can be exported and imported. So in practice, all a new user needs to do is…
- Install Switchy Omega.
- Import our profiles.
- Log into the proxy profiles using their own ProxyMesh subaccount.
After that, all I have to do is reopen my browser and choose the correct proxy profile, and I can log into a customer’s social media account with absolutely no fear of triggering an abuse flag on their account!
When I configure PhantomBuster to perform some automation in a LinkedIn account, the authentication token from my latest LinkedIn login is captured from a browser cookie by PhantomBuster’s browser extension.
This token will remain valid—and PhantomBuster will be able to act as me—until one of two things happens:
- LinkedIn decides I’m acting like a robot and logs me out, thus invalidating my token.
- I log myself out, which also invalidates my token.
Normally I wouldn’t log out of LinkedIn… unless I needed to do so in order to log into somebody else’s account.
One way around this is to use Incognito windows whenever you access another account, but that can create problems using connected services, not least with the password manager you’ll need to help you remember all those logins. So there should be a better solution.
Our answer is to prevent our local browser from saving any LinkedIn authentication tokens. That way, when you close your browser, any token generated by your login is destroyed locally without triggering any kind of logout event on the LinkedIn side. So your authentication token isn’t invalidated, just lost to your local browser!
PhantomBuster’s copy of it remains valid, and you can generate a new token for your local browser by simply logging in again… which is easy, since because you aren’t in an Incognito window you have access to all of your browser extensions, including your password manager!
To configure this, visit your Chrome cookie settings at
chrome://settings/cookies and add an appropriate entry in the section entitled Always clear cookies when windows are closed. We’ve done the same thing for both PhantomBuster and LinkedIn, since we often swap back and forth between accounts for each one.
Once all this is in place, you can switch from one customer’s social media accounts to another customer’s in just three steps:
- Close & reopen chrome.
- Choose the correct SwitchyOmega switch profile.
- Use your password manager to open the necessary social media accounts.
When you do it this way, two important things are guaranteed:
- All social media platform access will come from the correct proxy server… the SAME proxy used by your automation.
- All of the previous customer’s authentication tokens will remain valid, so any associated automation will continue to function.