Every now and then I’m talking with someone and they mention that they sort of miss the old days of marketing. They miss being able to know that their marketing was running through a small number of channels or media.
They miss being able to manage all of their marketing programs through just a handful of places and people: the newspaper, the TV, the radio, and maybe one or two other things.
The Web exploded that simplicity and exchanged it for a myriad of methods and marketing opportunities. The comparative low cost and the ability to measure is great. But the complexity of managing everything is immense.
It’s only getting worse. Social media, the latest of the round of Internet-driven communication innovations, is exceptionally fragmented. Almost down to the individual person. There are platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. There are content-driven apps like Flickr or Instagram or YouTube or Vimeo. There are things that are partway between platform and app, like Twitter or Tumblr.
Distributing messages to all the relevant locations can often take as much time as crafting the message to begin with. Which is why I was so excited to play with a new beta tool called If This Then That (IFTTT, for short).
IFTTT is a bare-bones utility tool that helps amplify and automate how content moves through your social Web. It works based on a simple concept of triggers and actions.
Once you give IFTTT access to your social Web stuff plus a few other tools like your phone number and email (IFTTT calls these "channels") you can start automating. You configure IFTTT to listen to one of your channels and when something happens IFTTT processes an action in one of your other channels.
Sounds more complicated than it is. Here’s an example:
1. If This: IFTTT checks Yahoo weather for your ZIP code and rain is in today’s forecast.
2. Then That: IFTTT sends you an email letting you know that it’s going to rain today.
IFTTT is "triggered" by the notice of rain in the forecast and then performs the "action" of sending you an email (maybe telling you to bring an umbrella).
That’s a nice simple one and can keep you from getting too soaked while you wait for the bus. But there are other ways IFTTT can be put to good use amplifying your social stuff.
Here’s another example:
1. If This: IFTTT checks your Facebook and finds any images in which you are tagged.
2. Then That: IFTTT downloads the image to your Dropbox folder.
1. If This: You post a link with a specific word or hashtag in it to Twitter.
2. Then That: IFTTT cross-posts that Tweet to a LinkedIn status message.
1. If This: You take a photo with Instagram.
2. Then That: IFTTT uploads the photo to Flickr.
1. If This: You post a photo in Flickr.
2. Then That: IFTTT makes a photo post on your blog from the Flickr image.
Hopefully you’re starting to get how this can shorten the amount of account fiddling and posting and emailing and so on that you do. There are a ton of these workflows, which IFTTT calls "recipes."
Really making use of IfThisThenThat
There are some people who will have trouble with IFTTT. People who sign up for new tools willy-nilly or because they appeared on a "Top-10-You-Must-Do-This-Or-Risk-Ostracism" list may not know what to do with IFTTT.
To make use of this automation tool you need to be thinking strategically about how you use Web tools. You need to have a process. Because all IFTTT does is automate your process.
Looking at the existing "recipe" list might help you figure out where else you might want to be distributing content. It might help you figure out where else you could be getting information. But it won’t make a content distribution plan for you.
You’ll have to do that part yourself before IFTTT is going to be more than a simple utility.
Once you start digging into what IFTTT can do you will invariably run into a barrier of some kind. It’s beta software after all, and not all services are tied into it yet.
When this happens, don’t forget that IFTTT has email integration. There are tons of additional things you can do with the humble email. Many services allow posting via email.
Also many email programs have their own sets of actions that can be taken on specific kinds of messages. And if you want to include some rudimentary collaboration or group notification, you can always use the email address of a group or list.
While different services may take awhile to get integrations with IFTTT, let email be your friend.
Room for improvement
The tool is in beta so there’s no surprise that there are a few ways that it could be improved. The biggest issue is in handling multiple accounts. It doesn’t.
I’d love to be able to use IFTTT with several Twitter accounts. Similarly, I’d like to use it with several WordPress-powered websites. Right now, IFTTT doesn’t handle multiples. There are workarounds, but it’d be nice to not have to deal with workarounds.
If some of the "channels" that IFTTT uses were defined at the "task" level instead of the "user account" level then this problem would likely go away. But I can also see how entering in extra info when making a task could slow or confuse the process. Maybe account-level defaults with task-level overrides?
There isn’t any turning back the clock to the good old days when you could make three phone calls and have your advertising and marketing handled. But with IFTTT, you can start to leverage your creative assets and listening outposts in a more automated way.
You’ll need to think strategically and have a process to make the greatest use of automation. But it will lessen the low-level chores that make Web stuff so irritating, letting you get on with the other more important stuff you have to do.
Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.
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