Business owners need all the help they can get. If hiring a new assistant isn't an option, there's a simple solution that can make managing day-to-day tasks a little easier by integrating apps you probably already use.
IFTTT, a free Web service and mobile app that lets users automate Web-based tasks, helps users improve their productivity by making popular apps work together in perfect, industrious harmony.
IFTTT stands for "If This, Then That." Using formulas, called "recipes," users can dictate task automation such that if something happens in one app, the event triggers an action in another app. For instance, if you share a photo on Facebook, then it triggers the action of automatically posting that photo to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and other photosharing services also.
To put the power of IFTTT to work for you, here are 10 ways others are using the service to grow businesses and make their professional lives easier than ever.
1. Tracking and alerts
Keeping track of social media, news sites, blogs, forums and other websites to monitor any mentions of your company is time-consuming and overwhelming. Spend your time running your business, and let IFTTT keep an eye out for you.
Matthew Hurst, a public relations and marketing professional at an S&P 500 company, uses IFTTT to track his employer's presence online.
"Part of my job is collecting clips of news coverage about my employer, as well as some social media monitoring," Hurst said. "There are tons of tools to track mentions of brands in social media these days, but in my experience, IFTTT works better than Google Alerts to track news coverage."
In one IFTTT recipe Hurst uses, IFTTT tracks RSS feeds for mentions of the brand in major news aggregators, which then sends him an email alert.
"For example, I set up an alert for when news about my employer is trending on Techmeme, which aggregates news stories from across the Web," Hurst said. "I also set up a tracker for mentions of my employer on Reddit to keep tabs on discussion in this online community."
2. Get a hold on your content
If you frequently publish content, keeping records can be a tedious, painstaking task. Instead of manually listing when you've published each piece of content, have IFTTT automate your records for you.
Courtney Seiter, community manager and blog editor at Raven Internet Marketing Tools, uses IFTTT to organize blog posts.
"I'm trying a new IFTTT recipe that adds all of our blog posts to a spreadsheet," Seiter said. "It includes the date published, headline and URL. I plan to use it for content archiving and auditing purposes."
This method works for other spreadsheet-related tasks, such as backing up your contacts from your iPhone to a SkyDrive spreadsheet or logging receipts from your Gmail to a Google spreadsheet.
3. Schedule social media campaigns
Social media marketing is an ongoing effort — just because you tweeted something once doesn't mean people actually saw it. Jason Lyvers, owner of marketing company Louisville Innovative, uses IFTTT to strategically keep the company's content in circulation.
"One of the ways we use IFTTT for our social media business is for reposting our content on a monthly basis to try and bring more attention to blogs we've written that may not have been seen the first time around, or as our following grows," Lyvers said.
"Anytime we write a new blog, we add the link to an IFTTT recipe that will post it to our Twitter account each month on a specific day and time," he explained. "This way, we don't have to think about which posts need to be pushed out again. They're scheduled the day they're written, and we can keep that content as green as possible and get it in front of as many people as possible on a monthly basis."
4. Your own personal secretary
Innovators don't have time to drown in administrative tasks. Instead of wasting time creating invoices, maintaining client files and performing other administrative time-suckers, a sequence of IFTTT recipes can do all of that for you.
Chris Gilchrist, managing director and founder of Web design and SEO company Hit Reach, did exactly this and saved his company thousands of dollars a year by freeing up time previously spent on administrative tasks.
"We built a chain of automated events using IFTTT and Zapier [IFTTT's counterpart], which does 30 minutes of menial tasks for us when someone orders a website review via our site," Gilchrist said. As explained in this video, Hit Reach's automation system completes such tasks as adding client information into the company's contacts, creating projects, maintaining client files, invoicing and more.
5. Drive traffic
Driving traffic is important to any online marketing effort, but not every business owner has the time or resources to devote to increasing online visitors. However, IFTTT can automate the process for you.
Frank Buck, owner of Frank Buck Consulting, uses IFTTT to drive traffic to his blog, which is one of the major ways people are introduced to his business.
"Every time a new post appears on my blog, one IFTTT recipe advertises that post on my professional Facebook page," Buck said. "A second recipe does the same on Twitter, another on LinkedIn and a fourth on Google+. I never have to think about promoting my material through these social media sites. IFTTT automates the process."
6. Outrun the competition
For many businesses, it's all about who gets there first. IFTTT not only allows you to track what competitors are doing online, but it can also help you grab prospects before they do.
Barry Maher, a speaker and author of "Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business," uses IFTTT to keep an eye on opportunities so he can grab them before other speakers do. "I use IFTTT to get speaking leads as much as a day before many of our competitors get them," he said. "The first response often gets the most attention, especially if eventually 70 different speakers might reply."
7. Instant cloud deployment
Saving files and media to your favorite cloud storage provider is easy when it's located on your desktop or mobile device. Saving files and media from websites? That requires downloading them to your device first. Using IFTTT, you can skip that extra step and send files directly to cloud services, such as Dropbox, straight from the Web.
Abi Cowell, blogger at VeryVeganish.com, uses IFTTT to instantly save tagged Instagram photos to his Dropbox account.
"One of my IFTTT recipes is to save all Instagram [photos] tagged with
#365DaysofVegan to my Dropbox folder of the same name," he said. "That way, I don't have to go to Instagram and manually save the photos to my Dropbox for use on my blog or in newsletters on MailChimp."
8. Drive engagement
Need to get social with your customers? IFTTT can help.
Patrick J. Sweeney, president and CEO of dwinQ, uses IFTTT to drive engagement between clients and their guests at events.
Sweeney said IFTTT helps his company, which connects events and venues with guests' Facebook and Twitter accounts, automate its social media efforts.
"We use IFTTT to automate everything, from responses to tweets and posts to sending SMS notifications," he said. "It's a great, simple service that lessens the burden through automation."
9. Find new clients
IFTTT's ability to crawl the Web can do more than alert you when your company is mentioned online; it can also help you grow your client base.
Jeff Ferguson, CEO of Fang Digital Marketing, said IFTTT has helped his company seek out potential clients. His IFTTT recipe searches Twitter for tweets around a specific keyword, and then alerts the company, so it can seize the opportunity and reach out to the user. "If they ask a question about a service that we provide, we can be right there with an answer," Ferguson said.
10. Become a multitasking machine
The magic of IFTTT is that it integrates with some of the best apps available to help you multitask and do more in less time.
Brian Patterson, partner at Go Fish Digital, said IFTTT's integration with two of his favorite apps helps him be more productive and active on social networks.
"Productivity is important to me, and I used to find myself stopping in my tracks to read an interesting article I came across," he said. "With the Pocket app, you hit a little button, and it saves it so that you can read it later. Out of sight; out of mind — and yet I can catch up on it in my downtime. IFTTT takes Pocket to the next level," Patterson said.
Patterson uses one IFTTT recipe such that the content he saves for later viewing on Pocket gets tweeted out automatically; this ensures he is sharing quality content and staying active on Twitter. He uses another recipe to ensure saved items also get sent to Evernote, a notetaking and archiving app. "Evernote is my brain, and I save anything important in it so that I can quickly pull it up later. IFTTT makes this all so seamless and automatic."