Connecting Digital Pipes with Zapier

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    Gregg Turnbull, Web Services Lead, Larimer County, CO / NAGW Board Member At Large

    Serving in the role of keeper of all things web for a city or county is akin to having multiple personalities, working together to complete a million piece puzzle – in front of thousands of people. We have been tasked with ensuring availability, usability, accessibility, searchability – ie., many, many -ilities. To meet these, web professionals often turn to third-party, cloud-hosted, vendors to keep up with technical demand, expand services and deliver content to citizens where they are online. Introducing cloud services provides quick wins but can lead to overhead, as there are now multiple tools to interface with and maintain. This is the sweet spot that Zapier steps in.

    Intro to Zapier

    Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect cloud applications to automate online tasks and workflows. You can connect, at present, 1500+ apps together to create a Zap – the name given to an individual workflow. It's easy to set up so you don't need to be a developer to build basic zaps, but there are opportunities to enhance workflows using code. The basic flow of a Zap is to monitor a trigger (or triggers), modify the data as needed, and finally carry out one or many actions with the data.

    Zapier workflow infographic

    Basic functions of Zapier Zap

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    Case Study - Larimer County Employee Notifications

    A few years back our team was presented with an interesting problem impacting the county. When a snowstorm hit that closed the County offices, or a holiday was on the calendar, we needed a simple way to inform employees (or remind them) to stay home. The existing system relied on email that used wireless carriers email services to route the messages. In other words, 970-555-5555, would become [email protected] (for Verizon). This worked but with one glaring shortcoming, with 2200 employees to notify, the full send process took roughly 2 hours - if other outgoing notifications were in the queue, it took longer. Decisions for shutting down county services occurred at 5:00 a.m., leaving plenty of time for our staff to brave the elements and abhorrent road conditions, hang up their coat, and then be informed that they should stay home - less than ideal.

    We turned to Zapier to automate sending these ‘Closed for Business’ messages directly to our employees using SMS services powered by Amazon(AWS). Since we were already setting up one action, we added a few more so that with one form, our communications staff can pass along the message to many channels with one click. Here is our updated process:

    Zapier flowchart infographic

    We use a Jotform form submit as the trigger, the data is then massaged to meet the needs of the different destinations, and, with one click, we notify Twitter followers, Facebook friends, send a campaign to Mailchimp newsletter subscribers, and, finally, notify our employees of the new update. What once took three hours, now takes roughly three minutes – even with the added outlets.

    You, keeper of the web,  are often asked to do more with less. Tools like Zapier help automate actions and free up time in your schedule. Precious time that can be used for more valuable endeavors, like to planning your trip to Utah to attend #NAGW2019 – can’t wait to see you there.