Integromat automations are activated every time a specific event occurs, for example when a new user profile is saved on the discussion forum, or a new user signs-up for the newsletter, or somebody joins a Zoom call for one of our workshops. Integromat then pulls whatever information is given about the participant, and checks if they already have an existing entry in our Airtable database. If not, we create a new entry for the person, or update an existing entry with new information.
Some things we learned
Setting up the various automations takes some time, but once they are up and running, they mostly just work without us getting involved. Making changes is pretty straight-forward, but it does take a little extra time to test everything. If we were using a more integrated system, we would not have to worry so much about possible unintended consequences.
One of the major headaches managing user data is to avoid duplicate entries for the same person, if they sign up with different email addresses for example. Airtable’s paid plans include a neat deduplication app, which helps us identify duplicate and entries and merge them. We ended up paying the extra USD for the paid plan mostly for this one feature.
Integromat doesn’t explicitly require coding knowledge to use, but it does have subtleties which take some time to learn and it utilizes regular expressions for some features. And if you want to do more complex things (such as branching logic which we use to sometimes create new entries and sometimes update existing ones) it may take a little more time to figure out.
Aside from the existing costs of our mailing, forum, and zoom setups, and by using non-profit discounts, we are able to run the CRM and aggregation portion (Airtable and Integromat) at $21/month. That is still a few hundred USD per year, but considerably less than the larger CRM platforms, and it allows us full customization.
One downside to our setup is that it would take some time to migrate away from Airtable to another platform while retaining the relationships between our data. And because we use a lot of different tools, the overall system is a little more complex than an integrated application. We have to pay attention to things that might go wrong and it is very helpful to have one team member who has some technical background and can resolve any issues if needed.
Overall, this system serves our current needs and has a lot of flexibility to expand what tools we use, or swap one tool for another. All it takes is updating the Integromat automations so that the data is now pulled from the new tools. And in the rare case that Integromat doesn’t already have an existing template, it is possible to write new integrations (using webhooks). There is also still a lot more we could do with the data we are using, for example looking at engagement data from the discussion forum.
One lesson we have learned is that the tool you use is not the most important, but that you want to spend time thinking about the data you want to track and how you will use it. These days it is easy to start collecting a lot of information about your users, just because “you can”, but that can quickly become overwhelming and messy. Time spent on the original design and planning will make your life much easier down the road and keep you focused on what really counts, better supporting your community.