Automation.

To some, it’s a saving grace, using technology to save you (and your team) tons of time. To others, it’s a trigger word, leaving you wondering about the fate of humanity (think WALL-E or Blade Runner).   

Throughout history thus far – and this is important – automation has been shown to displace many jobs and roles, but it’s also proven to create many, many more (most of which pay more and are less dangerous). Just 40 years ago, nearly a quarter of workers in the UK did hard labor jobs versus 1% in teaching care-taking, and other “human-centric” jobs. In 2011 those numbers shifted dramatically –  8.3% hard labor and 12.2% caring professions.

If you’re worried about AI and automated tech displacing jobs, you’re not alone. Big names like Elon Musk have come out as concerned – if not fearful – of AI. There’s always a chance that emerging technologies will force us to transition to new careers, specialties, or lines of work.

Change is scary, but job automation is not only inevitable, but has historically resulted in a net positive for everyone. It opens new doors, pushes the human race forward, and makes life less laborious.

But talk is cheap, right?

If I’m arguing that automation can augment your job, I should do something to prove it, right?

Josh Strupp (ISL’s marketing guru) and I set out to identify repetitive tasks that are time-consuming or could otherwise be enhanced using tech in general. The idea was simple: if we can automate repetitive marketing tasks, then Josh could spend more time focusing on tasks that continue moving our business forward, rather than getting stuck in the weeds or delegating. See! Automation for good!

Here are three problems we identified, and how we addressed them using a mix of engineering savvy, Google, and the tools we already had at hand.

UTM Generator

The challenge:

As any good digital marketer does, Josh is always looking for insights on content performance – e.g. where users come from, where they go next, what devices they’re using, what they like, what they dislike, etc. – and like many marketers today he uses UTM codes and Google Analytics.

Our content is shared across multiple sites and mediums – we use social, paid advertising, email newsletters, etc. – to track performance of specific campaigns, mediums, and sources, Josh would generate each individual URL using a Google UTM generator one by one by one by one by one by one… you get the point.

The solution:

Fortunately, with a little Python script this was really easy for me to automate in under an hour! Josh now just has to enter the URL and campaign name, and, voila, out comes shareable links to as many sites as he wants.

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Now some people might be thinking, “Hey man, I don’t know what that photo of lines is or what you’re talking about.” This could probably be another blog post unto itself, but to summarize: that screenshot is your computer’s command line and Python is a programming language that comes pre-installed on macOS (and can be installed if you’re on a different operating system). That means all Josh has to do is open terminal, type in “python utm.py” in the command prompt, and boom. It’s that simple.

Don’t get too hung up on the fine details here, just remember, if Josh can do it, you can too with only a little effort to grow and learn.

Photoshop Overlay

The challenge:

For our blog posts (and other pitches and general marketing) Josh has to apply filters to images to ensure they match ISL’s brand and art direction.

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In order to do so he has to go into Photoshop, convert the image to black and white, apply an overlay with a specific hex code, and export that with the right size and format. This takes roughly a few minutes per image. A simple one-click option would save him quite a bit of time putting together content for our various channels.

The solution:

In the spirit of full disclosure, this solution was less useful than utm.py. A low-lift photo-editing microsite or app is an ideal solution, but we didn’t have enough time/bandwidth (and we probably wouldn’t have saved him much time anyway).

With that said, we did get pretty darn close!

Using a free software called ImageMagick we got a really close effect to what Josh was looking for, but we stopped at the hour mark for sake of time. ImageMagick has a command line interface (see that command line popping up again!) that – after applying a few quick parameters – made it easy to turn a photo black and white and apply the ISL blue tint.

Before:

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Command:

convert alex.jpg ( -clone 0 -fill “#43d8f8” -colorize 45 \) \

\( -clone 0 -colorspace gray \) \

-delete 0 \

-compose overlay -composite out.jpg

After:

image5

 

Again, don’t sweat the details here! I didn’t know that command either, but with a little bit of Googling I was able to find what I needed and massage it enough to get something really close in just a few minutes.

Graphic Finder

The challenge:

A large chunk of Josh’s time is spent putting together various forms of presentations and case studies that show off our work. To do this, he has to dig through countless Google Drive folders to extract our best work samples to use as visuals – illustrations, working files, previews, renders, videos, animations, screenshots, prototypes, the list goes on.

The solution:

What would a technology story be without one brutally simple solution.

Google has an advanced search option that allows you to filter by image or videos (among many other things). You can narrow down results with a few clicks and then drag to select as many things as you’d like to download.

image1

Not all solutions have to be something complex! Sometimes just talking about an issue with someone else can bring up something you’ve been overlooking (like a small expand triangle in a search box).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the big takeaway here isn’t about the tools we built and processes we automated; it’s about the spirit of it. Josh was super grateful with how simple and effective some of our solutions were, but the really amazing part is within a few days someone else at ISL bought into the spirit of asking questions and we saved her a couple hours of time with another simple fix. A quick Google search, asking a question on Twitter, talking to a friend – you’ll be amazed the things that are possible.

Even Elon Musk has come around that humans are still underrated in their abilities to make magic happen, so don’t be scared! Try new things! You just might find something that makes your life a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable.