Marketing Automation Guide - ShortStack


The ShortStack Guide to Marketing Automation



Marketing automation, when done effectively, can transform your workflow and your business. It’s not as complicated as it sounds (promise!). It helps to think of automation as a function, the way computer programmers do: “If this happens, then that will happen.”

In marketing, automation can be used to manage tasks such as generating leads, contacting leads, managing customer relationships, sending emails, and gathering data.

Here at ShortStack, we use marketing automation in our own processes, and we’ve integrated automated functionality into our platform so other marketers can use it, too. When it comes to creating marketing campaigns, automation can be applied in three ways:

  • To create and development a marketing campaign
  • To promote and market a campaign
  • To streamline the user’s experience of interacting and submitting to the campaign

In this paper, we’ll give you formulas and recipes to implement marketing automation into your marketing campaign efforts to better gather, manage and nurture your leads.

about shortstack

About ShortStack

ShortStack is a marketing campaign-building tool used by small and enterprise-level businesses, and by large agencies. Founded in 2011, ShortStack is a software as a service (SaaS) platform, and also offers custom design services. ShortStack was recently named an Inc. 500 company. ShortStack was one of the first companies to see potential in Facebook as a place to host tabs (which Facebook also refers to as “apps”), contests and landing pages. Since 2011, ShortStack has expanded its features and services to be a one-stop-shop for marketers and social media managers who need a multipurpose social media hub. With ShortStack’s Campaign Builder, contests and landing pages — which are all known as “Campaigns” — can be designed and then promoted from any social network, and can also be embedded on existing websites.

For the purposes of this paper, we investigated how our users were using marketing automation in their marketing efforts, and also studied our internal process to identify best marketing automation practices.


A Brief Primer to Marketing Automation

Automation can be used in nearly every stage of marketing, from lead generation to  customer support/success.

Here are some of the most common uses of marketing automation and how the ShortStack team puts it into practice.


Email Marketing

Marketing automation is especially useful when it comes to email marketing efforts. Here at ShortStack, an automation can be set up to automatically send submitted data to an email marketing list. This allows you to segment and target users based off of the Campaigns in which they’ve participated, and there’s no need to manually export and import data from one service to another.

Another aspect of email marketing automation is using email marketing services in conjunction with analytics services such as Mixpanel. Specific emails, crafted by your team, are sent to users/clients when they meet specific thresholds. For instance, someone who creates a new account on your platform will be sent an automated email welcoming them.

One of ShortStack’s customer success expert Jessica’s favorite things to do is talk to our users directly to help them brainstorm Campaign goals and then put ideas into practice. Automating emails helps her to do this, as she can create the emails she wants to send to different segments of our users. In return, she’s able to redirect that saved energy to other efforts.

“Automating email marketing allows us to make our interactions timely so we’re in sync with our users’ activity on the platform,” she says.

For example, Jessica likes to connect personally with new ShortStack users and help review their Campaigns. Our email automation will send out an initial email to the new user, and they can respond directly to Jessica, who will work with them one-on-one from then on out. To do this, we use ShortStack as the data collection point, by creating a landing page with a form. Here’s the flow of this automation: An email thanking the user and offering them a free shirt is automatically sent. The user clicks on the link and enters the form to get a shirt. Our office manager Tara gets a notification that someone has entered the form, and ships the shirt to the address specified.

Using automation, we can also send out emails that are very specific to the Campaigns users are working on, and we can send them specific resources to aid in the building and promotion of their Campaign. For example, a user who is working on a sweepstakes Campaign might get an email that includes our guide on how to select a compelling prize. A user who is about to publish a photo-vote contest might get our guide on best practices for promoting Campaigns.

One of our ongoing efforts is to email users who have been with us for one year or more. We offer them a free t-shirt and other swag, and use their reply to kickstart conversations about what their ongoing needs are, and perhaps even use the opportunity to extend special offers. So even though much of our first touch communication with new users is automated, it allows us to have real interactions with our users without having to “cold” email.


Sales Funnels + CRM
(Customer Relationship Management)

A sales funnel is a way to take prospective users/clients through a process to help screen qualified leads. This process benefits from being automated, as it’s a system that usually requires a lot of hands-on time from the sales department. Modern sales funnels often take the form of video series or surveys, in which the user is taken through a series of specific videos/questions based on their responses. By the time they are finished, the user has been given a wealth of information, and the system has identified them as a lead. Facebook ads expert Jon Loomer uses a 30 second Facebook Ads quiz to accomplish this1.

Automation also helps with customer relationship management, tracking tasks required for each existing customer.

For instance, a CRM tool can tell you when a certain user has last logged into your platform, when they’ve last been contacted by a member of the team, what their billing lifecycle is, etc. Tools like Salesforce and Highrise have features like this sort of “activity tracker” built in to their platforms. Setting up a form integration between ShortStack and Highrise allows for the data from a ShortStack contest to automatically be sent into a Highrise database.

ShortStack’s VP of sales Adam says, “Automation of any kind will allow you to keep focused on the big picture, finding new business and closing deals. Without automation, we would be bogged down with updating our whole database of leads every time something happened.”

1 “Facebook Ads Quiz.” Jon Loomer.

get started

Organize and manage your leads!


Content Scheduling

Content scheduling tools such as PostPlanner and Buffer arose to help marketers better plan and promote their content, especially on social media. It’s easy to forget that post planning is an early form of marketing automation since it has become such a necessary part of a marketer’s workday.

Content scheduling allows content marketers to create content, and schedule the content to be posted and shared on designated dates/times.

In ShortStack, a Campaign featuring blocks of content (which we call Widgets) can be set to automatically show or hide on designated dates and times, using the Widget Visibility Settings. For example, a Deal of the Day Campaign could be created using this feature; each day, a new deal connected to a form would automatically display at the beginning of the day, and then hide at the end of the day. This allows marketers to run Campaigns like this without having to manually adjust the settings.

Our content director, Dana, uses both PostPlanner and Buffer to help keep ShortStack’s social media platforms active with new and relevant content. “These sorts of tools make it much easier to find content that relevant for our users and followers,” she says. “And it’s a huge time saver.” Dana also uses If This Then That (IFTTT) to automatically promote our own blog posts on social networks. (More on IFTTT later in this guide.)



As noted earlier, automation helps marketers in numerous ways, such as streamlining workflow or connecting with customers. Earlier this year, Facebook announced the ability to create “bots” for Facebook Messenger, which, like ads, can help you manage the way you respond to and collect information from your users. For instance, when a user submits a question to your company Facebook Page about an order that they want to track, the bot can respond to the user with the tracking information.

This allows users to get immediate responses with your signature flair, but it doesn’t require you to answer every single request.

Setting up a Facebook’s Messenger bots do require some developer expertise for the initial setup, but Facebook provides a step-by-step builder for anyone who wants to try it.



In 2014, Facebook changed their policy to disallow Like-Gating. That is, brands could no longer require users to “like” a Facebook Page to access additional content, such as a contest or other giveaway. Facebook’s current policy is to allow a Like-Gate ONLY if there is a very clear option for the user to skip it.

As such, marketers decided to focus their efforts on Action-Gating instead.

Action-Gating is when you ask users to do something (such as vote or share a piece of information about themselves) to get something (such as an extra entry into a contest or access to a promotion) from your brand.

One major benefit of this feature is that marketing campaigns don’t need to be run exclusively on Facebook in order to use it because Action-Gating is not Facebook specific.

Action-Gating uses the “if this, then that” functionality to drive automation. It helps to think of the process like this: “if this (trigger) happens, then that (action) will follow.” There’s even a service dedicated entirely for this, named after the function itself, called IFTTT (pronounced “ift”), which is used to create cross-platform actions. For instance, you can set up IFTTT so that every time you pin an image on your business’s Pinterest, the image is uploaded to your Twitter. This tool can be handy for marketers who want to set up custom, automated tasks. As noted above, we use IFTTT to push our blog posts out to our various social networks without having to do so manually.

Many marketing tools -- including ShortStack -- now have “if this, than that” functions built into their platforms. Within ShortStack, the Action Widget is the tool available to set up various automated functions. It’s a powerful feature that makes automation much more intuitive for marketers, while also making for more interesting, interactive Campaigns for users. Within the Action Widget, triggers cause actions and “events” to happen. The Action Widget can be used to make events happen, but also to control the experience of the user and how information is displayed to them.

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get started

Create an automation with ShortStack’s Action Widget!

functions + recipes

Functions + Recipes

Creating your Path

All marketing automation plans should start with a path. A path is a storyboard that outlines each step the user will encounter and how they will get to the end goal. For instance, the goal for a basic sales funnel video series may be to better filter out product demo requests with people who just need assistance with the product. So the path may look like this:

  • Visitor watches an introductory video on the main page of the website
  • At the end of the video, they are given three options to choose from: Learn More, Request a Demo, or Get Started. Selecting one of these options takes them to a designated destination.
  • Learn More > user is taken to help documentation
  • Request a Demo > user is taken to calendar to schedule a demo
  • Get Started > user is taken to the platform to create an account

Most sales funnels are much more complicated than that, but the example should give you an idea of what your path may look like. It’s important to keep in mind what your ultimate goal is for a particular automation.

Creating a path can help you determine your next step: do you need a function or a recipe to create your automation?A function is a simple if this, then that equation. A recipe is a little more complex. Like an actual recipe, it requires ingredients (tools) and steps (process). We’ve outlined some examples of functions and recipes below.


Within ShortStack, the Action Widget is the tool available to set up various automated functions. There are dozens of ways to use ShortStack’s Action Widget, but here are three functions that many users employ:

Function 1 Form

Try it for yourself.

function 1

Function 1

If the user submits an email address for a newsletter, then they can download a coupon”:

The benefit: Incentivizes users to subscribe to your newsletter by offering them a coupon to use for your service. This setup can be used for essentially any Campaign where you want something to appear after the user submits to your form.  The Coupon Template is set up for this purpose already.

The setup: The trigger in this function is form submission, and the event is to display the coupon to download. A coupon can be a downloadable PDF, or an image that the user can save to their device. Either the Links Widget, which hosts the downloadable file, or the Image Widget will be set to “Show.”

function 2

Function 2

If the user submits an email address, then they can vote in a contest”:

The benefit: You collect contact information from your users before they can participate in your contest. This is also a way to ensure that all the votes you’re receiving are directly from verified participants. You can also require users to vote first and then submit an email address. What happens in this scenario is a user will enter in their email address (along with any other information you want them to enter), and upon form submission, the Voting Widget will appear and the submission form will be hidden automatically.

The setup: The trigger in this function is form submission, and the event is setting the Voting Widget to “Show.”

Function 2 Form

Try it for yourself.

Rich Text

Try it for yourself.

function 3

Function 3

If a button is selected, then specific information is displayed.”

The benefit: Improves the design and user experience of the Campaign. This function can be used in a variety of ways. One is to trigger Campaign rules to appear as a popup. Another useful application is for a Multi-Language Campaign, in which one Campaign displays the same content in three different languages. The Language Subtab Campaign template is ready to go with this functionality.

The setup: This Multi-Language Campaign is a bit more complex to set up within the Action Widget. The Widgets that comprise each section of the Campaign are put into Containers to help simplify the set-up.

The trigger for each action is the click of a button; buttons are created by using the Links Widget. Clicking on the button displays one Container at a time, and hides the others simultaneously. This allows the user to click from one tab to another, and the correct information is automatically displayed.

get started

Automate on your own website or blog!

recipe 1

Recipe 1

Send emails to people who enter your Campaign

This recipe connects ShortStack with your email marketing service of choice to send thank you or follow-up emails to people who enter your Campaign.


  • ShortStack’s integration feature
  • A ShortStack Form created with the Form Designer
  • Email marketing service (e.g., MailChimp, Constant Contact, or AWeber)


  1. On your Campaign, add a Form Widget.
  2. Create a new Form by going to the Form Designer.
  3. Add a checkbox field to your form to provide the user to “opt in” to your email list.
  4. Within the Form Designer, select Manage Integrations.
  5. Select the email service you want to integrate with ShortStack.
  6. Proceed with setting up the integration by following the steps outlined in the platform. (Need help? Here’s a doc.)
  7. Submit a test entry to your Campaign to make sure the integration is set up correctly.
  8. Create your autoresponder through your email marketing service to use with the specific list you’ve designated.

Once you’ve set this up, any leads you collect will be sent directly to your email list, and your autoresponder will be sent to these leads. Your data will also be stored in your ShortStack database.

recipe 2

Recipe 2

Track your customer relationship process by assigning tags and tasks to leads.

This recipe integrates ShortStack with a CRM service like Highrise to automatically assign tags and tasks to your incoming leads. This allows you to keep track of your leads and take the appropriate steps to convert them.


  • ShortStack’s integration feature
  • A ShortStack Form created with the Form Designer
  • CRM service (we love Highrise)


  1. On your Campaign, add a Form Widget
  2. Create a new Form by going to the Form Designer
  3. Within the Form Designer, select Manage Integrations
  4. Select Highrise to begin the setup process
  5. Instead of syncing with an email list, you’ll want to add entrants as contacts
  6. Designate a tag that will be automatically assigned to these contacts
  7. Assign tasks for the contacts

Once this is set up, your entrants will automatically be stored in your Highrise account with the tags and tasks you’ve specified in your ShortStack integration.


recipe 3

Recipe 3

Use a dynamic Instagram-based landing page to automatically display new content.

This recipe is for creating a landing page for your Instagram profile, which you’ll place in your bio link field. Using Widget Visibility settings, you can create an automatically updated landing page to sync with the content in your Instagram feed.  



  1. This template comes with containers of Widgets already added to it. You’ll want to edit the existing image, button and call to action (CTA) by uploading your own content. Here is a tutorial on this template.
  2. You can then use Widget Visibility settings to set a date and a time for each container of content.
  3. Publish the Campaign, which will generate a unique Campaign URL for you.
  4. Put this Campaign URL into your bio link field on Instagram.

recipe 4

Recipe 4

Set up a webhook to integrate a ShortStack database with a service of your choice.

A webhook is a way to integrate other services with your ShortStack Campaign, such as email marketing services, note documentation apps (like Evernote), project management tools or CRM programs.. While ShortStack offers built-in integrations with Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Highrise and AWeber, there are many other tools that can be connected to a ShortStack database via webhook. For this recipe, we recommend using a service called Zapier, which essentially acts as the connector from ShortStack to the service you want to use.


  • A ShortStack Campaign using a Form Widget
  • A Zapier account
  • A service you want to connect with your ShortStack form; view the app directory here


  1. Open your form in the Form Designer.
  2. Select Manage Integrations in the upper left of the page.
  3. Check the “Webhook” checkbox to open the webhook settings.
  4. Leaving that window open, go to Zapier, where you’ll need to generate a Webhook URL.
  5. In Zapier, select Make a Zap.
  6. Select the Webhooks option toward the bottom of the screen.
  7. Select Catch Hook, and select Save & Continue.
  8. Select Continue at the next screen; you don’t need to pick off a child key.
  9. Copy the Zapier Webhook URL that appears on the next screen. Leave this window open, because we’ll return to it shortly.
  10. Return to the ShortStack Manage Integrations page, and paste your Webhook URL into the Webhook URL field.
  11. Leave Content Type as the default selection.
  12. Select the fields you want to map; this is the data that will be stored in ShortStack and passed on to the service you’ve connected.
  13. Publish your Campaign, and submit an entry through the live Campaign.
  14. Return to the Zapier page where your Webhook URL was generated, and select “OK, I did this.” Zapier will then proceed to test the webhook, and you can proceed to the next step.
  15. You’ll then set up the Action component of a webhook. Within Zapier, select the service you are integrating with ShortStack.
  16. The next screen will prompt you to select the Action you want to occur when the data is collected in ShortStack and sent to the service you’ve selected.
  17. Proceed with following the steps to set up this webhook; it differs with each service. You’ll need to be logged in to the service you’re connecting with ShortStack.
  18. Zapier will test the Action.
  19. You’ll then be prompted to name your Zap, and will be asked: “Ready to Turn on your Zap?” Toggle the button to On, and your webhook will be active.

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final thoughts

Ready to start automating?

Automation isn’t intended to run your business for you, it’s a process that, when used smartly, can let you focus on other important tasks. Nurturing leads and customers still requires a human touch, and no automated system replaces a creative team. When it comes to automating your campaigns, you’ll see more engagement when you can incentivize people to enter in clever ways. Automation also helps you gather leads more strategically. And we always encourage quality of leads over quantity of leads.

Beyond the user’s experience, automation can help you run your business more efficiently to ensure that none of your customers are falling through the cracks. These functions and recipes are a starting point, but we bet that once you start automating your marketing efforts, you’ll realize that the possibilities are endless!