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Five things you must know about API in digital marketing

Over the past few years, the API has become a common digital marketing term. But marketers do not seem to take ownership of it, leaving it exclusively in the IT rooms. This is not right.

There are five things that every digital marketer today needs to know about APIs. So that they can take a proactive approach to command and use APIs in digital marketing.

First, what does API do?

We live in a world today with connected computers. These computers run applications, just like your phone runs the Apps. API stands for the “application programming interface”. It is a set of programming codes to tell the Apps to exchange data with each other in a controlled manner.

A common analogy is to compare APIs to restaurant service as this MuleSoft video does. Another example is that hotel marketplaces such as the Booking.com uses APIs to enable room providers (hotels and individual BandB owners) to share inventory and pricing in real-time.

Marketers can see the APIs as software that automatically collects data from other companies’ databases provided that the other companies also use APIs to allow such data accesses. With mutual consents, companies use APIs to let their computers talk to each other and exchange digital data.

Second, APIs share crucial data in business ecosystems

Why do companies want to and need to share data? It is because companies nowadays need to build business ecosystems in which partnerships are vital. Data owners need to give limited data access to clients, suppliers, and agents, to name a few. For social organisations and governments, automation in legitimate data sharing with the public is an obligation.

APIs are mainly business-to-business data exchange programmes. They are functionalities written into digital applications, therefore, has an indirect relationship with consumers. Consumers never download and install an API. Rather, they use applications with APIs running behind the scene.

Partly because APIs do not face consumers directly and partly because they are computer codes, marketers have not assumed responsibilities for them. This needs to change. Today advertising managers reselling Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, MailChimp inventories must take a look at these platforms’ API development documentations to at least have an idea about the next point.

Third, what data are exchanged?

The short answer is all kinds of data. But two types are more relevant to marketing than others.

The first type is about the capabilities of the systems. For example, marketplace and advertising websites use APIs to manage transactions with advert agencies. Video hosting platforms allow developer APIs to detect the system and content specifications. YouTube provides API references and snippets for websites to embed videos and to track and control the playbacks.

YouTube embed and API reference
Video sharing sites like YouTube uses APIs for video embedding.

Another type is the performance data for analytics and consumer insights. Google and Bing analytics provides all developers with API accesses. Clicademy chooses to use Analytify to use the API access to create our site’s traffic dashboard with real-time Google Analytics data for registered members to view.

The scope of data access and exchange depends on the data owner’s need to build the business ecosystem. Data owners decide what and how much data to share. The data fetchers may have various level of bargaining power to request specific accesses.

Marketers must be aware that when it comes to accessing and sharing consumer data, ethics become a matter of concern.

Fourth, how should digital marketing staff take ownership of API?

Marketers do not have to be all capable. Coding APIs is an IT engineer’s job. Marketers should work with a team of software coders and involve themselves in deciding what data are needed and for what purposes.

It makes sense to advise marketers on how not to work with the IT developers. Please do not just ask them what are possible and available. This question is OK if you are asking them to help you choose between a Mac or Windows laptop. But when it comes to APIs, the answer will be a long list of technical possibilities, of which 90% are incomprehensible for laypersons. So your IT colleagues would respond to you with a more pointed question, “what do you need?” If you could not answer this question, a chicken-and-egg chase would start.

Marketers should command and use APIs as technological tools to assist decision making. They should ask for the API functionalities based on the need for insights and the decisions to make. If marketers are clear about their data needs, they are in the position to own the APIs created to serve those needs.

Fifth, how can you start to learn digital marketing API?

It would be difficult if you have never seen a digital marketing API in action. To use an API-enabled application would be the best way to learn the technology about its capabilities and results.

For this purpose, Clicademy recommends TAGS, which stands for a Twitter Archiving Google Sheet application created by Martin Hawksey, a learning technologist from Edinburg, Scotland.

TAGS uses Twitter API access to collect data from the social network and present the data in Google sheets. Digital marketing learners should try this application to get the first-hand experience of API-enabled social data collection and analysis.

Please register with Clicademy and subscribe our email newsletters to stay tuned for our future discussions on using TAGS as one of the first steps of learning digital analytics for marketing.

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