As you research marketing tools, you may have noticed companies boasting their tool’s robust API. They might talk about how the API makes it easy to complete certain marketing tasks or transfer data from one app to another. So now you’re wondering what an API is and why you should even care. In this guide, we give you an in-depth exploration of what an API is and why it matters for social media.
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What is an API?
API stands for application programming interface. It’s a software interface that enables two applications to communicate with each other. The API serves as an intermediary for different software applications to share data with one another.
How APIs work: A practical example
To use an analogy here, we’ll compare this to ordering a drink at a bar. When you step up to the bar, you get a menu with a list of drinks. To look at this like an API, there’s an existing convention you can follow (i.e., the bartender) to state your order and get a drink.
The menu, as you can see, is the interface. All the drinks on the menu are what the bartender has agreed to serve. When you ask for a certain drink on the menu, you receive it. But say you ask for something off the menu, such as a vodka martini instead of a gin martini. The bartender won’t be able to provide it because it’s not something they agreed to serve.
Let’s say you want that gin martini delivered to your home. You call a delivery service and you order a martini that appears on the menu. When you order it, someone will tell the bartender your order, the bartender will make the martini and then someone will deliver it to your home. This is an example of an additional service (delivery) built on an “API.”
To relate this back to software, an API can help one application retrieve specific types of data from another. If the API doesn’t support certain types of data, it won’t be able to facilitate the retrieval of that “off-menu” data.
How APIs have evolved
With APIs seeing more adoption, they’ve evolved to deliver more seamless integrations. Modern APIs follow standards that are developer friendly and easy to access. As a result of improved standardization, they support better security, governance, and documentation.
Additionally, they’re more productized. Many APIs today cater to specific audiences such as mobile developers and web developers. Now that we’re entering a cloud age, cloud computing has further helped to transform API development and deployment.
There are multiple types of APIs
These are APIs that companies make available to the public, such as the Google APIs and the WordPress API. Anyone can use them without submitting their app for approval.
These types of APIs require specific rights or licenses and are only available to specific parties. The Airbnb API falls under this category.
These are private APIs that companies develop to use in their internal systems. They allow those different systems to work together to increase productivity.
These are a combination of different API requests into a single API call. This helps to improve efficiency and save on data usage.
How do APIs relate to social media marketing?
All the major social media platforms have an API. You can use these APIs to build on them and improve the user experience. Additionally, many social media marketing and management platforms use these APIs to unify the experience. This means they can enable users to perform certain actions in one place.
Sprout Social, for instance, uses the API of leading social media networks to offer management capabilities. That way, you can use the platform to schedule and publish posts across all these social networks. You can even monitor and respond to your messages and comments all in one place. Having a single dashboard adds convenience and is one of the many ways APIs power social media marketing.
Twitter offers a number of API endpoints that allow you to complete certain tasks on the platform. For example, the Retweets API lets you Retweet posts from other users, while the Ads API lets you create ad campaigns. Although the API is free to use, you’ll need to sign up for paid versions for a higher level of access.
The YouTube API is free to use and allows you to add YouTube functionality to your website. This would enable users to play videos on your website or application. They can also complete other tasks such as searching for videos, uploading videos and subscribing to channels.
There are several Instagram APIs that you can use for free to enhance your app capability. You can use APIs to let users manage their Instagram messages and posts from your app. The Instagram Graph API even lets users access valuable data from their Business and Creator accounts.
LinkedIn offers a number of APIs that you can currently access for free. These APIs allow you to enhance the sign-in and content-sharing experience. You can also find APIs to help with marketing, sales and recruitment.
Facebook offers several APIs and SDKs that are free to use for developers. These APIs will allow users to conduct searches, create and publish posts, manage ads and complete plenty of other tasks.
TikTok gives you access to several toolkits that you can use to enhance the user experience. The Login Kit, for instance, lets you set up your app so that users can quickly and securely sign in using their TikTok credentials. You can also find API kits for sharing videos, embedding videos, adding green screens and displaying creators’ profiles.
WhatsApp offers three different types of APIs for businesses. This includes cloud API, on-premises API and business management API. You can use these APIs to customize your business profile, send automated messages and respond to your customers. The WhatsApp API for businesses is available on a freemium basis, with fees charged on a per-conversation basis.
The Salesforce data API comprises four different APIs–REST, SOAP, Bulk and Streaming. These allow you to make changes to your Salesforce data. You can use the API to customize page layouts or develop custom tools to enhance the user experience.
Why are APIs important for you?
It’s safe to say that your entire online experience runs on APIs. They help simplify tasks without the need to switch between multiple applications. This offers benefits not just for regular internet users but also for marketers and industry professionals. Let’s break down why APIs are so important for you.
APIs streamline your processes
APIs enable you to connect multiple applications and create a more streamlined process. Instead of switching between four different applications, you’ll be able to use one software to access all four.
As such, APIs are particularly useful for social media managers and marketing professionals. Many of the platforms they use integrate with one another, allowing them to complete countless tasks from a single dashboard.
The Sprout Social Smart Inbox is an excellent example of this. Before, you would log into Facebook and Twitter separately, check messages, run search terms and respond to tagged posts. Now, thanks to the networks’ APIs, you can see it all in one view, cutting out on extra time.
APIs improve connectivity and speed up everyday tasks
APIs allow different applications to communicate seamlessly. As a result, they create conveniences in our daily lives even without us realizing it.
It’s with the help of APIs that we can quickly check the weather on our phones and decide whether to bring an umbrella. We’ve also seen rapid growth in convenient mobile applications that make it easier to do things. This could be anything from ordering groceries online to tracking your budget.
Moreover, APIs have enabled the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). This has created better connectivity between the devices we use in our daily lives. For example, we’re now able to monitor our doorstep even from miles away or adjust the thermostat right from the couch.
Businesses expand with APIs
Offering an API can help you expand your business’ potential. There are only so many resources a business can offer. Having an API available, with developers who are eager to build on them, can expand their offerings to more people.
A good example is software like Mint, which can connect with multiple banks and compile it in one area. A bank’s core offering is storing your money and recording your credit card expenses. The bank allows Mint to connect to its API, so you can better manage your money and consequently, continue being a customer at the bank.
How APIs add a layer of security
APIs apply different security practices so applications can safely transfer information. This typically involves adding another layer of security between the sensitive data and the client.
With the help of APIs, you can ensure that the server never has full access to your device’s data. Instead, the different applications and devices will only share the necessary data.
Additionally, users also have control over the data they want to share. For example, you can choose to deny a request for a website to access your physical location via a location API.
5 things you should know about APIs
To recap, here are the five takeaways for APIs.
- Developers work with APIs to create software and apps. It’s rare for you, the end user, to interact directly with an API.
- APIs operate as a gate, allowing companies to share select information while keeping unwanted requests out.
- APIs can make your life run a little smoother. When airlines share data about flights and prices, travel aggregating sites can compile them and help you compare.
- Businesses run on APIs. Sprout Social is an example of software that depends on the APIs of social media networks.
- If you’re using a third-party app to manage your social media, it might not be the app’s fault that a feature isn’t available. It’s more likely that the network doesn’t have it as part of its API.
For social media managers, APIs have made it all the easier to manage multiple social profiles using a single tool. Learn more about how to leverage them and optimize your social media management strategy.