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Real Life Zaps: How to Trigger Zap Workflows From QR Codes and NFC Tags Anywhere

By Matthew Guay · February 21, 2019
zap-qr-nfc primary img

Ever wanted to create a new to-do list with your packing list as soon as you dust your suitcase off for a trip? Maybe you’ve wanted a way to log your work or workout start and stop times, or track whenever you do specific tasks. You might even want a way for others to do that, a way for them to log stuff for you.

Automation means stuff happens on its own—and the most apparent examples run without any human input. Sometimes, though, you need to give that first push and start the Rube Goldberg machine.

Here’s how to ground your Zap workflows to the real world with NFC tags, QR codes, and a bit of ingenuity.

→ New to Zapier? Zapier’s an app automation workflow that connects 1,300+ apps into multi-step automations, what we call Zaps. Learn more in Zapier’s Getting Started guide.

Putting Zaps in Your Workplace

NFC tag suitcase
An NFC tag on the top right of my suitcase, ready to scan whenever I need to pack

The best place to keep stuff is right where you need it. Put your water bottle beside the door, and odds are you’ll remember it when leaving. Put your keys in the fridge, and good luck finding them ever.

That’s the handy thing about QR codes and NFC tags: They put tech in the real world. Instead of hard-to-type and harder-to-remember URLs and coupon codes, you point your phone at a code, and the website opens. You tap your phone on the turnstile, and it opens, and technology moves money from your account to the metro’s, but you don’t need to think about it.

Let’s do that for your automated tasks.

QR Codes Versus NFC Tags

First, though: Should you use a QR code or NFC tags?

QR Code
QR codes are square barcodes you can print and stick anywhere

QR codes are everywhere, from billboards and packaging to payment services like LINE and WeChat Pay and the personal contact badges of Facebook Messenger and LINE. They’re virtually free, too: Make a QR code, print it out, and stick it anywhere you want.

NFC Stickers
NFC tags include a thin coil that transmits a code to your device

NFC tags are a bit more hidden. You’ve used NFC with contactless cards or smartphone payments like Apple or Samsung. There are also NFC tags, stickers with a thin wire coil on the back that send data to your phone if held nearby. You need to buy NFC tags for around a dollar or less each, then customize them to your needs.

QR codes are the cheapest to make, and they work with nearly any smart device. Open your camera app, point it at the QR code first, and you’ll get the QR code’s message or link in a notification. You can scan QR codes from quite far away, without needing to be right beside the tag. You can also use QR codes on multiple devices—where unless you buy programmable NFC tags, you can only use them with one device.

NFC is the most convenient with newer phones (including Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, and iPhone XS and newer). Hold your phone near the tag, and it will automatically detect it and show the link (iPhone 6 and newer need to open an NFC reader app first). That makes them slightly easier to use than QR codes, though you do need to be right near the tag, and each tag costs a dollar or less. Additionally, unless you buy programmable NFC tags, you need to set the NFC tag up with each device before using it.

As with most things, it comes down to cost versus convenience. QR codes are often the best way to start. Then, if you find the code helpful and want to make it even easier to use, you could buy some NFC tags and switch to use them instead. The steps to automate the task are the same; the only difference is how you make and scan the code.

With that out of the way, let’s automate your task.

1. Pick the Task to Automate

What do you want to automate?

Zapier Webhook
Copy the Webhook link from Zapier to use in your QR code or NFC tag

Some tasks require no input: Logging tasks or time, sending one-off notifications, creating a routine list, and more. All you need to do is tell Zapier to start the task, and it can do the rest without additional details.

For those, you need a link that starts your Zap. Make a new Zap (and a Zapier account, if you don’t already have one), and choose the Webhooks app and its Catch Hook trigger to start your Zap. Skip the options. Then copy the Webhooks link from Zapier, which starts with https://hooks.zapier.com/catch/. This is the link you’ll add to your QR code or NFC tag.

Tip: Webhooks are similar to a push notification on your phone—only here, you’re pushing a notification to Zapier. Learn more about Zapier’s Webhooks integration.

Google Form for Zapier
Need more data for your task? Make a form first, and add its link to your QR code or NFC tag

Other tasks require input: filling in a template document, sending a custom message, checking into an event, and more. Here, you need a form to enter details that are then sent to Zapier to do the task.

Make a form first, with the questions and fields your task requires. Google Forms is a great option; it’s free and easy to use. Copy the link to your form. In Google Forms, click the Send button then the link icon, and copy the link. Also, set the form to be publicly viewable so anyone who scans your code can use it, if you want; in Google Forms, click the settings gear icon then un-check the Restrict to users box. You’ll then add this form link to your QR code or NFC tag.

Tip: Want to use a different form app? Here are some of the best form apps. Or, learn more about Google Forms to make your form work the way you want.

2. Add The Link to a QR Code or NFC Tag

Now that you have a code let’s make a tag before finishing your Zap.

Make a QR Code

With QR codes, use an app to turn your Zapier Webhook or form link into a square code

Want a QR code? There are quite a few apps that make QR codes; two easy-to-use options are qr-code-generator.com or QR Code Monkey, neither of which require signup. Alternately, URL shortener apps including Rebrandly and T2M can make QR codes and shorten links at the same time. All work the same.

Open the app of your choice, paste the link to your Zapier Webhook or form from step 1, then click the Create QR Code button. Screenshot the QR code or download the image. Then print it on sticker paper and stick the code wherever you want.

Link a NFC Tag

Launch Center Pro iOS NFC
With NFC, scan the tag in an app and link it to your Zapier Webhook or form URL

Want to use an NFC tag? You need two things: an NFC app, and NFC tag stickers.

On iOS, an easy option is to use Launch Center Pro ($9.99/yr), an automation app that can run workflows from NFC stickers. You can buy NFC stickers in the app ($5 for five stickers). Then make an Action in the app, and add your Zapier Webhooks or Form link in the Link field. Finally, tap the NFC Sticker button, scan your NFC tag, and save the action.

On Android devices, the Trigger app ($4.99+ in-app purchases) offers similar functionality. Scan an NFC sticker, add your Zapier or form URL, and whenever you scan the tag again, Trigger will open that URL. You can optionally use programmable NFC tags, and use the app to add your Webhook or form link to the NFC tag. Then, whenever any device scans the tag, it will open the link without a dedicated app.

3. Make a Zap to Automate That Task

Zap editor
Add steps to your Zap to do your task

Finally, go back to Zapier and finish making the Zap that your QR code or NFC tag triggers. With a Webhook, add an Action step to your Zap; with a form, make a new Zap that watches your form for new entries, then add an Action step.

Say you want to add a packing list to your to-do list app, as I wanted to. Select your to-do list as your action app, and fill in the details for the packing list you want Zapier to add when you scan your code.

Here are some other ideas you could use:

  • Want to log your work time? Add a Google Sheets action to your Zap, and every time you scan your code have Zapier add a new line to your spreadsheet with the time. Scan your code when you start and stop work. A similar system could log whenever you do any activity: run, change filters, fill up your car, and more.

  • Want to send personalized messages? Use a form, and include fields for the recipient’s name and other message details. Then add a Gmail action to send an email, or a Google Docs or WebMerge action to make a document, and fill in the details. Scan your code and fill the details anytime you need to send a message.

  • Want to log attendance? Use a QR code that opens a form, and ask attendees to scan the code and fill it out. Then have Zapier log that data to a spreadsheet, CRM, or database. A similar workflow could let you record office equipment or library item rentals; ask people to scan the code when they take the item out, and when they bring it back, and Zapier can log it for you.

  • Want to let people know you’re available or busy? Use a Webhook and scan your tag whenever you’re either free or busy—and have Zapier change your Slack status appropriately. That’s an easy thing to do right as you leave your desk for lunch.

  • Need a real-life lead form? Add a QR code to a sign or banner as in the header photo, and link it to a contact form. Then have Zapier send you a message when the form is filled out, log the data to your CRM, and automatically send a template reply email to the contact.

You can also build more advanced Zaps with filters or Paths. Filters can watch for one thing, perhaps to log your time if you scan the code in the evening. Paths can do multiple things in your Zap, perhaps to make a different template document depending on what options you choose in your form. Experiment, and you’ll find ways to automate your workplace with Zaps and QR codes.

When finished, save and turn on the Zap—and make sure to place your QR code or NFC tag where it’s easy to use.

4. Scan The Tag to Do The Task

All that’s left is to use your code whenever you need your Zap to run.

iPhone read QR code
Read the QR code with your camera

To use your QR code, open your phone’s camera, point it at the QR code, and you’ll see a notification with your Zapier Webhooks or form link. Tap that to run your Zap.

read NFC tag iOS
Read the NFC tag by holding your phone near it—or with a dedicated NFC app

To use your NFC tag, hold your iPhone near the NFC sticker, and it’ll automatically open Launch Center Pro and run your Action (which will either run your Zapier Webhooks link or open your form). On an iPhone 6, 6s, 7, 8, or X, use the free NFC-Reader app to scan your NFC tag—which then will open Launch Center Pro and run your Action. On most Android devices, hold your phone near the tag to launch the Trigger app—or the Zapier Webhook or form link if you programmed the tag.

Either way, your task will run in seconds—and the prominent NFC sticker or QR code will catch your eye to remind you to do it.

Other Great Ways to Start Zaps:

Image credit QR code banner by ray rui via Unsplash.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'