By David Dugas
Although online registration has been a part of meetings since the 1990s, registration systems have evolved significantly during their brief history. Of course, new features keep getting added to registration system platforms but, more and more, integration is key. And seamless integration is what the future will hold for online registration — with your event app, with your sales tools, with your website, with your fundraising or association management platforms.
Below are some key trends in integration along with some key components event organizers are looking for in their core registration platform.
Sometimes it’s great to have a registration platform with built-in features, but often registration data needs to integrate with other software — be it accounting, attendee engagement such as event apps, email CRM (customer relationship management), sales metrics and platforms like Salesforce, fundraising systems, websites and products like WordPress, survey tools like Survey Monkey and a host of others.
As good as registration systems can be with their built-in features, many event organizers need more robust email CRM, survey or accounting functionality, and this is where integration comes in. With the largest registration platforms, you’ll see widgets for just about everything that will connect your registration software with all the other software out there that focuses on some other aspect tied in directly or indirectly to an event, be it a simple product like Quickbooks or a turnkey association management platform like IMIS Management Software. Of course, event apps are a hot trend, and event apps use registration data to engage attendees onsite. Many registration platforms are either building their own event app or building widgets to bridge to event app platforms for a quick and easy transfer of data and information.
There are plug-ins and widgets that link registration systems with hundreds of applications out there. For the most part, they are providing integration with calendars, accounting and sales, social networking, mobile apps, surveys, email marketing, websites and design, print, as well as larger systems for association management and fundraising management.
So, while integration with other software is like arms on an octopus, what do event planners look for in their core registration platform? Below is a list of must-haves for a robust online registration system:
Customization — Customized event templates make everyone’s job easier. When creating your event registration sites, working with a system that has existing templates of similar events is far easier than building from scratch. Templates for golf tournaments, gala dinners, charity events and a host of other event types can simplify the registration event build and help planners with providing suggested input fields related to these specific events that they may not have thought of. Also, giving planners who use a registration system the ability to customize their pages with templates as opposed to using a cookie-cutter look is important. Branding is often key and this extends to the registration site.
Create your own event — Registration systems are often used by planners on a recurring basis. Having the ability to build your own event on the system is effective both for the planner and software provider. Quick and easy wizards and forms can allow planners to set up their own events.
Email CRM and event invitations — Your first step in engaging the attendee is often via event marketing, invitation and online registration. All your efforts in setting up the right onsite environment for your event are wasted if you send an invitation in plain text. Your first pitch to a potential attendee comes with the invitation and email CRM functionality within the registration system should allow event organizers to create graphics rich invitations and communications. Importing invitee lists can facilitate customized URL invitations whereby all data is prepopulated for the potential attendee.
Survey module — Many registration systems now include survey capabilities for both pre- and post-event surveys. Attendee satisfaction, data collection, etc., can all be easily facilitated through the registration system. While some event organizers are married to outside systems and require integration, many standard surveys can easily be managed from within a registration product.
Social media integration — While some events do not need or use social media due to the nature of the event, having a system that accommodates social media marketing is a basic requirement. Using social media to spread information of the event, providing details about who is going, can help increase attendance and awareness. Hot buttons to share registration confirmation or event information are but one example of using social media. In the years to come, social media features like Facebook events will integrate more tightly with registration systems.
Data management and reporting — Detailed financial and graph-based reporting can provide insight into events: When are registrations happening? Are they tied into marketing or email blasts? How much revenue is being collected? How are people paying? Session reporting, special needs, and other event, financial and registration reports are an essential component to online registration systems.
Mobile integration and functionality — By 2014, more than half of all web traffic will be initiated from a mobile device, according to research from Morgan Stanley. Mobile integration and functionality mean the attendee should be able to read content and execute registration from a mobile device quickly and easily. Visitors need to get a good first impression of an event through its registration pages, and mobile will be where half of them are coming from.
Bilingual and multilingual registration support — In Canada, as we all know, attendees usually need registration in a variety of languages. Only a handful of registration systems currently offer automated multilingual registration pages. If your event is national or international in scope, language support options need to be considered.
PCI compliance — PCI, an acronym for Payment Card Industry, has a set of security standards which it expects e-commerce providers to adhere to. Registration systems are not all PCI compliant and any planner considering online registration should be aware of their systems’ compliance with PCI DSS 2.0. The objectives of PCI compliance are:
- Secure network
- Protect cardholder data
- Maintain a vulnerability management program
- Implement strong access control measures
- Regular monitoring and testing of system
Whether credit card data is being stored or not, how it is being collected (via secure site), encryption of data, etc., are all addressed through PCI compliance and online registration systems should be fully compliant for the protection of registrants and their personal data.
Badge, check-in and on-site features — Many registration systems address the online component of registration and payment but fail to address features such as badge printing, onsite check-in and attendance tracking. Because registrant data is usually stored on a cloud-based centralized database, these features are both easy to include in a registration system as well as easily exported to work with third-party applications.
Attendance tracking and lead retrieval — An important component of tradeshows and learning events, organizers need to track attendees, be it a visit to a booth for sales follow up or education credits for attending a session. This can be facilitated a number of ways: via badge scanning, but also with new technologies like RFID or NFC, we could have automatic data generation of where every event attendee was during a conference or other large scale event.
As technology takes an ever-increasing role in our day-to-day activities as event organizers, the software we use needs to ensure effective use for the attendee, provide robust tools for the planner, while maintaining solid security of personal data. Getting the right mix for online registration is crucial. Whether through integration or core functionality, event organizers have no shortage of options when it comes to event management.
About the author
David Dugas is Vice President of D. E. Systems Ltd. with a key focus on D. E. Systems’ online cloud-based software solutions. D. E. Systems provides event technology solutions throughout Canada. Their range of services includes online registration, abstract management and online ticketing through their MyConferenceSuite and Snapup Tickets applications. As well, D. E. Systems is one of Canada’s largest suppliers of technology hardware for rental. For more information visit www.desystems.com.