What to Look for in an Online Event Registration System
Most Web developers offer events registration functionality as part of sites they develop or as a stand-alone product, and this functionality is a terrific convenience for site visitors and owners alike. Before you implement an online registration system, however, it is a good idea to understand what the differences between these systems mean in terms of automating the work of publicizing, handling registration for and administering an event. This document will present some guidelines for key functions that you may want to look for in evaluating event registration systems, and it will try to make clear the impact of these functions on the workload associated with an event and your options for promoting and marketing an event.
What is an online event registration system?
Before looking in detail at the functions of various systems, we should clarify exactly what we mean by an events registration system. Any Content Management System (CMS) and many basic dynamic websites offer the ability for non-technical users to add information about events to a Web site. Event registration systems handle the next steps --- when a visitor decides they want to attend an event, these systems take the attendee’s personal information, handle payments, and usually send followup emails. Online event registration systems range from simple Web forms that email information to someone for manual handling to more sophisticated systems that handle credit card payments and automate much of the work of managing an event. These systems are generally different from the dedicated software packages used by event planning professionals (with detailed data about venues, square footage and hotel occupancy rates), although a good event registration system should be able to export attendee data to an event planning system.
Key features of an event registration system
Now that we are clear about exactly what an event registration system is, let’s examine some key features. By definition, online event registration systems allow event attendees to enter personal and payment information and submit it via the Web. The important differences between these systems are evident in what goes on before the event attendee first clicks “register online” and what happens after they click the final “Submit.” Let's examine these differences.
Before an attendee decides to register for your event, they have to know about the event, which takes promotion. Some key promotional features to look for include:
Ability to create a Website for the event. As we’ve said, almost any system will allow you to publish a page about the event to your website, but you should be able to do much more. What if you are offering a series of events, or the same event at several venues in different cities? What if the event itself is being branded and needs a standalone site (e.g. the Maui Marathon). The event registration package should include functions to create a multi-page, hierarchically laid out site or sub-site that includes all of the information you need to convey about the event. The package should also let you post documents to your site (PDFs®, Microsoft Office® documents, images, etc.) with more detailed information.
Flexible event pricing options. If you are a membership organization, you may want to offer a discount for people who attend an event and join at the same time. To encourage early registration you may want to offer promotional pricing for registration before a certain date or for the first X number of registrants. The system should automate presenting the right price at the right time and hiding prices once they expire or the promotion is fully booked.
Preventing over-registration. If you have ever attended an event that was oversold, you know the frustration of going to the venue only to be turned away. A good event registration system will monitor the number of registrations and allow you to limit enrollment to the number of spaces available. Also, you should be able to offer waitlist enrollment.
Member pricing. Membership organizations typically offer members’ discounts for event registration, and the event system should automate this by allowing members to log in and register for special pricing. Many groups have corporate or institutional memberships that include special pricing on event attendance for any associate of the corporate member. If your organization has this kind of need, be sure your event system supports it. Without the ability to manage members-only pricing, you may have to publish all prices and then manually review all registrations to ensure that people registered for the right option.
Promotional codes. Sales and marketing people frequently need to offer special customers or prospects discounted pricing on event registration, and for convenience your organization may want speakers or other participants in an event to register online even though you will not charge them for registration. If you have these needs, look for a system that allows registrants to enter a promotional code for special pricing. Without this, you may need to enter data for these attendees manually.
Email promotion. Email is now one of the primary channels for informing potential attendees about your event. Your event registration system should include or integrate with an email solution that will allow you to publish professional looking, CAN-SPAM compliant email to those who have opted to receive your notifications. Once you send a mail, the system should track how many messages have bounced, how many were opened, and how many recipients clicked through to register for the event. The system should also process unsubscribe requests, and --- to protect you from being considered a spammer --- it should prevent emails from being sent repeatedly to invalid addresses. Without a reliable, CAN-SPAM compliant email tool, your message may never reach most of your target audience. Without detailed reporting, you may never know who you did not reach.
Once the user has come to your site and clicked the “register now” link, the work of administering the event is really just beginning. Some key functions to consider in event administration include:
Secure payments. Incredible as it seems to IT security folks, many organizations use event registration systems that collect credit card information and email it to event administrators for manual processing. Other systems store complete credit card details insecurely on Web servers waiting for the event administrator to log on and download credit card details. A worthwhile event registration system should automate credit card transactions so that payments go from the user’s card to the event organizer without administrative intervention. Similarly, systems should not store credit card details insecurely or permit card data entry without SSL encryption. To ensure that the system will work for your account, choose one that is flexible in working with a variety of payment processing gateways.
Flexible data collection. In addition to the attendees’ demographic and payment data, you probably need to ask some important questions in order to facilitate managing your event and ensure that attendees’ experience is optimal. For example, you might need to ask about dietary restrictions, whether attendees need language interpretation services or handicapped access, or a host of other questions that will vary by event. Look for a system that allows you to ask all the right questions as part of the registration process and then facilitates reporting on the answers. If you do not have this capability, you may be in for a lot of extra work as you send out manual email surveys of attendees and then have to collate the answers by hand.
Reminders. A good event system should automatically send an email including event details to registrants, and the system should facilitate sending reminder emails shortly before the event. Without an automated email solution, you may find yourself doing iterative and error-prone manual mails.
Data download. The system should make it easy to download information about attendees, their preferences, and their payment status for import into a CRM system, nametag creation and printing a guest list. Without this functionality, you can’t really administer the offline components of any event.
Access to event materials. You may want to provide registered attendees secure access to materials related to the event --- presentations, documents, etc. ---either before the event or afterwards. Ideally, you do not want to have to post these to a public website or require attendees to remember a complicated URL. The system should allow event registrants to log in for access to materials and provide tools to facilitate userid and password management.
This overview has presented some key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating event registration software and tried to make clear the impact that these functions can have on the workload of promoting and administering an event. Since events are the lifeblood of many membership organizations and a key sales and marketing channel for many companies, choosing the right event registration software is key.
To learn more about iData's event registration solutions, contact us.