Apr 26, 2019 by Event Manager Blog

Event Automation and APIs: A Primer for Event Planners

A savvy event planner these days understands the power behind event automation, even if they don’t always understand the tech. In this guest article from experts at Event Manager Blog, you’ll learn how use automation and APIs to create game-changing process improvements in your event planning.

There are plenty of things that can’t be automated. A relationship with your audience, for instance. You can’t select a person and set a few protocols in place and then expect that they will automatically become a guest of your event. But you can automate the execution and workflow behind the administrative tasks that take up so much of your time.

Event automation, when used properly, has the potential to take care of administrative or data entry-related tasks that detract from your return on investment. This results in more guests and less wasted time. It also helps to create a cohesive workflow, even with team members in different areas who are working on different events.

In a nutshell, automations make your life easier by reducing the number of tasks you have to do (or the steps required to do them), giving you more time to focus on the creative and strategic aspects of your job. Isn’t it time you concentrate your resources where they are most effective and provide the most return? We’ll show you how.

In the following chapters, we’ll explore event automations and their applications in three mission-critical areas: making tools work together, guest list management and planning, and last but not least the guest experience itself.

Automations vs APIs 101

What are automations?

An automation is a task that software performs without human labor. When you automate a task, you give it to software so you don’t have to do it manually.

One familiar example of an automation you might have used is adding all of your attendees to your event app by uploading a spreadsheet with their data on it, rather than adding each one individually through the app itself.

Automations not only help you do more, they help you do it with a smaller margin of error.

Automations not only help you do more, they help you do it with a smaller margin of error. This is because they eliminate the human errors that typically crop up when a range of tasks are handled manually:

  • Entering the same information into two (or more) different places
  • Keeping all those places up-to-date when something changes (especially when there are multiple people sharing the responsibility of managing that data)
  • Giving the right data to the right person or group of people

With event automation, all of these potential areas for mistakes are eliminated and streamlined, bringing with it peace of mind.

But that said, automated workflows are not magic. They will not automate you out of a job or mean you can place everything on auto-pilot and head to an exotic wifi-free island for an extended vacation. While they might require a bit of an upfront investment to develop, event activities and data flows will become easier and more efficient in the long run.

What are APIs?

What if you want to automate a task that relies on multiple apps or software working together? That’s what an API is for.

API stands for ‘application programming interface’. Without delving too deep into the technicalities, think of each software or app as speaking its own language. If they tried to have a direct conversation, communication would skid to a halt.

An API is essentially a framework that translates the language of a software so that others can communicate with it and easily transfer data.

An API is essentially a framework that translates the language of a software so that others can communicate with it and easily transfer data. These allow for integrated automations between multiple tools you use.

For example, let’s say you set up a registration site with one company and you’ve purchased an event app with another. A developer can use the APIs of your registration site and event app to create an automation that automatically adds attendee profiles to the app when people register on the site.

This way, you don’t have to export the registration data from your registration tool, format it so the event app will accept it, and then upload it to the event app. APIs become the basis for this kind of event automation, even in increasingly complex workflows.

Now let’s look at what automations and APIs can do for your event workflow.

Event Automation: Tool Integration

One of the most common uses of APIs is to create more efficient workflows by integrating separate systems.

Let’s say you have event management software and a seating chart software that are made by different vendors, and which are not compatible.

You’re probably exporting the event guest list out of your event management software for each event, and then uploading the CSV file to your separate seating chart software.

Hopefully, the data doesn’t have to be massaged or manipulated to fit the latter’s import requirements. Either way, what a bummer.

With each application’s API, you can facilitate an exchange of information between the two so that, as people register, that information can flow into your seating software.

If you use any of the following components in your workflow, you likely could benefit from automation. Here are a few examples of how you might use an API to streamline the event project management and marketing process.

 


Top benefits of automating and integrating your tools

Minimize errors. Fewer concerns over something getting keyed in incorrectly with the consolidation of two data entry points into one and free flow of information from one tool to the other.

Real-time data exchange. APIs offer the ability for a real-time exchange between two disparate systems. No waiting for data to refresh nightly or until someone has the time to key it in or “push” the data. Computers manage the work, not an already busy event planner. This is especially advantageous in the following scenarios:

  1. Accessible reporting. With an API, data can be published automatically and available to the stakeholders who need it in real-time. Reports can be filtered and delivered without a middleman to delay the delivery information.
  2. Dismantling silos. If you’ve struggled with information “hoarding” from different groups within your organization, APIs can give greater access and insight into previously siloed departments.
  3. Easier data migration and portability. Sometimes event planning technology changes, and when event planners select a different software vendor or select a new kind of software to fully automate a planning or event activity, an API can help make the migration of data easier.

 

Salesforce and other CRMs

If you use sales or contact management software like Salesforce, it’s likely your work horse with all of your most valuable data in there. But many SMS and CRM tools aren’t designed to do everything an event planner needs. There’s other functionality and likely additional reporting features that will help you gain more insight into your event. An API can help take the data housed in your CRM and make it easily accessible to other critical areas, like your registration tools.

Event Management Software (EMS)

Much like the CRM, an EMS houses a lot of data, and it’s data you need. Let’s imagine you were creating a mobile event app for the first time, and you wanted content from your EMS to populate it. In the past, you might’ve copied and pasted and rearranged everything in the app’s content management system. These days, many event app providers allow integrations via their API, letting you sync your content housed in other systems with your new app in real time.

Email Design and Sending Tools

If you don’t use an event tool like zkipster that connects your guest lists and email lists for you, you can use an API to streamline things. For instance, one of the best ways to use these communications tools and an API is by automatically adding any new registrants to your email list. Yes, many of your attendees will come from your existing lists but you’ll have new people sign up as well. Use an API to grow your list by ensuring that data is immediately communicated to your email sending software.

Event Marketing Software

You can use an API to connect your event marketing software with your registration list as described above in the email tools section. You can also employ an automation to build marketing campaigns that sync dynamically-generated content.

Seating Software

Again, there are tools out there, like zkipster, that already sync this automatically, but in addition to assigning seats as people register through the use of an API, you can use an API to run a report on seating without logging into your seating software interface. It’s just one step, but one that can save some time.

Survey Software

Surveys are great for engagement and provide a lot of actionable data, but the latter only works when you have easy access to that data. You can add survey results to hidden fields in your guest profiles, add results to your CRM, and/or sync results with your email marketing software to follow up on specific types of responses.

Side Note: Move to the Cloud

If you’re still managing guest lists and other data through localized spreadsheets, in-office systems, or on individual devices, the key step to a seamless and automated workflow is bringing this data into the cloud. Using tools that utilize cloud technology. you have access to critical data, such as your guest list (and even software), wherever you have an internet connection and through whichever device you have.

It frees up your ability to access the tools and information you need to do your job. Because cloud versions of common tools (especially Google Sheets, Docs, etc.) are so ubiquitous, a lot of companies like zkipster offer automations that integrate with and utilize them.

Event Automation: Guest List Communications and Management

Wherever you see repetition, there is good potential for automation. Take guest list management and planning, which are very time consuming when all the activities that stem from them are done manually.

You’re checking off multiple lists, comparing them, and updating them, all while doing everything else that is required of you. If you think about your myriad of tasks in list management and planning, you’ll likely uncover many repetitive activities on your end.

The following approaches help optimize planning events, increasing guest numbers, and improving guest list management. Pick event tools with strong automation capabilities or robust APIs to rethink your event through the lens of how you can communicate more effectively with existing data.

Guest List Communications

When hosting an event, the data from the guest list is essential to your undertaking. You need it to be in real-time, accessible to multiple team members/staff and volunteers, and organized in a way that makes sense and is easily understandable.

You don’t need to recreate the wheel; strategically selecting tools, like zkipster, that automate many of these connections will minimize your need to introduce APIs to connect your guest lists to your email communications. However, an API can sometimes help bridge the gap when you do need to connect multiple key tools so that data is flowing freely and accurately.

 


Top benefits of using automations to assist with guest communications

  • Easily accessible personalized information. For event planners, this is a big help through filtering the guest list and for attendees in areas like event reminders and aggregating sites for marketing promotion.
  • Up-to-date guest data. That can be used in a variety of ways to streamline and improve communication before, during, and after your event through check-in alerts, customizable emails, and personalized thank-yous.

 

Here are some areas where automations can help improve guest list communications:

Guest List and Invitation Management

Ensuring that all event management tools access the most up-to-date guest list information, maintained from one ‘source of truth’ location, is goal number one. It impacts a ton of other things, ranging from seating, food and beverage, attendees decisions, to other important areas, so making sure that all tools are pulling from one accurate source will lay the groundwork for smooth sailing everywhere else.

For instance, syncing to your email tool allows you to send thank you emails to those who donated at your event without needing to export a list first. Or personalize a thank you based on the role they played at your event like sponsor, vendor, or guest.

Event Reminders

If your guest list is not syncing with your event reminder/email tool, you run the risk of sending a sign-up reminder to someone who has just registered. This time-based mistake causes undue confusion and stress for you and your guests. They might wonder if you received their RSVP and will inquire about it, taking up additional resources to answer their question.

On the other hand, once your guest list is synced to your email system, it’s easy to keep RSVP reminders separate from guests who have already confirmed.

Check-in Alerts

At some events, it’s important to alert team members to the arrival of VIPs or other important guests, press, speakers, or entertainers. In the past, someone at check-in had to be aware of the VIP list, and then text or use walkie-talkies to ensure the right team member was notified of the arrival. That’s awkward and the success of that alert rides entirely on the team at check-in. What if they’re overwhelmed and forget to notify the team as planned?

Take the potential for error and a social gaff out of check-in by automating check-in alerts through text, chat, or whatever communication tools your team uses for specific guests or guest types.

Depending on your tools, you could even create check-in alerts that would be received only by the people on the team involved in that needed action, such as a VIP coordinator receiving information about a VIP check-in.

Guest List Management

Events require a lot of behind the scenes project management that, if it’s running smoothly, guests largely don’t see. They’re not areas that require a personal touch, but that these practical management components can be just as time-consuming and detail-oriented. API technology handles details well, especially those that humans don’t always have the time for.

 


Top benefits to automating processes in guest list management

  • Access to only preferred content and sorting capabilities with less exporting.
  • Better control of data flow and organization, increased reporting opportunities as multiple tools sync.
  • Notifications of changes throughout multiple systems. When multiple event management tools are used, an API can ensure they all maintain up-to-date information at every connection point.

 

Multi-Platform Data Management

With API technology, event planners can count on the accuracy of important data that’s reliably synced across different platforms. Data such as dates, RSVPs, calendar items, spaces, and formats (“talks,” “roundtables,” “networking”, etc.) can be made available on multiple platforms. The data can be sorted, used for personalization, connected to certain applications based on categories, and filtered for quick results.

The data can also be shared with integral members of the team of vendors. For example, instead of giving your venue a headcount, you could share your registration data through an API, and limit what’s shared based on the person you’re sharing it with and what you want them to have access to. This can be very efficient, especially in the situation of a standing mixer every week at the same establishment. Remembering what numbers were passed on and when can be exhausting, and it sets up the potential for error. Not so when the API does it for you.

Seating Chart Software

In the past, an event planner would take a registration list and create the seating chart. Whether on paper or with software, it was still a manual process of taking names from the RSVP list and arranging them accordingly (only to have new names added as the registration went on). Automating that through a tool, or connecting tools via an API if your guest management software doesn’t do it already, allows seating assignments to occur at guest check-in automatically, become visible on the guest profile so staff know exactly where everyone should be, and all that to be updated in real-time as new developments occur.

Event Analytics

At this point, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about real-time data and availability through APIs. This carries through to event analytics as well. If you use disparate systems in your event planning, such as one for RSVPs, one for speaker management, another for traffic flow, and so on, you likely have critical attendee data flowing through several systems.

If you do, you are likely exporting this data, trying to compare and contrast it, and eventually compiling it into a report through multiple sources. This is time consuming, and you run the risk of creating errors in data comparison across multiple sheets. An API can ensure all of those systems are using the same current data to populate reports in a way to minimize exports and human comparison.

Event Automation: Guest Experience

As we’ve seen, there are a number of ways that built-in automations and APIs can help streamline efficiencies throughout event planning and management, from allowing disparate systems to “talk” to one another to alerting the event planning team on changes to data.

But this technology can also provide a more robust and personalized experience for your guests. Analyze the current software you’re using. Are there built-in automations you’re not using? If there are, consider how employing them may help you streamline your next event.

 


Top benefits to using automation and APIs to support the guest experience

  • Easy logins through social media or Amazon sign-ups (using login credentials that many people already have instead of coming up with a new one for your event)
  • Efficient content flow and personal exchange

 

But if you’re currently using multiple software platforms that are not sharing data, you may want to consider what you could do with APIs:

Recently Registered Feeds

These feeds that list your most recent guest registrations have two benefits. They provide social proof that others find value in your event and they may help people recognize friends and peers who may be attending. Facebook uses this marketing technique when it shows you events your friends are interested in.

Calendar Additions

APIs can pull event calendars into sites assuring that the most recent information is always available and guests can find you. Visitors to these sites will never have to worry about updates not being included or time or date changes.

Maps and Geo-location

A map API comes in handy at events. From custom maps to location services, there are a lot of options. One of the most popular is the Google Maps API, which allows attendees to map your event location and get directions to it from your event site without looking it up.

It’s easy and something most of your guests will be familiar with. However, depending on the size of your event or how many queries your event draws in a day (the back and forth exchange of data through the API) there may be a charge for using Google’s API.

Speaker or Entertainment Info

You can use an API to populate your speaker or entertainment sections as they sign on, saving yourself the need to manually enter it across multiple sites or software. It also ensures prospective guests will get the most up-to-date info on their favorite performers or speakers as it becomes available.

Social Media Integration

Popular uses of APIs include connecting social media profiles to event profiles, populating personal streams on social media with event commentary, and enabling a two-way exchange to allow what they post outside of the event to populate event streams, like adding a section for most recent Tweet.

Digital or Web Event Guides

APIs make it easy to populate local, national or even global event guides with your information, helping interested guests find you easily. Content can be easily sorted and filtered for personalized results for any guide or niche.

Event Type Subscriptions

Allow guests to see the types of events they’re most interested in, leaving out the ones that they’re not. Influencers may want to use a list of your specific events on their website or receive personal alerts about important dates regarding their events of interest like when tickets go on sale or RSVPs open.

Some niche or industry groups have open APIs, like Hubspot’s marketing events information guide or Meetup (a social events service for like-minded people, or even cities, like the Seattle 2.0 API, for events in the Emerald City.

How Do You Make It All Happen?

We’ve shared a lot of cool ideas on ways you can use APIs to improve your workflow, but how does it all come together? There are a few ways you might typically set up an API.

Open APIs and connector tools

There are some organizations that everyone wants to integrate with, such as Facebook. Because of this, they create what’s known as an open API. That means event management software like zkipster can access the information quickly within an established framework. Apps like Zapier or IFTTT are built just to connect popular tools together using pre-fab building blocks that are easy to get into with less technical background.

Best for: Event teams who want to dip into powerful integrations without building from scratch

Native integrations

Tools like zkipster also frequently integrate with other specific tools that commonly overlap in a workflow, like Salesforce or other CRMs. A little research and speaking to your company reps can uncover which of your tools have pre-built integrations for each other. These are typically the most pre-built, so easier to get up and running but sometimes at the cost of customization options.

Best for: Event teams with minimal time or technical resources who want to benefit from automation

Build your own

If you have the resources for it, your developer team can create fully custom workflows using your event management software API and its documentation.

Best for: Events teams with dedicated engineering resources to develop custom solutions

In Conclusion

Event automation can transform the way you work, streamlining your processes, creating a consistent guest experience, and building loyalty among your guests, exhibitors, and sponsors. For event automation to be its most effective, you need to build the process up-front with intentionality. Do a little research, see what’s available, and involve your vendors in the discussion. Whether you’re looking for an easier time managing your event marketing, event management, or event experience, mapping out the plan and instituting the tech around it might amaze you when it all comes together.