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How to strengthen CMS integrations

At Brightfind, we frequently see issues with integrations between an organization’s CMS website and all of the other systems that need to integrate with it.

Organizations frequently come to us and say, “Look, we have this website, and it's got all this great content. But we want to increase the number of visits to the website from members and constituents and we need to increase their understanding of all the various things that we deliver.” 

The challenge is, with every additional third party integration - whether it’s a Learning Management System (LMS), a community site, a trade show site, or a scholarly publishing site, etc. - the complexity increases. 

The heart of the challenge that many organizations face is that their constituents may use, say, their LMS as their primary form of engagement and are familiar with it, but they don't know about all the other products or services offered by your organization. That's going to continue unless you find a way to integrate the information amongst all those systems into a common user interface. That's usually best delivered by the CMS. 

The ability to provide a broader and more personalized view of the products and services that an organization offers really comes through when you start integrating these other systems into the user's online experience. 

The better and stronger those integrations are, the more value you can provide to the people you serve.

Considerations for integration

If you find that your constituents are often unaware of everything that your organization has to offer or if you are getting feedback that they are having a poor experience moving between platforms, here are some areas of integration to evaluate:

1. Authentication

It all starts with login integration for authentication and authorization. We're still a long way away in this industry and marketplace from creating a smooth path to login integration for most organizations. 

Clearly, the best solution is to have a login experience that is the same across all your platforms - CMS, AMS/CRM, LMS, scholarly publishing system, etc. If there’s data about a user in the AMS/CRM, that data should carry over between those systems. The experience should be seamless. 

Unfortunately, there are challenges. Not all of these third party technology companies are able or even willing to participate in a standardized SSL model. Many of them have their own approach to login instead of participating in a standardized approach across all technology partners. 

But there are more options now, such as using Salesforce, for example, as an underlying component of your AMS or CRM. These options enable more organizations to adopt a standardized approach to login. Because Salesforce is such a large vendor, all these various third-party vendors should be willing to come up with a solution for Salesforce. The challenge is that, right now, vendors still have to come up with a number of solutions for lots of different interdependent vendors. 

There are also open source single sign-on solutions that could be used as a standard SSO platform, but you still have to get all your vendors to then agree to use that standard.

As an organization that is choosing a new AMS/CRM, CMS, LMS, scholarly publishing system or other third party technology, it’s really important to understand that it's the third party vendors who are not yet able or willing to participate in a common standard. You have to take that effort and potential cost into account when making decisions about new vendors and platforms. 

When it comes to authentication, it’s also important to think beyond just your members. A lot of organizations only prioritize members for login, but my philosophy is to find a solution that provides everyone in your AMS/CRM database the ability to log in.

But that’s only one part of integration. There already is strong support for using the AMS/CRM as a SSO solution and integrating to some other major players in the LMS, community, and in the scholarly publishing environments. 

After authentication, the next step in the login process is authorization.  This step is all about finding out what other activity they participate in within your organization. 

2. Permissions and personalization integrations based on activity

When constituents log in, we also want to answer questions like, “What type of member are they? Do they belong to particular committees? Do they belong to particular chapters? Have they participated in a particular event?”

Authorization should allow us to transfer a bunch of information from the AMS/CRM to the CMS, for example, to know which users to grant access to what content. These permissions could be based on whether they belong to a committee or chapter, or if they are a certain type of member, or if they attended a specific event.

Permissioning is an important part of that integration process. The data we get during the login authorization process also allows your organization to provide a personalized experience for a user. That creates more opportunity for you to provide better service and more value, to not only your members, but to constituents integral to the mission of your organization.

Ideally, you can pull that data from your AMS/CRM through an integration. At Brightfind, we have a very common methodology for getting that kind of information from most of the top tier AMS/CRMs, and those that use Salesforce as a framework for their products. This supports a very granular and hierarchy-based permission access model, and a flexible and extensive personalization model. 

3. Product delivery 

With the right integrations, your organization can increase revenue opportunities through a more diverse and incremental product purchasing and delivery approach. 

In a traditional membership model, membership provides access to everything. With integrations that support incremental product delivery, membership “tiers” could receive a variety of “bundled” benefits (X, Y, and Z or B, D, and X), with options to higher-level tiers with additional benefits (like Sling tv or other streaming services). This way you can segment your products to provide more value and increase revenue.

On streaming services like Amazon or Hulu, you can buy a single episode at a low cost (in order to see whether you really like the show) and then decide on the option to buy the full season. Similarly, you could provide non-members with fairly risk-free opportunities to find value in your organization’s products and services. Offer them access to a single webinar at a low cost, and then offer them access to the full series once you’ve proven your value. You can then continue to up-sell and cross-sell them on other products and services, all the while offering membership join opportunities.

4. Member directory 

For some organizations, a member directory is a vital part of how their members and other audience members engage with their organization. You’ll need an integration from your AMS/CRM to your website so that a user can easily go to a search interface and look up members by location or other demographics. 

That directory should have the look, feel, and experience of the CMS. But just as important is that it takes advantage of what we talked about earlier, which is permissioning and personalization. If you're a medical organization, you might want a directory that grants only your members (not the public) access to the full directory, and grants the public access to a more limited version of that data.

You can also take advantage of personalization by highlighting the directory results that are closest geographically to the user, or by prioritizing the results to show experts on a topic or area of interest that the user has previously expressed an interest in. 

In these scenarios, you're taking advantage of both that single sign-on permissioning, as well as the data integration.

5. Publishing and distributing content

When organizations publish content, they often need to use that content on multiple channels, not just on their website. Examples might include an e-newsletter that distributes website content like blog posts, which could be as simple as an RSS feed. 

Alternatively, it could be a complex integration that delivers personalized content targeted to the individual receiving the email. Personalization across all these channels is the way of the future.

Most CMS products today also have built-in capabilities that will allow you as a publisher within the CMS to publish content on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social accounts.

6. Publications

These integrations tend to be more limited because often the third-party publishing companies own the content and the platform. They're not quite as willing to share that content out into other systems, except at a relatively high level. If we can get the relevant information into the CMS (abstract, DOI number, etc.), so it can be displayed at least in a short form. Then the user can go from there to the scholarly publishing platform. That is valuable, in that there's one place that a user can go to discover all the possible information of interest to them.

Getting a federated search integration to those scholarly publishing platforms is often a key goal for organizations so that a user can be on the main website, do a search against the entire website, but also search everything in the scholarly publishing site. 

Just like with login, some publishing organizations are more willing to make their content and APIs available to integration processes, and some are reluctant or incapable of doing that. It's usually a pretty important goal for organizations that have third-party scholarly publishing sites as part of their value propositions to their members. 

There are a number of search products in the marketplace that provide solutions for this integration. There are also search technologies within the CMS that are very powerful because they can spider other resources or use APIs to get data from those other resources. The ability to federate search across lots of different content and products is a valuable integration point for lots of organizations.

7. LMS

Integrations to Learning Management Systems (LMS) are similarly important to many associations in order to produce a more streamlined and seamless user experience. The CMS and LMS need to be properly integrated so that the LMS can verify that a person has permission to consume content, take courses, etc. 

If you want to enable your CMS to show LMS-based information to an individual user during their website experience and have the ability to leverage permissioning and personalization, then we have to do an integration between the CMS and LMS. 

Like many of the third-party applications we've been talking about, there are so many different LMS platforms available that you have to kind of relearn and recreate that for each LMS. It’s much easier to integrate those two systems when they both conform to the same SSO standard. That makes it possible to provide a unified experience on the CMS website. 

There are some cool things you can do when you have that information, like promoting an LMS resource to users who aren’t using it. If the LMS has educational opportunities on a particular topic, and a person starts consuming content on that topic in the CMS, then you could promote that educational content in the LMS specifically to that user.

That's a very powerful experience that is very doable if you have a seamless integration between these various systems. 

8. E-commerce

Organizations have struggled with online e-commerce in our marketplace since day one. They still struggle because they generally have relied on their AMS to provide the e-commerce interface. 

Unfortunately, most AMS have not done a great job of providing an e-commerce experience that meets user expectations. That is a huge weak point where there is separation between the user's experience on the CMS and the user experience when they shop, evaluate, and make a purchase. Even if the CMS has a brilliant user experience, if the e-commerce experience is less than optimal, overall satisfaction is lower.

The biggest opportunity in e-commerce integrations is to use the CMS capability to provide a more personalized e-commerce experience. Your users may be used to a highly personalized experience on your website that is not always possible from your AMS/CRMs online user experience. At least, not without a lot of extra legwork. 

The end goal is to be able to create full featured, industry standard e-commerce experiences. For example, Shopify is known as the common standard for smaller and less complex e-commerce transactional activities, but they have lots of great features that marketers want. Features that the AMS/CRM e-commerce systems currently don't have, highlighting the need for you to take advantage of tighter integrations with your CMS.

That's where we think the marketplace is headed. It has a long way to go, but ultimately your constituents are looking for a more integrated CMS and e-commerce experience. They should look and feel like one seamless platform. 

You can already take advantage of the data you have about what content a user is consuming on your website and use it for personalization. The e-commerce system should be able to deliver product recommendations based on that experience. 

Additionally, the website can start recommending other content or products in other systems such as your LMS based on previous transactions. These kinds of personalizations can help begin to create the kind of experiences that turn your audience into fans. 

The main goal

It all comes down to one main goal: getting constituents what they want, when they want it. That's really important for increasing the perception of value from each of your constituents. 

Nirvana for a user of your website is achieved when you’ve integrated your various business systems in a way that allows that user to quickly understand the breadth and depth of products and services you offer. The website should be is able to adjust to the personal demographics and interests of that user in order to deliver more precisely what they want, and exactly when they want it.

At Brightfind, CMS integrations are our expertise. Interested in working with us on your next project? Contact us today.

Frank Klassen

Topics: CMS

Written by Frank Klassen