In the early days of the pandemic, event marketers scrambled to replace their physical events with virtual ones without much strategic insight as to exactly how to measure the impact of their efforts. Flash-forward to the present and the industry is taking full advantage of the data-rich environments virtual events provide by measuring their effectiveness from any and every angle.
And while it’s not always an exact science, having a virtual event measurement strategy ultimately provides marketers with the intel they need to understand what their audience wants and how to best digitally deliver it to them. Of course, there are many variables to consider before getting started, so we tapped a handful of experts in the space for some pro tips. Here’s a look at five of their top insights.
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Virtual strategies should differ from in-person ones.
The same way that event marketers shouldn’t simply “lift and shift” programming when it comes to pivoting an event to virtual also stands true for virtual vs. physical event measurement. While it would be easy to simply replicate your in-person event measurement strategy, virtual engagement looks different, and the data needs to match.
“It’s an easy thing to say, hey, we had 5,000 people in an in-person event go through this process, let’s get the same numbers and the exact same type of metrics when we do it virtually,” says Karl Siegert, vice president and coo at MVP Collaborative. “But it might’ve been a three-day event at a convention center where everybody’s spending a good eight hours a day at the event. When done virtually, it might be 90 minutes over a couple of days as our tolerance levels [for a virtual experience] are way shorter. So, the medium is completely different.”
Certain data doesn’t tell the whole story. Take, for example, a positive Net Promoter Scores and high attendance numbers. If, for instance, an attendee shows up to a virtual event for 15 minutes, sees one great video, then rates the event a 98 out of 100, that information doesn’t translate to an accurate view of overall attendee satisfaction because the attendee wasn’t particularly engaged. It’s a similar idea when you look at attendance numbers. At an in-person event, total attendance tends to indicate the number of people who were genuinely engaged, while total virtual event attendance might simply indicate who showed up.
“The idea that someone attended doesn’t mean that there’s a depth of relationship that you might expect if there was an in-person event,” says Mike Fein, svp-integrated strategy and analytics at Rogers & Cowan PMK. “There’s going to be a gap between attendance and actual engagement.”
You can collect too much information.
There are certain aspects of a virtual event that most event marketers should be tracking, things like dwell time, video views, content clicks and, in some cases, sales made. But as John Capano, svp at Impact XM puts it, “The great thing about virtual is you can measure everything. The complicated thing about virtual is you can measure everything.”
So how do you pick and choose which data to track? First, determine what you’re trying to learn from the information. Are you simply looking for event results or are you trying to understand what’s working and what isn’t? If you’re tracking data that doesn’t map back to your answer, it’s not going to be useful. Second, figure out what kind of information will be worth all of your efforts.
“There’s a natural cost in measurement that can come in the form of time and also in the form of tracking tools,” says Fein. “It’s really about what’s going to show impact versus what’s just a signal.”
Consider designing a ranking system.
Based on your KPIs and objectives, Capano suggests developing an internal ranking system that demonstrates how engaged each attendee was during your virtual events. By determining what you deem to be truly “engaged”—maybe it’s viewing four pieces of content, doing a networking activity and filling out the exit survey—your organization can get a better understanding of how close it is to achieving its goals.
“It’s a way to create almost an index of engagement,” Capano says. “So we’ll say, what do we want people to do? Is this an event aimed at people watching the brand video? Is it aimed at creating networking opportunities? Is it the exit survey? Will we want to get a great rating from people? And then we create an engagement score, which is an index of those items.”
Privacy comes into play.
Collecting virtual event data doesn’t come without its complications. If you want to track data on specific individuals, adhering to privacy rules and regulations will be paramount. For one thing, you’ll be required to use encrypted servers, which will encompass a significant investment. And you’ll need a thorough understanding of what you are and aren’t allowed to track. One workaround, as long as it aligns with your business objectives, is not to track specific individuals, but to track individual users who can’t be personally identified (think: User 1, User 2).
Benchmarking is important.
The reams of information you collect through your virtual event measurement efforts should, of course, be used to inform your future virtual event strategies. One way to leverage the data is to create benchmarks for your engagements.
“We’re starting to benchmark our work, creating our own averages to date because we really want to understand, for example, what is the right amount of time that a keynote or a general session should be?” says Lisette Sheehan, vp-measurement at Sparks. “It’s no longer an attendee sitting in an audience watching an on-stage session for 90 minutes. It is really important to understand virtual event behavior, is the attendee is watching by sitting in front of their computer or from a device, what is the average viewing time? What’s the drop off rate? When do we lose their attention?”