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What metrics are typically used to assess the success of virtual events? Simply tracking the number of participants doesn't provide much value.

While virtual events have been around for years, many exhibit and event managers are just beginning to dip their toes into the virtual pond. And unfortunately, the majority of these greenhorns launch events now and ask measurement questions later. Sure, they might track the number of people that attend the virtual event, but this is a little like measuring the number of attendees that visit your exhibit for a Harley Davidson drawing. If you track nothing else, you only learn whether your target audience likes motorcycles and if your various promotional tactics were effective.

So establishing virtual-event metrics aside from mere attendance figures is critical, especially for your first foray into this medium. Such metrics allow you to measure event performance as it relates to marketing objectives and the effectiveness of the content and manner in which it's presented, which is crucial to the event's long-term success. For example, with proper benchmarks in place, you might learn that a ton of attendees registered for a specific presentation but then dropped out two minutes into it. This could indicate that attendees were interested in the topic (that is, your content was properly targeted), but something about the presentation itself (e.g., length, presenter, delivery method, visuals or lack thereof, etc.) turned them off. Thus, benchmarking your event from several angles can help you improve the content, delivery, and effectiveness.

What's more, the digital nature of online events makes them vastly easier to measure than nondigital events. That is, you can build measurement strategies into the event and monitor endless variables (click-thrus, time spent, number of topics visited, audience quality, etc.) in real time and from the comfort of your office with the mere click of a mouse.

Indeed, then, there are endless metrics you can – and should – track with regard to a virtual event. And each metric should be carefully tailored to your objectives, audience, event, etc., which means there are also myriad variables that determine which metrics most apply to your program. However, here are three broad silos into which most measurement tactics fall. Implement at least a few measurement strategies from each of these silos, and you'll have the data you need to ratchet up event effectiveness.

Target Audience

Obviously, you can track the number of people that attend your virtual event. But it's also important to know just who these "numbers" represent. Are you pulling in people with purchasing authority and intent, or just unqualified folks looking for a little education? Is the event attractive to C-level attendees, or are attendees more mid-level managers? Determining who's actually registering for your event will tell you a lot about the attractiveness of your content as it pertains to your target audience as well as your promotional strategy.

But beyond these basics, you can also analyze various metrics about each target-audience group, e.g., decision makers, C-level attendees, lower-level recommenders, etc. For example, how many registrants from each targeted group actually attend the event (versus those who registered for it), what content is of most interest to each segment (based on session participation), and how much time is spent at the event and in each session? This information can help you create more targeted content and promotions in the future.

However, if one of your goals is to generate leads, you also can track individual attendees through the entire event process and possibly hand off qualified prospects to sales. For example, if you target a handful of senior-level executives, monitor which sessions they attend, the amount of time they spend in each one, any questions they pose, survey responses they provide, etc. Based on preset criteria from your sales department, you may be able to identify several qualified prospects that are ready for sales follow-up. Virtual-event results don't get much better than that.

Attendee Engagement

In order to sufficiently absorb your content, whether it's straightforward educational information or more of a sales pitch, attendees need to be fully engaged with your event. So measuring attendee engagement with content, presenters, other attendees, etc. is critical to analyzing overall event effectiveness.

There are myriad ways to analyze engagement, and your virtual-event designers/suppliers should have some suggestions based on your marketing objectives and content. But one basic measurement involves overall interest. That is, what portion of your event draws the most attention? What sessions garner very little? How long, on average, do attendees spend engaged in each offering? And do they bail at a certain point, or stay engaged throughout the entire session? Is there any correlation between attendee type (based on buying power, job title, etc.) and the level of engagement? For example, you might ascertain that a C-level executive tends to drop out of a session after the three-minute mark, while a mid-level manager typically stays for the duration.

You might also consider analyzing various presentation methods. For example, metrics could illustrate that attendees tend to devote four minutes to a presentation yet are willing to peruse a virtual trade show floor for up to an hour. This type of information will allow you to better establish successful presentation methods in the future.

Forward Progress

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you need to ascertain what, if anything, has changed as a result of the event. After all, you hosted this virtual event to affect some kind of change in attendees, which could include shifts in everything from sales and product knowledge to changes in perceptions about your brand or products. So some type of post-event attendee survey is a must if you want to gauge the effectiveness of your event.

There are countless topics about which you can query your audience. For example, did attendees acquire additional knowledge? Have you moved them any closer to a sale? Did their overall opinions of your brand change? Is your company now perceived as being more technologically savvy? Do they now view your firm as a thought leader?

A survey will give you a better understanding of what stood out for each attendee – good and bad – and you can hone in your questions to see if you've moved the needle on key marketing objectives. Then, use this information when planning your next event to determine what aspects to keep, what to tweak, and what to eliminate altogether.

Now that your wheels are turning, it's probably obvious that there seemingly countless ways to assess virtual events. And no matter what metrics you choose, simply establishing some benchmarks will give you a valuable bar against which to assess – and hopefully to improve – your next virtual-event endeavor.

– Eric Vidal, director of marketing, InterCall Inc., a subsidiary of West Corp.


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