How to measure the success of a virtual event
Virtual events can be powerful tools for brand building and engagement—but how do you know they’re successful? We’ll walk through the ways to measure the success of your virtual event using data.
What does virtual event success look like?
The first step in determining whether a virtual event was successful happens far in advance of the event. As part of your event planning, you should clearly identify what “success” looks like. This is different for every client and depends on the reason you’re having an event. Once you’ve identified your ideal outcome, you can identify the specific metrics that will tell you if you’ve reached your goal.
Understanding the data from your virtual event
Virtual events offer a wealth of ways to track attendance and engagement. The best source of data is usually the event platform itself. Pathable, Intrado, PheedLoop, and other commercial virtual platforms have robust analytics dashboards that report detailed data about who registered, who attended, and how they engaged with the platform, with other attendees, and with sponsors.
Each platform measures and reports data differently, so it’s important to understand what the data you’re looking at represents. If you make assumptions about the data you’re seeing without knowing what it measures, you can end up with faulty conclusions. Worse, you can make decisions about future events based on those faulty conclusions. Take the time to understand how each platform reports data, or work with a trusted partner who does.
Key metrics for virtual events
When almost any aspect of a virtual event can be measured, it can be difficult to know what’s useful in analyzing the success of your event. Here’s what we recommend tracking based on our experience developing and producing hundreds of virtual events:
- Percentage of registrants who attend. The number of event registrations is important because it gives you a maximum number of people who will attend. The more important number, though, is the number of people who actually attend. We measure this as a percentage of the total number of registrants, and the closer it is to 85% the more successful your event will be. Whatever the purpose of your event, you’ve designed it with a certain number of attendees in mind. Everything from content to breakout sessions is based on an assumption that a large percentage of people will attend. If that percentage is closer to 20%, you’re not getting the impact your event was created to achieve.
- Attendance size as compared to previous years. This is an easy-to-determine metric that can reflect growth of brand awareness, interest, reputation, and audience connection. It’s important to factor in external conditions and any differences from the previous year (including weather events, change from the previous time of year, or event format) that might have impacted current attendance when you’re comparing audience size to previous years.
- Check-in and check-out times. One of the features of most virtual platforms is the ability to check into and check out of event sessions. You can measure not only the overall time that attendees are at the event, but you can also measure times for specific sessions, speakers, and exhibit booth visits. This allows you to see what content and speakers resonated the most with people and identify where there might be room for improvement next time. Being able to interpret this data will give you important insights for future planning.
- Number of private messages sent. Private messages are the communications attendees have with each other, with speakers, and with sponsors. Successful virtual and hybrid events involve attendee participation and interactions between people. The number of private messages that are sent reflects the level of audience engagement and investment. We like to see the number of private messages equal at least 25% of the number of attendees (not registrants); a higher percentage represents even more engagement.
- Scores on certification tests or quizzes. If your event involves certification exams, you can assess audience engagement by the number of passing and high scores. Even if these types of tests aren’t required, you can add in short, fun quizzes throughout the content to gauge how the content is resonating with audiences. By interspersing quizzes into the main content, you can have immediate feedback that can help you make the remaining sessions even better.
- The number of qualified leads for sponsors. This metric is useful both for demonstrating event success and for pricing sponsorships for future events. We’ve found that attendees tend to spend more time at virtual sponsor booths than they do at live event booths, and they make return trips that physical space and limited time make difficult in person. At one recent hybrid event, attendees spent an average of over nine minutes per attendee at each booth! This means both sponsors and attendees are receiving value.
- Event feedback. Asking attendees and sponsors to rate their experience provides a complement to the hard data. We review all feedback with our clients and use it to shape the next event. There’s no wrong format for reviews: number of stars, scores from 1-10, multiple-choice and open-ended questions are all valid. As important as the feedback itself, though, is the percentage of attendees who provide feedback. We typically use a response rate of 25-30% of attendees as a goal.
How do you increase the number of surveys returned?
- Tell people what you want. Be straightforward and literal: “Please click here to take this survey” may sound a little boring, but it helps people know exactly what you want them to do. Make sure your survey directions are also clear.
- Make it easy. Only ask questions that will give you needed information. Try to limit the questions to five questions maximum with a text box for additional comments if someone wants to address an issue the questions didn’t cover. If you have too many questions, people won’t respond.
- Put the survey in the chatbox. Surveys in a chat are more likely to be completed than those that are emailed after the event.
- Incentivize completion. At a recent event, the final day’s session speaker slots were reserved for speakers who received the highest scores on surveys for the first two days of the event. Attendees knew their survey responses would shape their own experience, so the response rates were higher than average.
- Market the survey completion. If the survey is announced as people are leaving the event, they don’t tend to view it as worth their time. By hyping the survey at different stages of the event, you seed the idea that it’s important.
No matter what your event experience goals are, there’s a way to measure the success of an event—and gain valuable insights to make the next one even better.