How to Avoid Drowning in a Sea of Data
Digital and hybrid events can collect a vast sea of data. If not careful, planners can quickly find themselves awash in information without a measurable way to use it.
By Ronnie Wendt
Digital and hybrid events can collect a vast sea of data. If not careful, planners can quickly find themselves awash in information without a measurable way to use it. Naomi Tucker, founder of Planners on Purpose, an organization with a mission to help destress and empower event planners, says limited time and the sheer volumes of data lead many meeting organizers and stakeholders to avoid reviewing the information at all.
Instead, she recommends analyzing data from two valuable perspectives: as the meeting organizer and as the attendee. “Meeting organizers must consider how they can use the data to improve the planning process. They also need to review the information to improve the attendee experience,” Tucker says.
Digital meetings and events can gather metrics that go beyond speaker evaluations. They can include the number of logins, new users, active users, unique views, video replays, likes per session, notes taken, registrants, chats, Q&As and more.
With that much data available, planners must zero in on the metrics they want to collect in advance, advises Patrick Smith, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Cvent, noting this begins by setting event goals and determining the target audience. “Consider what kinds of informed decisions you want to make, and what insights will most benefit your core business or mission,” he suggests. “The answers to these questions will guide planners and marketers to the type of data they should collect.”
Meanwhile, Tucker recommends reflecting on the answer to two basic questions: What is the outcome I seek from this event? What do I want attendees to experience at this event? “The answers to these questions,” she says, “will drive the data you collect.”
Though metrics vary based on goals, Smith also advises collecting both satisfaction data and engagement data. “Satisfaction data will tell you if attendees liked your event, agenda topics, speakers and more, while engagement data will complement that information by telling you how deeply attendees engaged with every aspect of your event. For example, did they download a session deck for reference later on?” he asks. When planners combine these data sets, they can paint a clear picture of what resonated with attendees and what did not. This helps ensure subsequent events are better than the last.
“Tracking these engagement touchpoints not only gives planners and marketers better insight into attendee interests before and during the event, but it also allows them to personalize each customer’s experience after the event with targeted post-event campaigns and messaging,” Smith stresses. “By delivering more customized and curated content, attendees are more likely to be engaged long after the event ends — enabling year-round engagement or something we call the continuous event.”
Jodie Daugherty is a marketing services manager for Barnes & Thornburg LLP, a law firm with locations across the U.S. The firm hosts up to 250 digital meetings a year. Daugherty admits she collects far more data with digital events. “We collect registration information, materials downloads, engagement metrics, post-event video views, Q&A questions and more,” she says. “We are most interested in what happens during the event. But we also do a post-event survey that asks basic questions about the presentation.”
Barnes & Thornburg uses these metrics to chart the course for subsequent meetings or events. “The data helps us personalize future events,” she explains. “We ask attendees, ‘What do you need from us?’ If they say, more on immigration, for example, we follow up later and ask, ‘What types of information on immigration do you need?’”
Q&A responses also direct future programming. Daugherty points out that questions in the Q&A often show a need for future programming. “We frequently develop a question from the Q&A into a full program,” she says.
Daugherty also assigns a social media hashtag to most events, noting, “People are more honest on social media than in other places.” Then she reviews and analyzes hashtag comments. “Is this person a frequent attendee? What didn’t they like? Why didn’t they like it?” she asks.
Smith stresses tracking attendee engagement data across multiple events can provide an even clearer picture of interests and event performance. “Data can serve as a guide to help illustrate areas of improvement to increase engagement across the entire event platform,” he says. “With these actionable insights, events have become even more important to organizations as they look to maximize their reach and engagement with their target audience.”
New metrics also arose out of the pandemic, Tucker adds. For hybrid events, it now makes sense to ask virtual attendees why they didn’t attend in person, for example. “It helps you monitor how personal preferences are changing,” she explains. “It’s also critical to see how long they stayed on the actual event and when they logged off.”
Beyond passive metrics, planners can additionally incorporate more feedback sources via peer-to-peer gamification, mobile apps, live session polls, social media challenges, roundtable discussions, interactive programs and video content. “These things can collect data, and track more detailed information about attendee sentiments and interests,” Smith says. “The more opportunities you give attendees to interact with your event, the better insights you will gather — and the more engagement you will drive.”
Surveys after the fact can provide metrics for future improvements. But Daugherty warns poor responses to post- event surveys are a problem. “We’re trying to find a better way to collect post-event feedback,” she says. “Out of 40 people, you may get two to respond.”
Barnes & Thornburg now collects feedback during events via polls and quizzes. The questions include things like: Was this presentation beneficial to your job? Is the topic what you expected? Was there something specific you were hoping to learn that you didn’t? This approach garners an 80% to 95% response rate, she says.
Information that sits in siloes (that is, without context) is meaningless. So, what are some ways to derive insights from the collected data? Cvent offers its Attendee Hub, a full hybrid platform that allows planners and marketers to track all data points in one system of record, and compile them into an attendee engagement score. “Engagement scoring allows event planners and marketers to attribute different values to every touchpoint based on their unique event goals,” says Smith. “The engagement score gives a clear indication of attendee interest — delivering critical data sales and marketing teams can deploy to have more informed follow-up conversations.”
Smith continues, “Looking at individual attendee engagement touchpoints in siloes will not be extremely helpful in improving and personalizing future event experiences. But organizing and turning data into an engagement score allows planners and marketers to organize attendees’ engagement levels and understand their interests — which allows for easier personalization at future events and for targeted marketing campaigns.”
Other companies offer data-mining services. For example, Tucker also serves as a customer success director for Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, which offers a business intelligence service that helps meeting organizers make sense of their data. “We collect and review gathered information, see where the story is interesting, and present that information to our customers in a way they can understand it and take action,” she says. “Our customers love looking at our conclusions, and our list of opportunities and suggestions. It’s so much easier than sorting through columns and columns of data.”
Tucker concludes that meeting organizers may find themselves awash in a sea of data that means little and changes things even less unless they have a clear purpose and goals, predetermined metrics, and a platform to derive actionable insights.