After two unprecedented years, it feels like things are getting back to “normal.” Most of the associations we have spoken with are returning to in-person meetings and conferences in 2022. However, virtual and hybrid events proved to be very valuable during the pandemic. This begs the question, “should you continue to host hybrid or virtual events in the post-pandemic world?” The data that you gathered from these events is a valuable asset to help inform your decision. Leveraging analytics will help you identify if there is value in continuing hybrid or online events for your organization. Here are four easy ways to leverage your virtual event data.

Four Ways to Leverage Virtual Event Data

The pandemic is considered a “Global Natural Experiment.” This is something that is naturally occurring, uncontrolled and acts like a randomized experiment. This “Global Natural Experiment” has provided us with a treasure-trove of useful data after the fact. Before the pandemic, there were many challenges with setting up real-life experiences to test your hypotheses. For example, you may have wanted to ask questions like:

  • “What if we hosted our event for free?”
  • “What if we offer an online-only experience?”

Those ideas probably would have been shot down in the past. The pandemic gave organizations an opportunity to execute these abnormal events. Now you can use the data captured at these events to find new opportunities.

Tip #1: Identify and define new member segments

Look at your registration data to identify patterns or trends that exist. With this natural experiment, many associations acquired new virtual event attendees who had never attended their in-person events. We want to figure out who these people are and determine how to better understand them.

  • Identify characteristics of the people who attended virtual events in high numbers and determine how they are different or the same from those who attended in-person.
  • Are you seeing more young professional, early-career individuals who usually don’t have the budget or time to travel? Are you seeing more international attendees? Is there anything significant that stands out?

Tip #2: Determine if and how these segments continued to engage

Once you have identified these segments, analyze them to see if they continued engaging with your association. After they attended your virtual event, did they:

  • Engage more with your association?
  • Attend an in-person event?
  • Register for a class?
  • Become a member if they were not?

Or maybe they didn’t engage with you further. If you learn that a free conference didn’t encourage the new segments to engage more it might not be worth it to continue hosting these virtual events. But don’t forget there could be value in creating goodwill and thought leadership with free services that you can’t always measure.

Tip #3: Find new revenue opportunities

By distinguishing these new segments and understanding their behaviors, you can create something new for them to participate in. Maybe you don’t currently have the right vehicle for this segment to continue engaging. Consider:

  • Repurposing existing content and bundling it in a way that appeals to them.
  • Establishing a virtual conference with content different from your in-person event.
  • If some of these segments are budget conscious and are interested in free things, this could be an opportunity for engaging your sponsors. They may want to deliver content to this audience and be happy to pay for the right to do so. You can still generate revenue but the audience doesn’t pay to attend.

Tip #4: Exclude data when necessary (yes, you read that correctly)

Yes, there are a few cases when you do indeed want to exclude the data you gathered from your hybrid or virtual events. These types of data points are called outliers. Removing outliers is referred to as trimming. You need to understand when best to include, and when to exclude, data. You should exclude data when:

  • Calculating averages – during the COVID era most events were free. So, if you were looking at the average spend per attendee, the 2020 and 2021 numbers will skew your data. The same is true when looking at attendee counts. For example, because the virtual events were free you probably had a higher attendee count than at your in-person events.
  • Conducting weeks out analyses – There is typically a spike right before registration at free events. This is opposed to in-person events when attendees register in advance in order to arrange travel plans.
  • Using predictive models – predictive modeling typically uses 3 -5 years of historical data. 2020 and 2021 are not true representations of typical behavior and would skew your model.

Don’t forget to look at costs

In addition to analyzing your virtual event data, you’ll also want to compare the costs for your events before deciding if it was worth it or not. Consider both hard and hidden costs when evaluating your events. For example:

  • Did you invest in an additional platform for your virtual event?
  • How much time did you spend researching virtual event platforms?
  • How much time did it take to learn the new platform and train your staff on how to use it?
  • Did you invest in a vaccination verification service?
  • If your event was a hybrid event, it was literally like running two events simultaneously. Consider the increased workload.

The value in your new member segments, their continued engagement and new revenue opportunities from virtual events may outweigh your total costs, but you don’t know until you dig in!

Use Your Learnings

This is a unique opportunity. Take advantage of the insights from your pandemic-era data and apply them. Find the pockets of good and the things that didn’t work or could be improved upon. Use the data to determine if you should continue to host virtual or hybrid events. What was the benefit of hosting these events…to your members…to your organization…to your entire industry? Use other nuggets of information you learned to engage the new segments you have identified. Use it to create content or campaigns that are relevant to them. Or use it to get sponsors to create “free” content for your budget-conscious audience. Don’t assume that virtual events were better or worse than in-person. Let the data tell you. For more detailed information on these steps, you can watch our recent webinar.

How to Get Started

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