Last Updated on October 7, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. We’re generating too much data, and no one seems entirely sure what to do with it. Oh, sure, there’s a field called analytics that purports analyze, arrange, and manage all the information; but does it actually help all that much?
The problem with analytics from the perspective of an outsider is that it seems a whole lot more complicated than it is. That perception isn’t exactly helped along by a lot of the buzzword-heavy coverage on the topic by the media – far too often, people’ve got a tendency to wax on about the latest ‘big thing’ in big data, pumping out articles with plenty of flair but very little in the way of substance.
That’s a problem – and it’s one we’re going to attempt to address today. See, as an event management professional, data is actually your best friend. It’s one of the most valuable resources available to you, and the capacity to examine, analyze, and organize the information it contains is downright vital in helping you to run more efficient, enjoyable, and effective events.
Why Should You Care About Big Data?
Without a doubt, one of the biggest buzzwords (no pun intended) in the analytics space is “big data.” Everybody’s talking about how valuable it is, about the insights it can provide a business that knows how to tap into it; about how being able to tap into it will give an organization an unstoppable competitive edge. The problem, of course, is that no one really seems capable of agreeing on precisely what big data consists of.
Our first order of business, then, is to establish a working definition of big data; one which we can use in the context of event management.
Let’s start with a bit of context. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll argue that the world isn’t more connected today than it’s ever been at any point in human history. The Internet was one of the most fundamentally disruptive technologies we’ve ever seen, and today you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t use at least a desktop or smartphone in their day-to-day life. Now, here’s the thing about electronics – everything we do with them generates data of some kind, whether it’s usage statistics, demographic information, purchase details, or simply user opinion.
It’s not just people, either. Everything in a business generates data of some kind – referred to colloquially as data exhaust. We’re talking about terabytes upon terabytes of stuff generated on a regular basis, so much data that it’s almost impossible to conceive.
As you can imagine, all this stuff combined means an exponential increase in the amount of data available to businesses – and it’s that increase that “big data” at its core refers to. The problem, of course, is not all big data is valuable to businesses. What’s more, it’s near-impossible for human beings to sift through all the information unaided in order to find the insights; in order to recognize the patterns in the data that connote value. That’s where analytics comes in.
But we’re getting a bit off track. If you want a more comprehensive definition of big data, SAS has a fairly complete explanation of it. We’ve defined it as much as we need to for our purposes – it’s time to refocus things a bit.
So, now that you’ve a general idea of what big data is…what’s the big deal about it in the context of event management? Why should you care about all the information being generated by your event? Lanyon’s International Director of Marketing Laurence Debruyne put it best, I think.
“A decade ago,” he writes in a guest post on the Event Manager Blog, “event data would have consisted of basic attendee information collected from registration forms, such as name, age, address, or surveys. As technology has advanced, so has the complexity of data.”
“The information amassed can help event and conference organizers discover new industry insights to enhance their events and operate with greater efficiency, boosting their event ROI, in addition to improving the attendee experience and journey,” he continues. “If you are planning a conference or corporate event and have a strategic meetings management program in place, then you’re already benefitting from the power of big data analysis without the big data label.”
Basically, what Debruyne is saying here is that by making intelligent use of your event data, you’ve the potential to improve your events across the board. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Let’s move on.
Now that you know the importance of data…how can you tap into it?
What Are The Key Areas Of Focus Here?
The first step in organizing and analyzing your event data is to understand what your goals are. That’s what lies at the core of every strategic meetings management program. After all, without a clear concept of what you want an event to achieve, there’s really no way to analyze whether or not it was successful, right?
You might, for example, be running a trade show in order to generate high-quality leads for your business. You might be hosting a charity fundraiser to bring in money for a good cause and foster goodwill about your brand. You might run a convention simply to turn a profit from ticket sales and vendor fees.
Whatever the case, once your goal’s been set out, you’ll know exactly what information to focus on – and what data needs to be analyzed in order to help you improve.
Now, here’s where things get a little complicated. See, there are plenty of different data frameworks, analytics platforms, and metrics you can use to track your event. As such, it may be simpler to arrange things based on the questions you’ll want to ask yourself about the event – I guarantee there’ll be some form of metric or tracking tool designed to help you answer each one:
- How large is your team? How many people are required to make the event run?
- Who are your team members?
- How is your team primarily communicating? Are they using the platform you provided to them, or going through alternative channels?
- Are event staff and volunteers regularly showing up for their shifts? What hours do they work, on average?
- What are your volunteers doing while on the event floor? How are they engaging with your attendees?
- What’s your volunteer burnout rate? Why do your event staff flounce?
- Who is attending your event? Who is the target demographic vs. the demographic that actually showed up?
- How did your guests register? What was the purchasing process for attendees who bought themselves tickets?
- Why are your guests attending the event? What is their reason for being there?
- Of the people in attendance, how many became leads for your business?
- Are your guests enjoying the event? Why or why not?
- Are your guests using the mobile app you provided for the event? If so, what do they use it most frequently to do?
- What areas of your event are receiving a ton of attention, and what areas seem neglected?
- How are your guests engaging with the event outside of the show itself – are they talking about it on social media? What are they saying if they are?
- How effective are your marketing efforts? Are people clicking through to your registration page based on an ad campaign, or simply because they were already interested in attending?
- How much are guests spending while at your event, on average? What are they spending their money on?
- How long does the average guest remain at your event after arriving? If you’re running an event over multiple days, how many people return each day?
- What problems did your event run into, and why?
- Where are people staying while attending your event? How are they getting there?
- What do people do after leaving your event?
- What’s your event budget? How much did you spend to get everything up and running? Were you over- or under-budget?
- What sort of security presence do you have on the show floor? How effective is it?
- How much money did you generate from ticket sales?
- What vendors and partners are you affiliated with, and why? What do they hope to get out of the event?
- How much money is being generated by your vendors?
- Ultimately, how much money did your event make? Was it profitable?
- How well did your event meet your business, brand, or client’s needs?
- What regulatory concerns are there to consider with your event? How well are you meeting them?
- What equipment are you using, and how are you using it?
How Can You Collect Your Data?
Now that you’ve an idea of how the data is organized, it’s time for what may well be the most important question of all – how can you gather all of this information, exactly?
There are a few sources, actually. First, if you’ve got an event website, you’re going to want to pay close attention to the Google Analytics data. Factors like bounce rate, time on site, click-through rate, and browser type can provide you with some valuable insight about how your guests are – or aren’t – working with your website
Second, track engagement across social media. Get a platform like Hootsuite, which allows you to easily manage your social channels and keep track of when people are mentioning your event. That will, in turn, allow you to quickly address any concerns expressed by your attendees, while remaining active across several mediums.
Third, if your event allows for it, hire a developer to code a mobile app. Not only will this make for a better experience for your attendees, but it’ll also provide you with some valuable behavioral data about them. For example, a few months back, I was at a wine and food festival. They gave every guest an application that allowed them to look through the vendors present and ‘favorite’ the ones they enjoyed.
While I’ve no doubt our usage was tracked, the app nevertheless proved extremely useful, and actually helped me mark down several food vendors that I felt were worth a second look.
Last but certainly not least – and I cannot stress this enough – utilize some form of event management tool. The vast majority of event planning platforms now include a fully-functional suite of metrics to help you track everything from ticket sales to attendee behavior, and the information’s generally organized in such a way as to be easy to understand. It may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but look at a few reviews, and find a platform that works for you – Eventbrite’s a pretty great choice.
Your event data doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to understand, nor does analytics need to be some arcane, foreign practice. As an event management professional, the information you gather about your events is one of the most invaluable resources in your arsenal. By understanding your goals, asking the right questions, and using the right tools, you can organize and examine that information in order to make your events more enjoyable, more efficient, and – most importantly – more effective at accomplishing what you want them to do.
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What’s the big deal about big data? If you’ve been paying even passing attention to the world of analytics (and if you’re an event manager, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be), then I’m…