At the heart of every association are the relationships, knowledge sharing, and collective energy made possible through events. Events provide critical revenue, brand, and educational opportunities for associations, professional societies, and the communities they create and empower. Being able to improve your events and deliver return on investment (ROI) will help increase the value of events to your organization. The course of the last two years has opened up opportunities for organizations to expand their offerings through virtual and hybrid event models. While the demand for these formats has lessened, it has not disappeared. Members and attendees now know that your organization is capable of delivering online content; what’s more, they expect it. With this trend in mind, it’s important for associations to understand how to define the success of virtual and hybrid events – enter the KPI.
What is a KPI?
KPI stands for key performance indicator, also known as a key indicator towards intended progress. A good KPI has three components:
- Specific measurement for the desired change
- A frequency of measurement, or defined period of change
- A reason for the desired change
As an example, a poor KPI would be something like: “Have 2,000 registrants.” There is measurement, but it isn’t really specific in a way that’s helpful. If you had 2,000 people register for your online event who normally come to your in-person event, no one would say you hit the target—you weren’t in alignment with the larger organizational goals. Instead, a good KPI would include the reason, which is probably expansion of your audience. A better KPI would be, “Target registration of 2,000 paid attendees, with at least 50% participation from new attendees; achieve at least 60% of total target by early registration deadline.”
Why Are KPIs Important for Virtual and Hybrid Events?
Prior to 2020, event KPIs were traditional in-person metrics, such as registration, sponsorship dollars, and session attendance. These metrics helped event planners gauge interest in their onsite offerings. However, during the shift to virtual events in 2020, new KPIs emerged as it became clear attendee behavior online is very different than at in-person events. Online events are unique and should be structured and measured differently, even if the content is tied to your in-person event. This makes it even more critical to clearly define your common vision of success.
Having a well-defined, prioritized set of KPIs for your virtual or hybrid event allows you to ensure alignment between your product and your organizational goals, to be proactive in any course correction or adjustments, and to avoid unintentional expansion of your online program. Many a virtual event has suffered under the weight of “nice to have” features or program components that were not aligned with the goals for the event. Thoughtful conversations to define the purpose of your online event and how you’ll measure its success will also provide your event team the guidance they need to work through challenges or new considerations.
How to Select KPIs
There is no one-size-fits-all list or number of KPIs that should be included in a virtual or hybrid event. Ask yourself these questions to determine the right kinds of KPIs:
- What are the goals for this event?
- What data will I need to determine if I’m meeting my goal?
- What information will my key stakeholders need?
- Will I use this information beyond this event?
Types of Virtual and Hybrid KPIs
- Financial. Make sure to not only measure your targeted revenue or whether or not you're on budget. Instead, look at profit margin in the bigger picture: What does the profit or revenue from your event have to support throughout the rest of your year?
- Audience engagement and satisfaction. Measuring audience engagement and satisfaction is vastly different in a virtual event than an in-person setting. Instead of determining results from surveys or attendance numbers, virtual events allow you to track metrics for both in-session attendance and on-demand access. You can also be much more data-driven in your evaluation of engagement.
- Future planning. A strong advantage to virtual and hybrid events is the granularity of data they provide, as opposed to more subjective measurements at in-person events. For example, a virtual event allows you to see what attendees click on in the agenda and how often they participate and view a particular session, not just who enters the room. If you’re looking for data-driven insights into what members really want, a virtual event can be a goldmine.
Choosing and Managing Your Event Technology
KPIs can also help to take the sting out of one of the most painful aspects of online events – choosing the right technology. No one wants to make a major investment in a platform and then discover the user experience doesn’t meet member needs or required integrations are impossible. When reaching out to potential technology partners, include your KPIs in your RFP and ask how the technology would help to achieve them. You can also use your KPIs to develop a platform evaluation scorecard for use when assessing potential partners, and to define your reporting needs.
The Future of Online Events
While online events will never replace in-person, we shouldn’t leave behind the lessons learned over the last two years, or the opportunities online events can provide associations and their members. Clearly defined goals and measurements will ensure your online programming complements your in-person offerings, and can provide insights into how to meet member needs across all of your channels.
This article is based on webinar content originally presented by Alexis Bauer-Kolak for INCON.
Alexis Bauer-Kolak is in the Education & Learning Services unit at Smithbucklin.