Create More Effective Virtual Events With Web Analytics

Source: flickr (User: kantan2007a)

Source: flickr (User: kantan2007a)

Melinda Kendall wrote an interesting posting on her Event View blog titled, “Improving event flow“.  Her blog posting begins:

Run across ethnoMetrics yet?  They put 45 video cameras with 360-degree panning in the ceiling of a convention center and watch what really happens at an event.  A lot of the value comes in analyzing the behavior of attendees at individual booths…information that, if acted on, could really improve an exhibitor’s results from an event.

Melinda references a May 2009 issue of Expo that highlights optimizations and improvements made by the RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) event team for their conference.  For me, the technology from ethnoMetrics is intriguing, but what most interests me is their methodology – that is, capture detailed information from an event (that otherwise would have been “lost”) and perform in-depth analysis to improve an event’s ROI.

Can an equivalent approach of analysis be applied to virtual events?  Of course – because virtual event platforms already track all activities – meaning the 360-degree panning ceiling cameras area already installed.  Today, however, most virtual event show hosts view event data in a tactical, results-based manner.  Important metrics include number of registrants/attendees, number of visits per booth, number of viewers per Webcast, number of chats, number of document downloads, etc.

And while that’s all fine and good, both the show host and virtual event platform provider might want to take a step back (once the event is done) and analyze the overall attendee experience.  I’ll call this Web Analytics for your Virtual Event.  For content and e-commerce sites, web analytics can be a very effective tool to increase page views (content site) or online purchases (e-commerce site).  So in the same way that an e-tailer may analyze “shopping cart abandonments”, a virtual event show host (and provider) may want to analyze why the average visit time to an exhibitor’s booth was only 5 minutes long.

Other analytics exercises that come to mind:

  1. Greenscreen video –  did you invest a lot of time and money to have your CEO welcome visitors to your booth?  Have a look at average view time of that greenscreen unit.  Then, look at the number of return visitors who “clicked to play” to replay the greenscreen video a second time.  If you score a lot of replays, your use of greenscreen was effective.
  2. Where is my traffic coming from –  or, where is it not coming from?  On the web, we frequently look at “referral URL” – for virtual events, the same need applies.  If I had 1,000 booth visits, did they come from the Exhibit Hall?  Or, did they come from a search result – or, somewhere else?  If 70% of my booth visits came from sources other than the Exhibit Hall, then I need to assess (a) the amount of traffic to the Exhibit Hall in the first place and (b) the effectiveness of my Exhibit Hall layout.
  3. Biological tracking – this obviously adds to your costs, but consider pairing your web analytics with physical instrumentation – have a panel of users experience your virtual event and track eye movement, heart rate, facial expressions, etc.  If I spent 2 months creating a visually rich 3D environment, did it make an emotional impact on the user who saw it for the first time?  Are users looking at areas of the event that I want them to?  Or, are they skipping past the important areas?

The possibilities are nearly endless.  This is an important next step for the  industry – with video monitors already installed, tapping into the existing data will be a key to creating better and more effective virtual events.

Related links:

  1. Event View blog
  2. ethnoMetrics home page
  3. Wikipedia entry on web analytics
  4. NY Times article: Lab Watches Web Surfers to See Which Ads Work

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