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How do you measure ROI for virtual events?

Businesses and industries are using virtual events to reach customers. Determining ROI of these events isn't as easy as it was for physical conferences, but it can be done.

The number of virtual events has skyrocketed as companies and industries pivoted conference strategies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, despite their widespread use, measuring ROI for virtual events is still challenging.

Ideally, the metrics used to measure a virtual event's ROI would mirror those of a physical event, encompassing yardsticks such as overall attendance, session attendance, session interactivity, sponsorship revenue, exhibit hall foot traffic, booth visits, qualified leads generated, positive press, and contacts and connections made.

Unfortunately, we can't use all these metrics because virtual events don't generate the same results as a physical event. Virtual event platforms aren't sophisticated enough to deliver a perfect cyber equivalent of a physical event. Instead, we need to understand what they do well and measure them along those benchmarks.

Take accessibility, for example. Virtual event platforms excel at providing access to sessions and panels. They also do a good job of streaming content, as well as handling ticketing to the virtual event. They are, however, not so great at creating virtual exhibit halls. There are plenty of platforms that offer some sort of virtual exhibit hall experience with virtual booths. However, many are in early development, and none of them are seeing mainstream acceptance in the virtual event market.

Where virtual event platforms gain traction

For now, virtual event platforms are being employed for two main reasons. The first is to stream sessions and panels when a physical event is canceled due to COVID-19. The second is to provide a hybrid event experience, where those who choose not to attend in person can still watch the sessions live, even if they miss out on some of the interactivity and cannot physically walk the exhibit hall floor. Many people are still uncomfortable with resuming their full travel schedules and are seeking ways to attend a greater proportion of events virtually, especially if they can do so without missing out too much on the content and experience.

Content, as a matter of fact, is one area where ROI for virtual events can be measured.

Obvious metrics would be the number of conference delegates attending remotely, the number who registered for individual sessions, the amount of interactivity within livestreams and the number of click-throughs to sponsor websites. Technical issues would be another measurement, particularly those related to difficulties in accessing livestreams or post-event recordings.

These measurements will vary, depending on the nature and goals of your virtual event. But the ultimate goal is to present a hybrid event deemed so valuable that attendees are enticed to show up in person next year and give exhibitors a chance to showcase their wares face to face.

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