Everything You Wanted to Know About Event ROI But Never Dared Ask

If you’re like many event planners, you’re being asked about return on investment. But how do you do it and how should you track it? Here are a few things you may not have thought of.

Ahhhh, the elusive event return on investment (ROI). When referring to it, some cringe, others shrug, others change the subject. It seems like everyone wants to speak in nebulous terms and no one wants to give exact ways to measure it. That might be because when it comes to return on investment and events, there’s more than one way to figure it all out.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Event ROI But Never Dared Ask

Tracking ROI

Before you reach for your calculator, you need to establish exactly what you’re looking for in ROI. People in search of engagement  and those looking for event name awareness  are going to measure different metrics. Decide what you’re trying to track, and ultimately change, and plot a course of discovery for that aspect.

We have data-based proof that return on investment can be calculated and this go-to guide will help. Here are just a few ways you can measure return on investment for your events.

1. Social Media

There are lots of ways to track ROI through social media such as social referrals, social proof, and social shares. All of these are critical to track if you want to know how people are finding you and where they’re connecting with your content.

Social referrals are easily tracked by using specific shortened links. Use a link shortener and track the shares of that specific link. You can also track the clicks and opens. Place a different shortened link on each of your social media sites – one specific for Facebook, one for Instagram, etc. You can also track social referrals through Google.

Tracking social is important for two reasons, because you want to know if your social media spend is paying off and a constant social media presence that is working well will decrease your marketing spend for your next event. If you stay connected throughout the year, you won’t need to remind them of your event next year. They’ll be well-aware of it.

Social proof is another aspect worth tracking because many people make decisions based on reviews. This can be critical to getting new attendees to register. You can create a referral campaign, which can be tracked through assigning a referral code for the referrer to use or implement a special landing page to give past attendees. While it may be difficult to fully track how many people share your landing page or code (things shared in texts and private messaging aren’t numbers you’ll ever see), it is easy to see how many clicks and registrations you are receiving. Since the time involved in a campaign like this is fairly small, outside of developing the landing page and tracking the code, any conversions will give you a good return on investment.

Social shares can be tracked using any social listening platform. Not only do you want to watch your posts being shared, also listen for use of your hashtag, your speakers’ names, industry hot topics, and other ways people could be talking about your event without mentioning your name.

These measures of sentiment can give you incredible insights into what you can improve upon as well when monitored during and after the event. They can show you what was worth the money and what disappointed. It’s essential that you read this information because future attendees will be doing so.

It also helps you track just how engaged attendees are at your event.  What are they commenting on? What fascinates them? Are they sharing things live? You can use all of these posts to create post-event content as well.

2. Surveys

Most people understand the importance of event surveys but you may be ignoring some electronic survey metrics that could be of real importance to your event. These include open rate, bounce rate, and time on page.

Timing is everything in a survey. You want to distribute them in a timely fashion so everything is fresh in their minds. But surveys can be annoying when there are other things going on, like sending one out for a session that day during the evening awards banquet. That’s why you may want to consider an auto-distribution method to hit just as they’re leaving the session.

Ultimately, tracking your open, bounce, and completion rates can provide strong information about the engagement level of your attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.

3. Try Out Tech

There’s a lot of emerging tech and if you’re trying it out for the first time you may be wondering if it’s working. Don’t wonder, track! For instance, if you’re using push notifications, make sure you have something in place to measure whether people gravitate to the places you’re notifying them about. If you notify them drinks are being served on the veranda, survey how many people show up. Then see what happens when you don’t make an announcement. Are you getting more traffic with announcements? If not, your audience may not be as interested in that sort of tech as you may have thought.

4. Must-haves for Greater ROI

There are some things you absolutely must do for effective measurements. Here are more specific examples:

  • Create a base point from which to measure success. This baseline must coincide with your goal. For example, if what you’re measuring in order to show a good return on investment is revenue-based, make sure you have viable numbers before you begin your marketing. The same should be done for any goal and the way in which you plan to measure it.
  • Understand your goal and how you will track success. Do you want more attendees or name recognition? Unlike other ROI measurements, how you will measure will be based on what you want to know.
  • Gamification is a fun way to measure engagement among attendees. It can also boost the desired action(s). If you use a gamification platform at your event you have a very easy way to measure ROI in most instances.
  • Encourage social check-ins. They are easy to measure.
  • Create social media contests with results that are easy to track like referrals, image shares, or networking challenges.
  • Use a fixed measure of your time. If your ROI calculation is going to encompass your time as a cost, you want to make sure everyone is using the same measurement.
  • Make sure you measure costs for this event only. You may have purchased something that you’ll use this year and next or across several events. Don’t calculate investment by using the total price of this item. Spread it across as long as you’ll use it.
  • Use Google Analytics and social media reporting to figure out the cost of each attendee obtained that way.
  • Don’t forget that cost savings on rooms and other negotiated rates can (and should) factor into your ROI calculation if your ROI goal involves event revenue. If you cut costs from one year to another, you want to factor that in.
  • If your ROI is being measured at the participant level, make sure you have a participant baseline indicator on what they’re expecting from the event. This can be done easily during registration. After the event is over, make sure you measure whether that attendee goal was achieved or not.
  • Not all goals are revenue-based even when calculating ROI. Don’t forget emotional and behavioral components that may be just as valuable and important to your success.
  • Track year-over-year measurements whenever possible. Factor in things that have changed before the calculations such as merging or events or branding changes.
  • If attendance is part of your ROI calculation/goal, ensure you differentiate between new and returning guests.
  • If you’re analyzing former attendees, note how many past events they’ve attended. Do most of them drop off after one event or is there a magic number where they seem to lose interest? If your event is professional or trade-based, compare years in career to see if you may be missing an interest in older professionals in the industry.
  • Don’t forget to track which type of ticket sells the best (early bird, VIP, referral discounts, etc.) and produces the most revenue. This information will help you at your next event.
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In Conclusion

Return on investment is an essential calculation for anyone who’s doing more than just merely hosting parties for the fun of it. But finding those numbers and deciphering the calculations can be exhausting. Make it easier on yourself by first deciding what you will consider a success and then you can easily ascertain how you will calculate it. Return on investment isn’t a marketing myth. It’s a very tangible equation but you have to know what you’re looking for before it can be measured.

Additional Resources on Event Return on Investment

The Math and Magic of Measuring Event ROI
9 Ways to Increase Exhibitor ROI Before, During, and After the Event
5 Events that Measure Clear ROI
Does Event ROI Exist?
The Pathway to Explosive ROI: 3 Stages of Event Growth
Scan Emotions to Measure Event ROI
10 Ways to Measure Your Event ROI with Social Media
Event ROI: How to Calculate Return on Investments for Exhibitors, Clients, and Attendees

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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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