Tuning in to Your Attendees: A Guide to Collecting Crucial Audience Feedback

By Michelle Bruno
July 6, 2023

Audience feedback is a fundamental requirement for event health. Keeping an ear to the ground helps event organizers identify weaknesses, discover new audience segments, unlock program potential and obtain favorable NPS scores.

But listening to customers is more than a one-and-done endeavor. It’s a continuous, omnichannel and multiplatform undertaking that, when done well, can be the gift that keeps on giving to enterprising and curious organizers.

You can learn about what your audience thinks in a number of traditional and innovative ways. Get started with this overview.

Traditional ways to gather audience feedback

Often denigrated, the post-event email survey is a popular feedback tool because it’s easy to deploy and economical. However, it’s also limited in its effectiveness. Response rates are typically low. It tends to overcorrect on complaints and often yields only superficial insights. 

A town hall-style session held during the annual meeting leverages the rare opportunity of having attendees, members or customers in the same room. With good moderation and knowledgeable speakers (the event team), it can be a great way to listen to participants while the event is still top of mind for them.

Attendee advisory boards are a good idea but are also tricky to manage. Some members can wield more influence than others, and not all advice is good or feasible, leaving the potential for board members to become disenfranchised when organizations drag their feet or ignore suggestions. 

Focus groups help organizers gather feedback from individuals who may feel less comfortable or forthcoming in a larger group (such as a town hall audience). Because they are more selective (invitation only), focus groups can deliver more specific information while also making participants feel more important.

Observing what attendees do at the event (where they go, how long they stay) is essential because it often differs from what they say (sessions in which they have indicated an interest, for example). In recent years, various devices for measuring attendee behavior have come into and out of vogue, from cameras and pressure-sensitive flooring to beacons and RFID wristbands. Check with your technology partner to see what’s new and still available post-pandemic.

Next-level strategies and tactics for getting to know your attendees

In a recent episode of Cut the Sh*t Cue the Genius, guest David Adler described the concept of the Jeffersonian Dinner, during which a small and select group of guests gathers over dinner to discuss a carefully crafted list of topics. It typically yields profound insights; however, because of the expense involved, it should be reserved for distinctive individuals who matter to the event.

Social listening, says Nick Borelli, marketing director at Zenus, is collecting and analyzing publicly shared content on social media channels to gain valuable insights on people and companies. The information can help organizations make better decisions, avoid unnecessary risks and identify opportunities. Because social listening requires drinking from the Internet firehose, it relies on software, such as Sprout Social, Mention, Buzzsumo and Brand 24 to extract insights.

Social monitoring is a tactic for following mentions on social media about a brand (which could be an event). It has a narrower focus than social listening but requires less interpretation than the former. Some companies that offer social monitoring include Hootsuite, AgoraPulse, Meltwater, Brandwatch and Synthesio.

Sentiment analysis is another way to understand how groups react to event stimuli (content, exhibit booth, product, activation). It typically involves using artificial intelligence to process the reactions and deliver actionable data. Zenus offers sentiment analysis for the event industry.

Industry influencers do an excellent job delivering what an audience wants because they’re experts at learning what they want. Thus, enlisting influencers to create content and report on what resonates with the audience is another effective way to listen. 

Chatbots have become an essential tool on the event website or via SMS text messaging during the event to assist attendees with programming information and navigation. They are also efficient listening apparatuses. Every request typed into the chatbot is a clue about what attendees want from the event.

Every member of the event staff is a listening post. And, although recording every customer question would be impossible in the heat of the moment, the event team can use their mobile devices (perhaps making notes in a Google spreadsheet) or the same lead retrieval app that exhibitors use to record important feedback.

Listening isn’t all that’s required to evolve your event

Because feedback is crucial, organizers may consider appointing a Chief Listening Officer to manage the numerous listening posts, collect insights and develop action plans.

Event organizers are accustomed to following their gut, but gut reactions are sometimes no better than educated guesses. And, to continuously dig deeper and evolve with the customer, organizations must take qualitative (what can be observed) and quantitative (what can be measured) data into account.

Not all data is worth collecting or keeping. Too much attendee data can make decision-making more difficult. Organizers need to be strategic about the questions they want the data to answer and work backward (determine what data to collect and from which sources) from there. 

Pooling the data is a critical post-collection task. Custom data dashboards that consolidate inputs from multiple sources using platforms like Tableau (and scores of others) can clarify patterns and anomalies on which organizers can capitalize. 

Listening to your audience is an obvious requirement for event organizers. However, many organizations make assumptions about their efforts with only the post-event survey results as input. Attendees talk, engage, work and play year-round, and multiple listening tools and methodologies are necessary to follow those conversations and behaviors.

Contact DAHLIA+Agency if you need help devising or managing an attendee listening strategy.

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