Nine Event Data Collection Technologies to Help You Really Know and Understand Attendees

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The top objective for event planners is delivering great experiences for attendees. A top expectation of attendees is receiving personalized event experiences.

The foundation of achieving the most important goals for both event planners and attendees is data: collecting it from multiple sources, integrating it, and deriving actionable insights from it.

The ability to gather and manipulate event data has advanced tremendously over the past twenty years, from the days of the Palm Pilot and Netscape browser to today's mobile apps and facial recognition technology.

Here's a look at how some established technologies have evolved over the past two decades and new ones have emerged which enable event professionals to collect data before and (most importantly) during events, to improve planning and make adjustments in real time that optimize the event experience.

Online registration: Yes, it existed back in 2000—but it's gotten much smarter. This has advanced from rudimentary web forms isolated from any other systems to online registration that's part of a full-featured event management platform, tightly coupled with CRM systems so it can pre-populate forms with "known" data and push answers back into corporate marketing systems.

The forms can use conditional branching to present different questions based on answers to previous questions. And as with all technology today, they are mobile and responsive.

Smart RFID and NFC credentials: Paper is primitive. Plastic with barcodes is passé. Today, badges or wristbands incorporating RFID and NFC (near field communication) technology can serve many purposes beyond simply identifying attendees, from contactless physical access to commerce to, of course, detailed data collection about what attendees do, when they do it, and where they go. 

Beacon technology: As BizBash notes, using beacons to communicate with attendees' smart phones can serve multiple purposes, from automating continuous education credit tracking to speeding up the check-in process, personalizing messages on event signage, and enabling indoor wayfinding—sort of like GPS inside the event venue. It also supplies a wealth of attendee traffic and activity data.

Facial recognition: This technology helps speed up attendee check in, but it can do so much more than that. It can tell you how many people stopped by a certain booth, how long they stayed, even how they were feeling—so sentiment, or mood analysis.

Even beyond that, it can analyze demographic data for those attendees: at the end of the day, this is how your booth visitors broke down in terms of age and gender, and these are the group characteristics of those who were most engaged with your product, and who were least.

Feedback surveys: Sure, these could be conducted 20 years ago, but it was cumbersome. Doing surveys generally relied on attendees using a kiosk or having a laptop computer; and you could only collect data after a session had ended.

The ubiquity of smart phones today has really opened this up. You can ask for feedback and even display the responses in real time, during a session or presentation. It's immediate, it's accurate, and response rates are high. You can respond or react to that feedback right away. And because you can ask for feedback at multiple points, in small chunks, you can collect more—and better—information.

Mobile polling: As with surveys, you can take advantage of the fact every attendee has a smart phone to do quick polls, social Q&A, and other forms of audience interaction. It's data collection that's actually fun for guests, that makes them feel like part of shaping the event and creating content in real time.

Second screen technology: As event tech legend Corbin Ball describes this, "Second screen technology refers to the use of a mobile device to provide an enhanced viewing experience for other content usually with interactive features. This is seen most often on television, but increasingly so at events. Presenter content, such as slides, polling, video, notes, social media links, can be pushed to any device in real-time during a presentation.'

This can be used for note-taking, real-time Q&A and polling, and private messaging to other attendees. And of course it provides rich data analytics to the event host or organizer.

Mobile app analytics: Our very first client project at G2Planet was a mobile event guide, built on the Palm OS, for Cisco. So we have a bit of experience with mobile event apps.

The level of sophistication and functionality possible with today's technology and devices is amazing. And every click, every button push, every swipe is trackable. It's an invaluable source of feedback on the event experience, the performance of the app itself, and attendee activity.

Social media sentiment analysis: People love sharing life's moments on social media--especially when those moments are exceptional, out of the ordinary. Deliver amazing experiences at events, noteworthy food, specialty drinks, remarkable content, and attention-grabbing visuals, and...people will share that, across Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, you name it.

You can now capture those mentions through brand monitoring and hashtag tracking and instantly analyze sentiment—positive, negative, or neutral—regarding any aspect of the event. Unlike poll or survey data, this isn't what attendees are telling us, as event organizers, about the event; it's what they are telling their friends, their social networks, and the social media world.

Livestreaming: 20 years ago, while it was possible to let people outside of an event know what was happening inside—via email, blog posts, online media—there was really no way to make anyone on the outside really feel like part of that event.

Today, livestreaming enables organizers to have far more "attendees" at their events than just those physically present at the venue. And you have the analytics to tell you who is watching, what they watched, and how long they watched.


A Final Thought: Balancing Personalization with Privacy

Event attendees are increasingly willing to share personal information in exchange for more personalized experiences. But event organizers also need to be mindful of data privacy, both to comply with regulations like GDPR and CCPA, and out of concern for guests.

Beyond basic legal compliance, event planners need to be transparent. Be up front with attendees about what data is being collected, how that data will be used, and how it will be protected from falling into the wrong hands.

When you are transparent about data collection, and attendees recognize the benefits through a more personalized experience, you can use an array of new and refined technologies to aggregate event data, use it strategically, and better understand the value of event marketing to your organization.