In a recent interview with Jeff Sieh and Grace Duffy for Social Media News Live, Jeff asked me, do virtual events have a good ROI? What can brands expect to gain as a result of hosting an online summit or conference, and how have you measured that in the past?
I was on the show because both Jeff and Grace had been personally involved with events I’d designed and executed in the past. Jeff had been a terrific speaker for me during multiple virtual events I’d run as part of the Social Success Summit series reaching thousands of engaged social media managers. And Grace had been working with one of our brand partners that came on as a sponsor for Agency Summit in 2021, which reached over 2500 agency owners and technicians.
They’d both seen first-hand how to organize virtual events and pull off these massive, complex projects. But they also naturally wondered whether it was all worth it.
Just as you may be wondering.
Should you take the time and spend the money to host your own virtual event?
What benefits will you and your brand actually realize? What will your return be on that investment?
Here’s what I shared with Jeff and Grace:
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve been doing these events for a while, like I mentioned, and the average virtual event that I put on has about 3000 attendees. And if we look at some of the in-person events in the social media space… like there’s a bunch of social media day events that happen across the country in June… most of those get one 10th of that attendance. So right off the bat, my virtual events dramatically increase the number of people that are coming in and being exposed to the brand.
And these are leads for our company and they’re targeted leads, right? If I put on Social Media Pulse: LinkedIn edition, that was an event that I did a couple of years ago, focused on LinkedIn, headlined with Melodie Dodaro and Goldie Chan.
Everybody that attended that event wanted to learn how to leverage LinkedIn, wanted to learn how to manage LinkedIn on behalf of their company or their agency clients. So these were a hundred percent leads and we got 4,000 people to attend that conference and countless numbers of those people went on to become subscribers that are still paying Agorapulse money today.
So the revenue generating opportunity out of a virtual event is phenomenal.
But the other thing that we’ve done over time is repurposed the content out of these events. We’ve turned sessions that speakers gave at the virtual event into ongoing aspects of our Social Media Manager School. We’ve turned them into videos for the YouTube channel. We’ve turned them into podcast material. We’ve turned them into training sessions. We’ve turned them into additional webinars and other kinds of lead generation opportunities.
So there’s a lot that can be done with the event beyond just the event itself. And the more of these that you do, and you can get some help if you’ve never done a virtual event before and make sure you kind of avoid some of the early pitfalls that I went through, but the more of these that you do, the easier they become.
So if you’re coming into this cold, give yourself a little more time, like I said, at the outset, but it’s a hundred percent worth it, particularly if you can execute it well.
How Do You Determine Virtual Event ROI?
I think it’s important to note that simply reporting how many registrants you signed up for your event isn’t a demonstration of ROI. I use it as an easy bit of proof that my events do create tremendous benefits for Agorapulse and for the other B2B SaaS brands that I work with as clients.
But to truly prove ROI, you need to determine the following:
- What are your measurable goals and outcomes?
- What are your costs and expenses?
All of which is determined in your initial virtual event plan.
Determining Virtual Event Goals
First, you need to think through your goals for your event. Whether that’s leads or sales or some other activation, what are you trying to accomplish?
And what’s that worth to you?
Sales are easy of course, whether that’s a product or service, ticket sales or sponsor revenue – that’s all got an easily tracked dollar amount attached.
But what if your goal for hosting a virtual summit is to generate leads or reduce customer churn?
It’s harder but still possible to associate a value and therefore create an understanding of the total attributable benefit an event brought in.
Suppose your goal is target leads. If you look at your current business metrics you can determine what the average value of a lead is based on how many leads your business brings in through normal channels, how often you make a sale, and the average value of that sale. It’s also helpful to include in your calculations referrals from leads, which of course complicates the math but makes it more accurate.
If, for instance, you bring in five leads and close 20% on average, with an average sale value of $2,000, the value of each lead can be calculated at $400. But if your average lead generates 3 referrals, you might calculate the individual value of each lead to be $1600.
That’s some back-of-napkin math that your team can likely improve on and refine. You may also want to interject an additional later and qualify the leads and have a value specifically for qualified leads.
Ultimately, before you issue your first invitation, you should know exactly what an individual lead is worth to you and will be able to do the simple calculation of multiplying the total number of virtual leads by their average value to get a gross amount.
Determining Virtual Event Costs
From that, of course, we need to subtract our expenses and this is a step that I recommend determining during the initial planning as proposed and budgeted expenses, and then after the event as actual expenses, so that there are minimal surprises.
I provide my B2B SaaS brand clients with a virtual event budget sheet that walks them through most of the typical virtual or hybrid event expenses, then another sheet where they can note projected and actual revenue, and then compare them.
For instance, there’s a cost for the virtual event platform, of course, but you’ll also have costs for promotion and advertising, production costs, speaker fees, and more. Itemize all of that and do it before you start planning your event so that you can take a look at your revenue expectations.
If you go through the budget and think your event is going to cost $10,000 to pull off, then you’ll need to make sure that your revenue goals exceed that.
A ticketed event with sponsors will need to make sure that they charge enough per ticket, and bring in sufficient registrants and paid partners, to make up for the deficit.
Whereas an event geared toward lead generation, with an average value per qualified lead of $50, will need at least 200 MQLs to break even.
Once you’ve fully outlined your virtual event goals and value, and the anticipated costs, you will be able to predict and then verify your virtual event ROI.
Are There Other Benefits that lead to Virtual Event ROI?
Of course, there are a lot more benefits to virtual events than just leads or sales. In fact, those are just the tip of the iceberg.
I mentioned in that interview an additional benefit: content repurposing.
Suppose you host a virtual event with 12 live presentations from industry experts. After the event, you can take those recorded sessions and turn them into YouTube videos, blog post recaps, podcast episodes, and a variety of social media snippets.
Even better, you can push all of those sessions to a learning system like Thinkific and create an instant repository of knowledge that will serve as ongoing lead generation for you and your brand. That’s exactly what we did at Agorapulse with all of our previous social media virtual summits and the hundreds of great sessions and keynotes and panels we hosted.
If you have a great virtual event platform and good analytics set up, you can use the platform and your virtual event for customer discovery, and that includes determining which sessions were most popular and of interest to your target audience.
But wait, there’s more!
In fact, I have outlined ten distinct benefits to hosting your own virtual event in this free webinar that I would love for you to take a look at. I walk through the obvious benefits like leads and sales, as well as many not-so-obvious benefits. But the thing is, it’s the not-so-obvious benefits that will actually have the greatest impact on your business bottom line for years to come.
Register for the next available webinar session, particularly if you’re a B2B SaaS brand like most of my clientele, and discover exactly what hosting a virtual event can do for your business this year.