10 Tips for Web Analytics Wednesday Awesomeness (and a Downloadable Checklist)

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I’ve become enamored with the “10 tips” format for organizing information (thank you, ACCELERATE), and I’ve had a couple of recent situations where people I know have asked for my advice on getting rolling with or successfully sustaining Web Analytics Wednesdays. A couple of years ago, someone actually tried to get a group of WAW organizers around the world together to come up with a handy guide for WAW organizers, but, due to scheduling issues, that never came together. After a successful Columbus WAW last week (shown below), it seemed worthwhile to write up what I’ve learned about planning and running WAWs over the last four years.

Columbus Web Analytics Wednesday - April 2012

Some of these tips overlap with the FAQ posted on the WAW site, and I’ve also created a one-page Excel checklist that covers the various details that go into our events to supplement this post.

And now, onto the tips!

Tip No. 1: Start Small

In Columbus, we now have a WAW almost every month, and we have between 40 and 60 attendees at each on . It took us several years to get to that level of consistent turnout, and that, in my mind, was a good thing. The core group that met over the first year or so got to know each other really well, as there were only 8-15 us at each event, and we could actually have group discussions in which everyone participated. Those early participants are still regularly attendees. People came consistently because they enjoyed the people, and they were patient with logistical hiccups and not-so-great venues. They provided feedback and made suggestions that helped us refine the what, the how, and the where of future events.

The other benefit of starting small is that you don’t have to worry about paying for the event – the Web Analytics Wednesday Global Sponsors are insanely easy to tap into to cover the cost (more on that in Tip No. 9).

Tip No. 2: Location, Location, Location

Location matters. In Columbus, this was something that took us over a year to really nail down, and I wasn’t much help, as I had only recently moved to the area. Some things to look for in a venue:

  • Centrally located – most cities have some degree of sprawl, so there is no location that is perfect for everyone; but, what we’ve found is that, the closer we can get the venue to the main business district, the better
  • Separate meeting room – lots of restaurants have rooms that can be reserved for private parties; sometimes, they require a separate fee, but sometimes they just require a minimum total spend. All things are negotiable – you’re bringing business to them on a Wednesday night, so they are generally flexible.
  • Low-to-moderate noise level – if the venue has a separate room, this is less of an issue; if it doesn’t, the noise level is key. WAWs are, first and foremost, about people meeting and talking to other people, and no one wants to be hoarse on Thursday morning. Live music and happenin’ bar scenes are cool…but they don’t make for great WAWs
  • Presentation-friendly – at a minimum, having a room that has a layout that is conducive to a projector and screen is important if there will be any presenting (see Tip No. 7); some venues have screens, and some actually have projectors. But, if the room layout isn’t such that it will support a projector and screen, then make sure you’ve thought through how visual information will be shared in the absence (tip: large companies typically have projectors that employees can check out for meetings – we regularly tap into attendees who work at such companies to actually provide the projectors). Handouts work, too.

Nailing down a single good location is hard enough, but we actually now have 2-3 good locations. This allows us to mix things up so that the event doesn’t start to seem like it has fallen into a rut. And, it gives us options – if one venue is booked for the preferred WAW date, another one is likely to be open.

Tip No. 3: Be Consistent

The cadence of WAWs seems to matter. We aim for an event once per month and know that, occasionally, we won’t manage to have one. Having the events on a regular schedule adds credibility to the event overall (which helps with sponsors and attendees alike), and it really helps convert “networking acquaintances” into “professional friends.”

There is definitely a commitment required in order to follow this tip. From the get-go in Columbus, we had multiple co-organizers, and that group of organizers has grown. We split up the effort — one secured a venue each month, one person handled the emails to past attendees, another person handled finding new ways to promote the event — and have built a pretty solid and repeatable process.

It’s difficult to build momentum without a consistent and recurring schedule, so getting organized and making it a group effort is key (see Tip No. 10).

Tip No. 4: Build a WAW Database

From our first event onward, I started entering the name and email address of each person who registered for a Columbus WAW into a Google Spreadsheet (I now use ExactTarget for this). This requires a little bit of sleuthing, as the WAW registration form only collects an email address. But, 9 times out of 10, it’s pretty easy to figure out the person’s name (the internet being scary that way and all…) and company. This is a bit tedious, but it’s worth it, as it gives us an ever-growing “house list” to whom we can promote upcoming events.

We now have a sign-in sheet at every event to collect the name and email address of each attendee. To reduce the level of data entry and handwriting-deciphering required, I pre-print a list of all registrants for the sign-in sheet and just ask people to check a box next to their name to indicate they’ve arrived. That sheet has blank rows for people who registered late or didn’t register to write in their information.

Tip No. 5: Invite and Remind

Obviously, it’s not enough to just build and maintain a house list if it doesn’t get used. For every WAW, each person on that list gets sent at least two emails (but no more than three):

  • Notification / invitation – a couple of weeks out, we send an email to the entire list letting them know of the upcoming event
  • Second invitation – for anyone who has not registered a week out, we send a second invitation; the content is very similar to the first one, but we generally mix up the subject line and the body copy a bit
  • Reminder – for anyone who has registered, we send a reminder email 2-3 days before the event

We try to consistently hit some key information with each email:

  • The date and location for the event
  • Information as to the topic that will be presented (if we have a presentation)
  • A reminder that the event is free
  • A link to the event registration page on the WAW site

We’ve even done some A/B testing on the subject lines, but, with a list that is only several hundred people, that’s more because it’s a good way to experiment with the process for A/B testing in ExactTarget than because we’ve been able to learn anything of note about effective subject lines for WAW emails.

And, while we haven’t always been 100% CAN-SPAM compliant, we’ve always been clear in all communications as to how the recipient could opt out of future emails, and we honor any opt out requests we receive.

Tip No. 6: Multi-Channel Promotion

In addition to email, we consistently push out notifications through as many channels as possible:

We don’t actively maintain any of these channels for any purpose other than notifications of upcoming events. That may not be a social media best practice, but it works, in that participants can opt in to non-email communication through whatever channel they prefer.

One thing we did learn was that we shouldn’t just sit down on one night and send out the email and simultaneously update every social media channel. This just meant that users who were connected through multiple means got spammed with the same information all at one point in time, which reduced its effectiveness (and was a little annoying). We now spread out the updates over the course of several days.

Tip No. 7: Limited Formal Presentations / Plenty of Time for Networking

We tell our presenters to aim for 15-20 minutes and to avoid presentations that are simply sales pitches for their companies. With brief presentations on relevant topics (sometimes the sponsor presents, sometimes it’s simply one of the organizers or an attendee who has volunteered a topic), we tend to spend another 15-30 minutes in Q&A and discussion. The feedback we’ve consistently gotten is that attendees enjoy both the networking and having some formally presented content. So, we strive to keep a balance between the two. Two keys to that:

  • Very clear (polite, but firm) communication to the presenters ahead of time as to expectations regarding presentation length
  • Having one of the organizers prepared to manage the clock — be it signaling the presenter to wrap up or announcing “let’s do one more question” if things run long and the crowd starts to squirm (some day, I’ll live down cutting off Chris Grant after she traveled all the way down from Michigan for our WAW…)

The schedule we’ve followed for the past few years is:

  • 6:30 – 7:00 — sign-in and networking
  • 7:00 – 7:10-ish — find seats, welcome and announcements
  • 7:10 – 7:45-ish — presentation and Q&A
  • 7:45-ish – 8:30/9:00 — more networking

I’ve got the word “networking” in the title of this tip and a couple of times in the listed schedule above, but, honestly, “hanging out” is probably a better description. Like-minded people with food and beer… it’s fun!

Tip No. 8: Encourage Tweeting

We encourage tweeting at our WAWs for all of the same reasons tweeting is encouraged at conferences:

  • It publicizes the event and content out to the followers of the attendees
  • It fosters networking as people engage with each other during the presentation
  • It provides a nice way to have crowdsourced “notes” from the presentation

To promote tweeting, we have started printing out little cards that we put at all of the tables that include:

  • The Twitter usernames of the presenter(s)
  • The hashtag for the event (we use #cbuswaw)
  • The logos of our sponsors (nothing should get printed or emailed that doesn’t include a thank you to the sponsors)

Even if there are only a small number of attendees, and even if there is no formal presentation, tweets can help spread the word.

Tip No. 9: Free Drinks (and Food, if Possible)

We’re reaching the end of this list, but that doesn’t mean these tips are any less important! Free drinks are a must! While no one attends a WAW simply because they are burdened with an empty bank account and a drinking problem, by offering booze, the overall vibe and purpose gets communicated as a “fun event” more than a “professional obligation.”

Providing free drinks can get expensive…but it’s worth the effort to make sure it happens. Sub-tips on that front:

  • If you’re just getting started, and it’s a small event, tap into the Web Analytics Wednesday Global Sponsors. That’s what their sponsorship is there for!
  • Use drink tickets to manage the total outlay. I have yet to host an event at a bar or restaurant that doesn’t have drink tickets on hand for our use, and, by handing out 1-2 tickets (we usually do 2), you can ensure that your sponsors aren’t inadvertently funding a fraternity party
  • Seek out sponsors — the smaller the event, the smaller the ask; the larger the event, the more worthwhile it is for the sponsor. Use your and other attendees connections to the analytics vendors and services they use. Many of them have marketing funds available, and it’s a great way for them to make connections with prospective customers in their territory.

We almost always provide food at our events as well. To manage costs on that front, we typically go with a “heavy appetizer buffet” rather than a full-on meal. We typically order food to cover 15-20% fewer people than we actually expect to attend. Otherwise, we wind up with crazy amounts of leftovers

Tip No. 10: Ask for Help

As I put together the checklist to accompany this post, and as I wrote the post itself, I realized how many moving parts there are in our process. No single event will ever be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. But, the more details that get consistently covered, the more likely the WAWs are to flourish and grow. The best way to cover those details is through organization and teamwork: ask for volunteers to help with future events at each of your events; pay attention to who seems to be most engaged and has useful ideas and suggestions for future events. Recruit!

What’s Missing?

The downloadable checklist is intended as a companion to these tips, and it’s organized based on the different aspects of managing a WAW. I hope you find it useful.

What else have you seen — either when organizing or attending a WAW — that works particularly well? I’d love to get some comments that give us some ideas for continuing to improve our events!

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  1. This is a great tip Tim! Without your effort, current awesomeness of the Columbus WAW couldn’t be achieved. As a web analyst, I’m feeling lucky to have such an active WAW here in Columbus.

  2. Thanks, Jonghee! It’s such an enjoyable group of folk, I get more out than I put into it. My main complaint is that it’s grown to the point that I don’t seem to get time to hang out with the long-timers.

  3. Tim, I am not surprised at your ability to bring a group like this together. Impressive! Wish I could attend – let me know if you ever move to Boston and bring WAW with you!

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