3 ways to track event attendance on campus — and their pros and cons

Before we get into some of the ways you can track event attendance, we’re going to start off with the question: ‘why track attendance in the first place?’

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”
– Peter Drucker

To analyze

One of the main reasons why universities should be tracking event attendance is to be able to analyze and draw insight from student behavior. Often, this is easier said than done. As with any analysis, gathering data must be straightforward and relatively resource light if it is to be done regularly. If not, the return on investment for doing the analysis in the first place trends towards zero. That’s when you get into the territory of “yep, we want to know what’s happening, but who has the time to find that out!”

The level of analysis is important too. For example, knowing who turns up for a campus event is useful but being able to track who attends individual sessions can provide you with the right insight to know where your event dollars should be spent. This level of understanding allows you to weigh up attendance levels of specific events or sessions against how much they cost to run.

You can go deeper still with your analysis. By feeding attendance data into your CRM or applicant tracking system, you can calculate whether or not attendees ultimately enrolled – a macro success metric for most schools. This analysis lets you uncover those niche, low-attended events which are labor-intensive, but that have actually resulted in a high percentage of attendees going on to enroll.

To action

As well as being able to make smarter decisions on what events and sessions to run, tracking attendance also allows you to take other informed actions. For example, by knowing if a student actually turned up or not lets you to modify your communications with them in the future. Statistically speaking, attendees are more likely to enroll than non-attendees and they should be treated as two different groups for marketing and communications purposes post-event. Communications to non-attendees could focus on encouraging them to re-register whereas staff could engage in one-to-one calling campaigns for those who did attend the event.

So, what 3 ways can you use to track event attendance in order to let you analyze and take appropriate action?

Going old school: pen and paper

Some institutions are still ticking off students who attend their events with clipboards, pens and paper lists. It’s worked for millennia, so why change? Here are the arguments for and against:

Pros

  • There’s no need to train your staff on how to get started or use pen and paper, there’s zero barrier to entry and anyone can do it.
  • It’s cheap.
  • If you’re using pen and paper across all events and sessions then it’s a uniform approach. Any member of staff from any of your teams involved in the events can take the tracking reigns.
  • It’s tech-proof. No Wi-Fi? No worries. All you need is a pen.

Cons

  • Inaccurate. Accuracy totally depends on how legible your staff’s handwriting is. Also, there’s the transcription piece. Errors start to stack up when manually entering data into your CRM from written notes and forms.
  • Slow. Manual tracking leads to lines when dozens of students are waiting to enter a session or thousands of students are arriving on campus. It’s frustrating for those queuing and stressful for those tracking.
  • It’s difficult to scale effectively. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to track everything you want to when you have to ‘man’ an entry with pre-printed attendee lists. For example, it’s fine tracking attendance to a campus event as a whole but what about the numerous mini-events or sessions being held on campus? Logging exactly who turned up to each of these would require a lot of coordination to get the right lists to the right places as well as being very resource heavy.
  • Inflexible. Related to the previous point, it’s difficult to handle ‘walk-ups’ or ‘plus ones’ when your staff only have pre-printed lists. Sure, they could write it down but that can also lead to inaccuracies and transcription problems if their handwriting is difficult to read. It also relies on staff conscientiousness. Someone might just let a ‘walk-up’ walk-in whereas another member of staff might note their name and further detail.
  • Delays in actioning the data. After your staff have checked-off students from the registration list, they then need to be collected up, given to the right person who then needs to spend time both analyzing the data as well as inputting it into the CRM. Only then can you start sending out the appropriate communications to attendees and non-attendees, which is often a few days after the event has taken place. By which time, the window of opportunity to convert a student or illicit action, may have shrunk or even vanished.
  • Out-dated. The vast majority of students are of an age where they’ve grown up with smartphone-in-hand and internet, apps and messaging platforms at their fingertips. If they rock up at your university and staff are bent over clipboards using pen and paper to log attendance, you’re at risk of being perceived as old fashioned and out of touch. Or at the very least, you’re missing an opportunity to show how forward thinking and innovative you can be.

Scan students with a mobile app

By sending students a unique ticket which contains a QR code either to their phone or to print out, staff can quickly use an app to scan students in and out of events.

Pros

  • Speed. Mobile scanning is faster on the day compared to traditional paper methods. An app can scan many students per minute without the need for laboriously looking up each individual on a sheet of paper.
  • It looks technically advanced. Let’s face it. Scanning students with an iPad is much cooler than ticking someone off a piece of paper. But…
  • It also lets you do some technically advanced stuff. Digital check-in means it can automatically trigger other actions. For example, you could send a ‘welcome to campus’ text. Or it can trigger a reminder text 20 minutes before an important session. Not only could some of these actions drive greater attendance and a better overall experience, it all helps to build your reputation as a modern institution who takes its student experience seriously.
  • Faster to action. eCheck-in means your attendance data can be synced with your CRM in a matter of minutes. No need to decrypt crazy handwriting. No mind-numbing transcription and data entry work. Not only will your staff thank you but it means you’re striking when the iron is hot. Attending and non-attending students get the right communications straight away and not a few days post-event.
  • Efficient handling of edge cases. The best check-in apps let you handle ‘walk-ups’ and ‘plus-ones’ easily. By logging these cases on the fly means you have a more accurate view of attendance and can therefore execute a more effective comms campaign after your event.

Cons

  • Much like pen and paper tracking, you still need a human to man entrances. Although, you could argue this point has been mis-filed as a con. When you’re welcoming someone onto campus or into a session, a friendly face is important and can be made more effective when backed by the right technology.
  • Reliant on the technology working. Many check-in apps (including ours) work without the need for Wi-Fi but there may be some solutions that require an online environment, which as we all know, is not 100% reliable.
  • There is a small learning curve. Although straightforward, staff do need to be shown how to use the application and familiarize themselves with its features and functions before the event.

Allow students to ‘self check-in’

Managing your events through Gecko gives every attendee a unique link where they can see their agenda, check in for events or individual sessions as well as a whole host of other things.

Pros

  • The fastest method. Because students are essentially ‘self-serving’, hundreds of them can check in to an event or session with a tap of a button.
  • It’s super slick and modern. Giving students the power to manage all aspects of their event attendance through the convenience of their own mobile device means you have the finger on the pulse of modern student engagement.
  • As it’s also an electronic check-in method, it has all the same benefits as the above app scanning solution. You can automatically trigger additional actions as well as automate the syncing of data to your CRM.
  • Gather powerful, granular attendance information without having staff (or lines) at every session.
  • Self check-in can be restricted to just before the event or session, say, 30 minutes, to stop students from marking themselves as attended too early. This capability ensures your data is more accurate stopping students marketing themselves as attended a week before the event has actually happened!

Cons

  • Reliance on students to actually check-in. However, in our experience, asking them to check-in will see them comply but they’ll need their phone to do it.

There it is. Three different ways to log attendance at your events and the reasons why you may or may not choose them. At the beginning of this post, we spoke about the trade off between ease of gathering data and the value of analysis. When considering the different ways to track attendance, self-serve check-in apps effectively remove the pain from data gathering by allowing students to take action themselves and letting the tech automate the sync with back-end systems. These apps mean you don’t even need to consider the ROI of doing attendance tracking analysis, it just happens!

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