Survey response chartThey come like clockwork at the end of every event: event surveys. Whether by paper, email or app, these simple questions have to walk a tightrope between not asking too many questions (so as not to spook the attendee) and asking enough questions to get some useful information back about the event. Event organizers fret over how to walk that line, when it really doesn’t matter. When was the last time you saw ten percent survey completion? You’re usually lucky to see five percent.

And from those paltry responses come even slimmer information. What’s the last thing you learned from the post event survey? That the room was too cold? That one of the breakout sessions was boring? What exactly is an event organizer supposed to do with this “information?”

There are a lot of things wrong with post-event surveys. Besides no one filling them out, they are sent the absolute worst time from an attendee point of view. Think about the attendee, having spent three days getting his or her brain filled with information, away from their families, sleeping in a hotel and eating vacation food. By the end, their brain is fried. They can’t remember what hotel they stayed in let alone who said what the first day. Their recollections are impacted by what happened in the events afterwards. An amazing, stirring, inspiring keynote presentation day one will get watered down by technical glitches and bad jokes on day two and a bad checkout experience on day three.

Also, your surveys are influenced by what you want to hear. Not just by how the questions are worded, but in what questions you ask. Asking about the keynote, each breakout session, lunch and the reception means that you think the keynote and the lunch are equally important. Are they really? Of course not. You’re just covering all the bases to make sure you asked every possible question in case someone thinks that one day there’s a need.

ChartEvent surveys have been the default means of collecting sentiment data about the event for years simply because there has been no alternative. Except that’s no longer true.

One of the less-talked about features of a modern event app is the main feed. This is the news feed that collects all information that people post: their likes, comments, photos, check-ins, etc. To many, it’s a cute way to find people in the same session as you, to see if anyone has taken a picture with you in it, etc. It’s a nice feature, something fun to look at between sessions (or during the boring ones).

But seeing it as a “nice to have” feature misses its deeper value. Think of your attendee as they post the items in the feed. Whatever they felt, positive or negative, moved them to post to the app. That happened in the moment and that collection of moments is untained by memory and time. As you get 60, 70 and 80% percent audience penetration with your app, your opportunity to collect more data from more people as it happens leaves post-event surveys in the dust.

After the event, ask your app provider for a data dump of all comments, posts, photos, likes and any other data your app collected. Even if your app provider has a pretty report that shows things like the number of people who downloaded and engaged with the app, the real gold is in the content itself. Ask for that. Whether you (or an intern) go through the data and collate it yourself, or submit it to a sentiment analyzer, you will learn a lot more about what your attendees liked and responded to than simple post-event surveys.