Now that the costs are reasonable, the technology friendly, and the hosting services hassle-free, it's hard to resist the benefits of webcasts.
- for webcasting is growing. The worldwide market for real-time conferencing and team collaboration software is expected to grow to $2.8 billion in 2010, up from $1.6 billion in 2007, according to market researcher Gartner. Business-to-business marketers of all sizes and types are discovering they can save money and boost sales by engaging in collaborative webconferencing. It's worth checking out. Here are six things to know before you do.
1. WHAT IS A WEBCAST, ANYWAY?
Web seminars - webcasts - use the internet to broadcast a live or delayed audio and/or video transmission to a targeted group of users who log in for the event. The online meetings are interactive and collaborative. They're in real time, so there's two-way communication via instant messaging applications or other software between a participant and the conference leader or across the team or group, depending on how you customize the meeting. You can instantly share content and visuals, watch and listen to presentations, or ask questions and make comments - often simultaneously.
When relying on a webcast hosting service to run the show, participants need only a phone, a computer, and an online connection, whether dial-up or broadband. Most providers also allow for recording or archiving the presentation, so it's available on-demand after the event. Typically, promotional webcasts are invitation-only and free.
2. WHAT CAN WEBCASTS DO?
Versatile and efficient, webcasts can train staffers or customers, introduce products or brands, educate media or serve as press conferences, inform analysts or investors, research markets, generate leads, reward loyal customers, and lots more.
But webcasts can't replace in-person meetings. Instead, you need to play to the strengths of this unique medium. Webcasts can:
- Effortlessly reach an amazingly broad and diverse audience, from 20 to 2,000 participants. That's worldwide and in real time.
- Avoid the expense of travel and accommodations. You pay a fraction of the cost of in-person meetings or seminars.
- Provide immediate feedback. During the webcast, you can ask for comments or mount an instant poll.
- Drive action, such as sending participants to your web site, request information, or set up a sales call.
Webcasts also are useful to reach clients or influential buyers who may be unwilling or unable to meet face to face. Rather than suffer cold calls, your salespeople can mount surprisingly creative marketing efforts.
Colleen Knapp, marketing manager for Microsoft Office Live Meeting, tells of one liquor distributor who hosted a virtual wine tasting via a webcast. Several days before the event, the distributor shipped samples of the tasting wines to all the participants. Then, at the appointed hour, everyone logged into the conference and sipped in unison while learning about the wines they tasted.
3. WHAT ABOUT PREPARATION?
As with any marketing tactic, your return on investing in webcasts will be determined by planning and by setting appropriate goals. "Figure out what you're trying to accomplish and have a crystal clear objective before planning a webcast," advises Knapp. "Be able to answer the question: 'I will be successful if...'"
The next step is to market the event so that you can attract the participants you want. Identify your target. Research direct marketing or association lists, if necessary. Start early so there's time to recruit and confirm an in-demand speaker or to research the topic that will draw your targets. Selecting the right speaker is key to both attracting the audience you target and keeping them engaged. Don't forget that anyone who signs up for a webcast can just as quickly click off while it's running.
Smart speaker choices include:
- An industry or academic expert with a recognized name
- A business partner or collaborator with a name brand
- A top, C-level executive from your own company
The real no-no? Don't choose salespeople to be webcast speakers.
Then, allow some time to announce your event, whether with email notices, mailed postcards, or both. Announce the webcast about a month in advance. "Send reminders at the two-week midpoint, the day before and the day of the event," suggests Debra Newton at Newton Gravity Shift, an e-marketing agency in Pennington, NJ. Expect to have a sizable drop-off rate, as well. Some people who register won't show up because they forget or can't make it or experience some technical glitch.
Make sure to stay in touch with your speakers throughout the process. You'll want to keep speakers up-to-date about attendance, to confirm dates and schedules, and send along any queries that come in from invitees so the speakers can better meet expectations. Of course, you'll also want to try some training and a rehearsal or two.
4. WHAT ABOUT COSTS?
Costs vary depending on the presentation, number of "seats" or participants, and the duration and number of webcasts. A small company can purchase a subscription or pay on a per-minute/per-participant basis. For example, Live Meeting's services can be purchased on a pay-per-use basis or on a plan that covers a specified number of seats per month.
Calculating "seats" can be challenging because you must commit to filling a certain number in advance when you purchase services. Usually, prices are tiered to minimum/maximum thresholds. "For B2B, unless you have a big-name draw speaker, keep it conservative," says Kathleen Glass, director of marketing at ProfitLine, a telecom administrative services provider in San Diego.
There's also the usual tradeoff between time and money, depending upon whether you create and produce your own webcast or decide to hire a hosting service to do it for you.
If this is your first webcast, working with a provider not only can save lots of wear and tear, but will also provide a working template for doing it yourself later on. To find an appropriate provider, check online. Most webcast providers have helpful demos on their sites, so try an online search and take a few tours to find a service you like.
Host services run from corporate buttoned-down to freewheeling and outside-the-box. For instance, you might decide on a provider that specializes in featuring customized "avatars" or animated characters to get your points across. Some of the larger services include Onstream Media, which can host everything from board meetings to training classes; TalkPoint, which has robust interactive capabilities; and SkillSoft, which specializes in e-learning. But there are dozens more.
If you want to go it alone, you'll need to buy webcast software or access to various webcast tools, such as Microsoft Live Meeting, already mentioned. Other possibilities include the popular WebEx, a pioneer in the field purchased by Cisco in 2007, or affordable and feisty up-and comer, GoToMeeting, owned by Citrix Systems.
5. WHAT CONTENT WORKS BEST?
Webcasts can be as simple as a speaker with a white board or as sophisticated as multimedia streaming. Webcast tools are never the hard part, experts say. (Webcast reception, of course, will vary with each user's technology and your choice of hosting tools.) But what mostly stumps marketers is the challenge of creating and delivering engaging content.
Think of webcasts as "illustrated radio," suggests Sydney Rubin, who recently sold her Washington DC high-tech PR agency, Ignition Strategic Communications. "They should be well written, lively, and paced to hold the attention of the participants."
For one client, Ignition set up a webcast to inform participants about changes in a federal law that required some companies to add new technology. Rubin recruited a panel that consisted of a wellknown attorney, who was also a talented speaker, a technology guru, and an executive affected by the law. Presentations were short and to the point, with a moderator interviewing the speakers, the way a talk show host does. "We made sure there was banter between participants," Rubin says. "Slides moved quickly and a great many of them had no words at all, just pictures that illustrated the points being made in the script. You had to watch, or you'd certainly miss something."
Also consider your call to action. If the only goal is brand awareness, you may not care whether or not there's a way for viewers to talk back or get more information. But for most marketers, the call to action is an important element. Webcasts provide the perfect environment for finding out more about your customers, influencers, and prospects.
That kind of feedback can be accomplished via a Q&A session; a fast survey, whether before, during, or after the presentation; and discretionary comment or forum forms. You can also provide links to additional content on your web site and get people to opt in for email marketing or to download a report or white paper.
Webcasts aren't only about putting information out there. They're also about getting information back.
6. WHAT KIND OF FOLLOW-UP SHOULD YOU DO?
Once the event is over, don't miss the opportunity to capture leads and further market the audience. "Keeping contact with participants is vital," says Scott Harris, president of Growth Masters, a Dallas interactive training company. For e-learning or training, you can assign homework or set up online bulletin boards. Other marketers can follow up with additional or more advanced webcast invitations, special discounts for products, or even premium access to information or services.
Also, if you record the webcast, you can send notices to participants who dropped out, letting them know they can access an archived version of the event they missed.
Obviously, you want to think through the details of an event like this and get it right upfront. But you clearly gain a lot of reach with your dollars. And when you work with a hosting service, basically all you need worry about is your list and the content.
New-York-based Joanna L. Krotz often writes on entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and can be reached at email@example.com.