There are a lot of ways that people communicate with each other over the web now, whether we do so as an individual, as part of an organization or for business purposes. Creating content for the web leaves open many different formats we could consider and each of them have unique characteristics that can help them be ideally suited for different purposes. Video, audio, pictorial and written content all have ways of reaching an audience that are distinct in terms of the results they bring us. If you want to be able to combine all of these elements, the technology is now here to be able to do so. Webinars let you pull together a lot of different features and, as we will learn, this is a big part of what makes them such powerful tools to those who are using them to reach out to audiences.
Right now, we are going to cover what webinars are, where they came from, how they work, what makes them so important from a commercial and marketing standpoint, how you can run one yourself and many other important things involved in the world webinars. You will see that it is definitely a technology that has changed the way many of us do our marketing as well as the way a lot of people get their content online.
The Definition of the Webinar & Its History
The word webinar is a combination of the words ‘web’ and ‘seminar’ so the easiest way to understand what it is to think of it as a web-based seminar. This is mostly true, but many would also consider it a bit of an understatement. Many seminars essentially involve the audience listening to the speaker, or speakers, and not really interacting. They might be shown some slides and that is more or less it. Webinars can be far more feature rich than this. They can still include slides and the ability to hear or even see the speakers present, but there are chat features which can be turned on and also some services will let you have people call in to ask their questions.
It’s the interaction that really sells a lot of people on hosting or attending webinars. Anyone can read something, look at a few pictures, listen to some audio or watch a video – however, being able to ask questions live? That’s a lot more exciting. When you can get people excited about what you’re doing – for whatever reason you happen to be doing it, business or not – then they are a lot more likely to get engaged. Engagement really is the key to success online. Those who can engage an audience are a lot more likely to actually keep that audience which is what makes it worth the time and effort needed to set up and host an event of this kind.
Old school and Webinar
While text-based chat that could occur in ‘real time’ first became a reality in the 1980′s, it would be another decade before web-based equivalents were developed. By the middle of the 1990′s, instant messaging and other forms of web-based chat were deployed, rising to popularity very rapidly because of their ease of use. No separate programs were needed so the learning curve required to chat was far less steep and more people could become involved because of this. Towards the end of that decade, web conferencing was developed as a tool for companies and it found a market right away with companies that wanted to be able to stay in touch with their work force, or business partners, across a great distance.
While the word webinar was trademarked in 1998, it quickly became such a ubiquitous concept that it is no longer considered a word which can’t be used without permission. Today, webinars are considered different from webcasts which are typically not interactive and web conferencing which is less about teaching or showing and more about connecting remote individuals via voice and video connections. Webinars are now quite common and used throughout the world by individuals, organizations and businesses of all sizes. Webinars now are considered cost-effective, simple ways of holding both seminars and workshops.
The Basics of How a Webinar Works
Webinars actually operate using fairly simple technology, hence the reason for their wide adoption among many disparate groups and individuals. There is no stand alone hardware that is needed, generally a standard computer will handle running a webinar quite well. Software is used that the person hosting the webinar will be inputting a video or audio connection to as well as any slides they have planned to share.
Generally, those running a webinar will rely on a software as a service solution online that will allow them to host the webinar and take care of everyone there. By going through a service, everything can be made a lot simpler. Obviously, a microphone and camera are needed in order to serve up audio or video, but not all webinars have a live video component. The person hosting the webinar will have an interface on their end that allows them to control what the audience sees and hears, whether it be slides, their voice or other forms of media.
Since webinars are about multicasting, which is broadcasting to a wide number of users from one specific host, each person will need to log in to the webinar in order to see it. This generally involves using their email address to sign up, although some services will require users to create a login name and password. Each service will have specific requirements in terms of the type of web browser and other software that users will need to have in order to participate in the webinar. On the scheduled day and at a pre-arranged time, users will be expected to log in and watch or get involved.
Software options for Webinars
Many software options out there today allow users to chat during the webinar so that the host can see their questions and answer them. Others may have a ‘raise your hand’ feature so that the host can call on a specific user and allow them to speak. In some cases, users will also call in via telephone so that they can listen to the webinar as it happens and ask questions live when called upon. Other software solutions will allow for users to use their computer and a microphone to ask their questions.
While there are a range of potential software solutions for webinars today, most of them operate similarly to what is described above. So long as audience members have the required technology and a broadband internet connection, they should have no problem connecting to and participating in the webinar. If they do have struggles, generally the company providing the service will have tech support on hand to walk users through their issues and help them solve them so that the host will not be interrupted.
Why Webinars Are Important to Entrepreneurs & Companies
It is easy to see why webinars are so important for those with a product or service to sell – they not only demonstrate the product, they engage people and have them participating and asking questions. This is making a more personal connection than a mere ad or video could ever do and that has great power behind it. The ability to bring in video, audio, slideshows and interactivity are just plain difficult to surpass in any other format. Unless a company is willing to fly people out for an event, and those attending will make the time to be there, it would be very difficult for any other way of reaching out come close to what webinars can offer.
Many in business realize that forming solid relationships with partners is key to their success. They know that reaching out can be difficult to do and simple brochures or promotional videos only have so much impact, even if they were costly to produce and look great. Even business partners usually want to feel they are involved in a relationship and this is where webinars can go a long way towards giving that sense of community. This is because those with questions can ask them right there during the vent and you may be able to answer more than one partner’s questions at a time.
Business, companies and Webinars
An example of how a business could use a webinar for their partners would be a clothing designer who invites all those carrying her new line to attend a webinar where she will show off the line and allow questions. She might even invite stores that don’t yet carry her brand. While there can be schedule constraints that may keep some from attending, merely having such an event available can do wonders for sales.
Companies with investors, or entrepreneurs looking to raise cash, can also attend webinars as a way to really get the most from their events. They can teach investors about their company, provide them with all the information they need for decision-making and even allow for questions. This can lead to a big burst in creativity and is definitely something that would wind up being positive for the company and for investors who want to feel secure about the company they are invested in. Again, a more personal connection generally leads to increased loyalty.
Finally, if you are trying to build up an audience for anything you sell then you can see why webinars are a good idea. They let the customers know more about the people behind the company and giving a human face to your operation really does help. Those who might have been sitting on the fence will often buy and if you make the webinar something that teaches them how to get more from your products or services, then you are offering them extra value which is always appreciated. In short, webinars are a very powerful form of marketing.
Ways by Which Webinars Can Be More Interactive
Some who host webinars do not go to great lengths to make them live up to their full potential. They may just have a slide show and some audio or do what is little more than a webcast without really focusing on the interactive aspects. While this is certainly something anyone is allowed to do, it is a smart move to consider how you can increase the level of participation and really help people feel like they are involved. Be aware that not everyone participating will want to speak up or ask anything, but you want people to feel as if they could if they wanted to.
Most software does allow for chat and letting users type out questions they have. Many people are not all that thrilled to speak over the phone and have it broadcast live and the same goes for speaking into a microphone. They may also be in a noisy environment and be listening in with headphones. For these people, leaving the option to type out their questions is a convenience and it can lead to more participation.
Consider, too, the value of allowing people to call in who might not want to use a headset with their computer. Some webinars even allow people to skip the web and listen right over the phone. Having more options is bound to increase interactivity and for some people this might be their only option. They may download and watch the visual part of the webinar when they can later, but for now a call in option could be quite helpful.
Using Webinars as a Way to Build Relationships with Customers
One of the keys to truly successful marketing in our current era is being able to form lasting and beneficial relationships with your customers. Webinars give you a great, low-cost and very easy way to do this. If you are doing list building, this is a terrific tool that you should consider using. Instead of relying on text or even a video to get people to sign up for your list, having them attend a webinar is going to get them a lot more mentally and emotionally involved in what your list is all about. You are giving them something for free up front and that is always going to be a truly potent sales tool. Expect your list to grow by leaps and bounds if you do this right.
You can use your webinars as a way to bring in new clients or customers or as a way to reward them for buying from you. This is also a good way for nonprofits to get people to become more deeply involved in the work that they do. When you approach things this way, you might give people a taste of what the webinar will include, but you do have a pay wall up so they will need to spend a little bit in order to participate. This might shrink the number of attendees you have, but it will make sure that those present are genuinely interested in what’s going on and a lot more likely to purchase something in the future, if not during or right after the webinar.
Sites that are membership based will find webinars to be a smart way to add value to the membership. They can record the webinar in case certain members aren’t able to attend so that they can download the recording and watch it later. Since webinars go further than videos and get people to participate, they can give your membership site a stronger sense of community which is quite advantageous. People are more likely to keep paying their subscription if they feel they ‘belong’.
Webinars as Key to Education
If you want to educate an audience, few methods are going to be as effective as hosting a webinar. This allows you to give a full multimedia presentation and cover a lot of ground in whatever time you have allotted for the event. It also allows you to answer participant’s questions so you can make sure they fully understand what you are learning.
Schools around the world are already discovering that webinar style classes help students in big ways, giving them real advantages over the traditional classroom setting. They can attend a webinar from home with equipment they already have and even if they miss the live part of it, they can watch the recording and still see many questions being offered. Community colleges, universities and even some high schools are finding that students more passionately engage with webinars than they ever did in the standard classroom setting.
Webinars education for Organisations
Organizations, whether charitable or for other purposes, often need to teach those who are giving to their causes about the specific issues involved. This is where webinars can play a vital role, helping people fully understand what it is they are helping with and how they are making a difference. Workshops on topics such as how to live in a more eco-friendly way can be powerful life changers that get real results. This is why webinars are such a strong idea for organizations of all kinds that want to activate people and get them involved in a cause or movement.
Businesses today are finding that educating customers can revolutionize the way they conduct business. Many companies make excellent products, but if their customers are not fully aware of how to get the most from those products then they are not maximizing their opportunities and fully leveraging their audience’s ability to spread the word about what their brand offers. By offering information that goes hand in hand with products or services, companies and entrepreneurs can enhance the lives of those they sell to while making sure they are forging lasting relationships. Education benefits people and also helps them feel more connected to the source of learning. Keep in mind that the bulk of why people come online is not to be entertained, but to learn – a shocking fact to some, but demonstrated in poll after poll of web users.
Consider Getting a Mentor or Taking a Course in Conducting Webinars
When first considering hosting a webinar, there are a lot of details to keep track of and things to learn. While many software solutions have full tutorials to help you learn the more tech oriented part of hosting a webinar, creating the right content can be a whole other story. For this, you may want to consider getting additional training in order to become successful a little bit faster.
There are numerous courses out there that can show even a total beginner how to create a good webinar and even how to earn money from it. These are usually video series or even webinars themselves so that you get a more visual and hands on approach that gives you a good idea of what all you will need to do to prepare and how to keep people interested in the information you are presenting them with. Going this route is a faster track.
Programs for coaching
Some programs will even include some coaching and let you practice your skills so that you can build up some confidence before you start conducting webinars on your own. This is a very good way to learn and what you will come to see is that people with real experience can be a very powerful asset to you, teaching you things that may have otherwise taken a very long time to learn.
Remember, too, that if you are not comfortable giving a webinar on your own, there are places where you can outsource the speaking roles or the creation of slides and other visual content. Consultants and firms can often assist with creating an effective and memorable webinar on your behalf where your products or services are showcased in their best light. For some people who are not social in nature, this might be a smart way to go and will allow them to focus on the aspects of their business that they are more inclined towards.
Planning and Laying Out the Strategy Needed for Successful Webinars
The best webinars are almost always those that were well planned and well marketed. You need the marketing to develop the audience you want to attend and this should happen well before any webinar you host, except in cases where you have a membership site with a ready to go audience. You will definitely want to do what you can to prepare for your webinar, too, because there are a lot of things that will need to be in place in order to give the best. Regular scheduling of webinars is important, too, if this is something you or your brand or organization want to be known for hosting.
Do not set out to give a webinar without having everything fully planned in advance. These are live events, after all, and you want things to go as smoothly as possible. Those who plan and really implement strategy are going to see the most success for their efforts. It takes extra time, but it is worth it.
Also, be sure you are performing the best possible content marketing and using real strategy to get the most from each webinar. A great webinar can be part of your overall content marketing because you can give it away as a free download later if you wish to. This is a great way to build loyalty, educate people and show them how committed you are to them as members of your audience. When used the right way, webinars are certainly a powerful way to accomplish goals while still being simple to perform.