For business publishers webinars can be a dream. They offer a satisfying mixture of editorial heft and readership engagement – and let’s not forget the sponsorship revenue they bring in.
But let’s put aside those benefit for a second and focus on the sponsors. What’s in it for them?
If a brand can find the right publishing partner, one that allows it to position itself as a trusted and authoritative voice to an audience of prospective customers, the potential to enhance its Thought Leadership credentials can be great.
Let’s face it, Thought Leadership is an awful term, but if you can show expertise and position yourself ahead of the competition without resorting to squirm-inducing cliché, then you’re on to something. There’s also the (not so) small matter of considerable lead generation from a new and previously untapped database of interested individuals.
In addition, webinars offer a significant branding opportunity. For an hour, a firm can be on the computer screens and in the thoughts of people who have never previously paid it much attention.
Webinar partnerships can be quick, easy, and allow your brand to hit a significant number of people in little time.
(Time to declare an interest – I run the webinar programme for The Marketer magazine – so I would say all this, wouldn’t I?)
But beyond branding, email lead generation, and the push of your key messages to new audiences, webinars can also help your firm pick up social media followers. In short, webinars can be a great way to kick off, or conclude, a content marketing program. What better, more straightforward format is there to draw together the key principles, research findings, and insights your firm has spent months discussing through its blogs, websites and social platforms?
Or, if you’re using a webinar at the start of a content marketing project, what better way is there to introduce a series of themes you’ll spend the next few months developing through your paid, owned, and earned media?
A partnership with a publisher can really help introduce your brand to a new and wide audience, but it might not be an option available to all businesses. If your budgets are tight, or for some other reason you decide to publish your own events, these tips are designed to help make your webinars as professional and editorial rigorous as they possibly can be.
Your theme – what’s it all about?
Setting a theme for your webinar can be the toughest part of the exercise. Good themes are timely, informative, and aren’t just a way to crowbar in a hefty promotion of your services or products.
Your webinar needs to have genuinely compelling topic, one that will make people who know little of your business sit up and take notice. I often find a topic or theme that establishes a business challenge, then looks at the ways that can be overcome can be the most useful and draw people in.
The trick is to find the right subject, then write a brief (essentially just promotional copy) that will draw people in. A compelling brief need only be two or three paragraphs long. Always set out what it is your likely to talk about, explain why this will be of interest, then give a few key bullet-points telling people what the key takeaways are likely to be.
It’s highly likely you already have a database of customers and leads to whom you intend to promote your event.
To get started, all you need to do is to draw up the brief description of what your webinar will cover (as detailed above), build a registration page using one of many freely available webinar software packages, then email your brief to your database with a link to the registration page. It’s that simple.
Send two or three emails over the course of a fortnight – you’ll be amazed how many people will sign up on from the third after having just read the first two!
If you’re not working with a publisher on an email lead-generation project, how about partnering with a related business? Invite one of their key people to speak on your webinar, promote the event to the customers and prospects of both organisations, then share the leads from both customer sets?
Webinars aren’t the most complicated things, but that doesn’t mean you can just breeze into them and expect success – practise always makes perfect. So two days before your live event, how about running a rehearsal?
A rehearsal isn’t supposed to go smoothly. It’s there to help you identify and then iron out the glitches. The key things to look out for are: sound quality, speakers’ familiarity with the software, and connectivity.
Don’t encourage people to join the webinar from open plan offices or rooms that echo – joining from home, a quiet corner office, or meeting room usually works best.
Constant ‘bongs’ quickly become tiresome, so ask your speakers to turn off all computer and phone notifications.
Then, to ensure good quality sound and a reliable connection, ask your speakers to dial in on fixed-line phone and use a hard-wired internet connection. Wifi can be unreliable, so can speaker phones, and VOIP connections don’t sound great at the best of times. The last thing you need is for a speaker’s voice to keep cutting in and out, or for them to disappear halfway through their presentation, that’s why fixed lines are generally better.
Once you have all these technical issues sorted out, then you can familiarise your speakers with the back-end of your webinar software, showing them how to mute themselves when not speaking, how to assume control of the slide deck, and then moving the slides along once it’s their turn.
What’s your Plan B?
If you’re thoroughly organised, having standby speakers on hand to fill gaps created by last minute drop outs can be extremely handy – but who, really, is that organised? If you lose a speaker at the last minute, it might be easier just to ask each or your remaining participants to speak for a little longer. Then take your time, run an extra poll, and ask a few additional questions.
In case there are technical problems during your webinar, it’s always a good idea to suggest that your speakers have a spare phone ready (a mobile, perhaps?), and to let them know how to rejoin the webinar without any panic. It’s also handy for speakers to have a print out of their presentation and their notes. That way, if something happens to their web connection or computer, they can continue to present with voice alone.
Don’t turn it into a sales pitch
Nothing is more off-putting than tuning into a webinar that promises to be informative and enlightening, only to be given the hard sell. Not only is it disinteresting, it can turn a viewer off your company for good.
Webinars are an opportunity to show how much you know, and share learning. Doing exactly that is far more powerful and persuasive than banging on about you latest piece of software for an hour.
Why not invite an independent speaker along to give their take on your subject? Two perspectives are always better than one.
Sharing your platform with someone who can offer a compelling, alternative or complementary take will only help show how confident you are in what it is you’re going to say.
If you, or one of your speakers, is planning to wing it, to present on the fly, forget it. Few people have the necessary skills to deliver a worthwhile presentation without substantial planning and good notes.
If you’re the webinar host, write a script and follow it. Introduce the topic, deal with all the event housekeeping, then introduce the speakers. Give each speaker a designated time slot and make them stick to it, good timekeeping will ensure your webinar is packed with information, yet remains brisk and compelling. Keeping things snappy is always better than a 50-minute lecture from one speaker. Aim for an hour-long event, get your three speakers to talk for 15-minutes each (or two for 22 minute each) then save ten minutes for Q&A, as often it can be the most compelling part of the event.
If your webinar software allows viewers to submit questions (most do) then deal with housekeeping inquires (‘where can I get the slides after’, ‘what’s the hashtag for this event’) as you go.
If you’re a speaker, prepare simple slides and good notes. Rather than packing your slides full of information, tiny graphs and charts, use them as a visual aid and let your words be the key element. More than anything else, practising your presentation and refining your notes will make you memorable. Remember, too much information can be bad. All you really want to do is get across one or two key messages that really chime with viewers.
When you run a live webinar, majority of technical issues can be quickly and easily overcome. They shouldn’t hinder the smooth flow of your event. That said, it’s always useful to have a colleague, who is not directly involved, to field all the technical queries raised via your webinar’s chat facility and/or social media. Having that person on-hand makes life simple for everyone else. It means the presenter can be left to focus solely on the content of the webinar.
As I mentioned before, if you allow your audience to submit questions throughout the event, the best part of a webinar can often be the Q&A.
If you keep reminding people you intend to ask their questions at the end of the webinar, they tend to say interested.
More importantly, the audience questions are usually far more direct and insightful than anything the host can come up with, and as a result they generate compelling answers.
Most webinar software has a polling feature built-in – don’t be afraid to use it. Ask the audience to fill out a poll then show them the results immediately. Doing this helps keep engagement high and prevents them getting bored and dropping off the webinar.
Similarly, its also useful to ask direct questions to the audience for immediate feedback, this too keep engagement levels high, it makes the feel involved.
Another great way to keep the involvement high is to establish an event Twitter hashtag, get all the participants to tweet prior to the event and then regularly remind your viewers that they can join the Twitter conversation.
Not only is it a great way to keep people engaged and spread your message, speakers can also line up a load of scheduled tweets that can miraculously appear with relevant content and links during their presentations – it’s very useful.
Post event follow up can be as important to the overall effectiveness of your content marketing programme as the event itself.
If you gain loads of leads, email them a follow up. Everyone that registered, regardless of whether they attended the webinar, should get an email with a link to the recording of the event.
I always find two versions of a follow-up email are best – one for those that have registered but did not view, telling them about all the good stuff they missed. Then a second for all those that did view, with links to offers, promotions, further relevant content.
But don’t let that be the end of it for your recording – pop it on your website, tweet links to it, keep the conversation going across all your social media. In addition, pop your slides on Slideshare, then let people know where they can download them.
For those people who took the time and effort to submit questions during the webinar, there’s nothing wrong with a personal email to follow up their queries with further information.
Perhaps one final note: if you have a lot of questions submitted during your webinar, give yourself time to digest the general tone and tenor of them as a whole. They type of questions – and the level at which they are pitched – can be really help shape the future direction of your marketing programme. These questions are a quick and easy insight to the kid of issues that are mostly occupying the minds of your potential new customers.