Community & Content Guide: Webinars 101
I’ve had a lot of practice doing webinars over the past four years. A few months into my job, I did my first one ever to about 200 live participants. (Which is an intimidating amount for a n00b.) I stumbled over my words, did not feel comfortable with the technology, and had no idea how to communicate or engage people while staring in front of my computer.
In other words, this was me:
I hear from friends and colleagues in the community space about exploring webinars as a way to engage existing and attract new community members and customers. No bones about it, webinars are a great and often affordable way to do this… when done well.
There can be many bumps in the webinar road, with lots of opportunities to learn, grow, and improve along the way (yay!). I’m starting to compile my thoughts and experiences with webinars, with this post as my first attempt at sharing that knowledge in a somewhat cohesive format.
Over time, I’ll share additional strategies to help you provide an awesome webinar experience.
In the meantime, read on to get a high-level overview on choosing a platform, selecting the right date/time, tracking attendance, and showing your personality during your webinars.
Choosing a Webinar Platform
There are lots of options out there, and which is best for your company will vary depending on the goals of your community growth, the type of community you manage, and the level of engagement you want to produce, among other factors.
As of late, I have been using Google Hangouts On Air for our webinars. It is not as refined of a webinar platform as others, but it works for our needs, and we were able to find a work-around in terms of collecting registrations (more on that in another post). Hangouts offers in-app widgets, too, such as a Q&A to address concerns, a “Showcase” tool to display product information or resources (essentially built-in CTAs), and a nice lower third option within the Hangout Toolbox.
Looking for more bells and whistles with your webinar platform? Other popular platforms I’ve used as both a participant and a host include:
- Cisco WebEx
- Adobe Connect
- Blackboard Collaborate (yep, that Blackboard)
- This article from DoInbound has a few other suggestions, too.
Timing Your Webinar
My company works with educators all over the world, and therefore across multiple time zones. For a long time, we conducted webinars between 1 and 4 PM—seemingly smack dab in the middle of a school day for many in the U.S., which we thought would prompt low turnout to the live session. We would track webinar attendance data meticulously, and never saw a significant difference in live attendance rate when we shifted scheduled times around by a few hours.
That said, given their hectic schedules and responsibilities after school, a few folks in our community asked us to push the webinars back to 5 PM. Always iterating and open to feedback, we soon learned that this urging for a 5 PM session was a vocal minority, as we saw a steep drop-off (20%+) when we delayed our webinars to later in the day.
Lesson learned? Iterate, evaluate and test different days/times, but don’t get too crazy, especially if you provide the option for registrants to watch the webinar later or on-demand later on (which you should).
Who Dat? Analyzing & Engaging Attendees
Figuring out who is attending your webinars is critical, as it details whom you’re engaging, and to what degree. As someone who has registered for countless webinars, but ends up not attending the live session, and eventually forgets about the recording in her inbox… I know that just because a company entices me to register, it doesn’t mean my interaction will go much beyond that.
Tracking registrations, number of new contacts, live attendees, and open rates can all help you figure out whether you’re hitting the nail on the head with your topics and scheduled times. Providing additional suggestions for quality content marketing in a follow-up email can further engage folks who may realize they don’t have the time to sit through a whole webinar recording, but would like to click through the corresponding slides, or sign up for an email course on a similar topic.
We’ve dabbled with showing personalities within the company over the years—putting a small photo in an email signature or doing webinar trailers explaining what they can expect—and we’ve seen success and increased recognition from that. From a community perspective, it helps when people know who is the mysterious voice behind the webinar platform, especially if your face isn’t shown at any point during the webinar.
Webinar trailers have also proven successful, and when done efficiently, take little time and can have a big impact. I can’t believe I’m sharing this, but here’s one we did as a pre-conference webinar a couple of months ago (try not to be as awkward and squirrely):
Either way, when it comes to hosting your webinar, let your personality shine. It feels super awkward and uncomfortable talking to a computer, and it’s not much different as a participant. Having enthusiasm and emotion in your voice will keep participants in engaged, even if your lovely face isn’t visible.
Have Fun and Know You’ll Screw Up
Webinars take practice, and having done around 100+ over the past few years, I can tell you with confidence that there will be mistakes. There will be technical errors, audio may cut out, some participants may be far too chatty (or troll), and sometimes your presentation slides will look different in full screen mode compared to the hundreds of times you ran through it before. Even the smoothest webinars are imperfect.
And that’s OK! Roll with the punches. Use each one as a learning opportunity to refine and improve. You’re allowed to gripe (Lord knows I did when we worked with a particularly buggy platform for many months), but learn from it and do things differently the next time.