In the past two years, webinars have exploded on the B2B scene. Take a look at the accompanying graphic from Google Trends. It shows the increase in searches on the term “webinar” since 2004. Need more proof? A Gartner Research report from July 2009 also points out that interest is at an all-time high (PDF report).
Webinars’ popularity is being driven in part by the high cost of travel, not to mention the hassles and time involved. Why not avoid travel if you can?
Another reason webinars are getting more popular is better and cheaper technology. Offering a professional webinar is now within the budget of the smallest business – even a solo entrepreneur. You can put on a small webinar at literally no out-of-pocket cost. Of course, if you want to add bells and whistles, or have hundreds of participants, it may cost something – but even then the costs are affordable.
Perhaps the most important reason behind the webinar trend is how our habits as information consumers have changed. As businesspeople, we’re just getting more used to going online for information and education. So if that’s where your customers want to get information, that’s where you should provide it.
Let’s examine this webinar trend and how you can take advantage of it in your business.
Free vs Fee
If you are putting on a webinar, the first decision is: will it be free or will you charge attendees a fee?
As marketing tools for B2B businesses, webinars are excellent. Seth Godin has pointed out that we’re in an attention economy where you have to work to get the attention of your targets. One way to get attention is by giving away valuable information to educate your audience. Free content is a draw that gets their attention. Once you have their attention, you can market to them – perhaps marketing your expertise as a services provider, or marketing your product, or both.
One of the more interesting uses of webinars I’m seeing is that of the “standing webinar” offered a few times a week or month. Businesses use these webinars as lead-generation tools and sometimes as customer training. A case in point is PRWeb, which offers training webinars for creating and enhancing press releases.
When it comes to technology choices, there are a number of good affordable tools for small businesses to hold webinars. Go to Webinar; BrightTalk; ReadyTalk; Zoho Meeting; Webex; Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro. These are just some of better known options. Pricing and features are all over the place – some offer a free basic offering, but charge for premium features. Be prepared to spend some time checking them out until you find one that meets your needs and your budget.
Promoting Your Webinar
Just as with any event, you will have to promote your webinar.
The best way I’ve found to promote a webinar is to those who have already expressed interest in you. That means, marketing a webinar to: (1) a house email list that you have built up, and (2) a community of interested people, such as a community assembled around your own blog or a microcommunity you develop on a social media site such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you don’t have an email list or a community, the time to start building these groups of interested parties is NOW. While you are building up your own, try to partner with someone who already has.
You can also list your event in webinar event sites, such as EventSpan.com, Finervista.com, and Webinar Hero. Don’t forget general event listing sites, such as Upcoming. Just remember: events listings are passive efforts and you don’t want to rely on these as the sole means of promotion.
There are other ways to promote webinars, including PR, approaching bloggers to write about your event, and creating online press releases. Some companies have found it effective to use pay-per-click search engine ads to promote free educational webinars that serve as soft pitches for their products – although that can get expensive.
Other Tricks of the Trade
A great webinar leaves people wanting more when it ends. With a bad webinar your audience will not make it to the end.
Holding webinars is very much an art, I’ve found. How to structure your webinar; how many slides and what to put on them; whether and how to poll your audience; how to handle chats and text questions from audience members – these and many other facets of your presentation bear thinking about.
The good news is that you can learn a lot by listening to other good webinars. If you’re looking for specific tips, there’s an excellent blog by Ken Molay, called The Webinar Blog. If you feel the need for more structured learning, you can purchase ebooks or one-on-one training.
The beauty of a recorded webinar is that it also can be repurposed many times over. Just create a webinars archive on your website and make them available for download on demand. Depending on the format of your webinar, you sometimes can load the recorded webinar at content sharing sites such as Slideshare.net. Some webinars can even be uploaded to video sites like YouTube.
Webinars help position you, your company and your company executives as subject matter experts. They give you credibility in the eyes of prospects. So take advantage of the webinar trend, by offering your own.