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Webinars: The Ultimate Guide to Producing World Class Online Events

Webinars are an essential part of any content marketing and demand generation program. One question I always get about webinars is: if buyers are so busy, how does anyone have the time to sit through an hour long webinar? Loren MacDonald from Silverpop once wrote a brilliant answer to this question: “Many people view webinars as an hour of free consulting and training”. Webinars allow organizations to open a classroom for an hour and provide valuable, interactive content to their prospects and customers.  As such, they are a very effective tool for driving customer engagement. They also tend to convert at a high rate because there is a deadline to register. With written content, people can “get to it when they have time”. With webinars, people who want to attend will make sure they register in a timely fashion.

Webinars help marketers meet a number of objectives, including:

  1. Demand Generation – Buyers still have an expectation that they will need to complete a registration form in order to gain access to a webinars. Ungated content is more prevalent than ever – blog posts, ebooks, and whitepapers are all freely distributed now. Meanwhile, people are still willing to trade their contact info to attend an online event. This makes webinars an absolute “must-do” in most organizations demand generation plans.
  2. Content Marketing – Webinars are an accepted and popular content medium. They also provide the opportunity to produce multiple content assets. For example, a webinar can consist of the live event, an on-demand version, pre and post event blog posts, Slideshare content, long-form content such as whitepapers (more on this later in the post), and video. In today’s world of competitive content, marketing organizations must create numerous assets at a breakneck pace. The best way to scale content is to “create once, publish many” and webinars are one of the best vehicles to achieve this.
  3. Thought leadership – Thought leaders relish the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of people. I personally speak at 2-3 webinars per month. Webinars provide companies the opportunity to associate third party thought leaders with their brand. Webinars are also a great vehicle for showcasing internal thought leaders.
  4. Data – You can’t tell if someone read your whitepaper but you can tell if someone attended your webinar. The modern marketer craves data and webinars offer the ability to go beyond information collected via the form. Webinar data includes information on whether someone attended and the amount of time and their level of engagement including things like who asked questions or answered a poll question.
  5. Community – The webinar setting allows organizations to have a dialogue and interact with webinar attendees. Polls, question and answer, and social sharing are a unique aspect to webinars versus other digital programs.

Given the benefits they provide, webinars should be a core component of a company’s content marketing efforts. My typical recommendation for a solid, consistent content marketing program that includes webinars is as follows:

  • 5-7 blog posts/week
  • 1 long form content asset (ebook or whitepaper)/month
  • 1 -2 webinars/month
  • 1 infographic/quarter

Like blog posts, webinars are an effective way to produce a steady stream of content. They should be produced on a regular schedule like a television show (same day, same time,  same place).

As you plan your webinars, here is a repeatable process that will allow you to create successful events:

1. Choose a webinar platform

There are a number of webinar platform providers on the market today. The top vendors to research and consider are: Adobe Connect, Brighttalk, Citrix GoTowebinar, InExpo, On24, ReadyTalk, and WebEx. There are pluses and minuses to each that will have to be saved for another post. The important thing to know is that they all work.

2. Agree on target buyer persona

Every marketing organization should have a deep understanding of their buyer by using personas and buying process maps. The buyer persona is a deep look into the buyer including their role, their day-to-day life, and their challenges. The buying process map informs organizations on the steps a buyer must take in order to ultimately purchase their solution. When developing webinars, the first step is to decide which buyer personas will be the target audience for the event. The next step is to decide where you want to target the buyer in the buying process. The deep understanding that comes with the buyer persona process and process map will help inform the topic, speakers, and promotion of the event.

3. Determine the goals for the event

Determining the goals for your webinar involves two fundamental questions. The first question is “who”, the second question is “how many”. Before continuing in the webinar production process, organizers must decide how many people they want to register and attend the event. The number of registrants will depend on the size of your promotional efforts and the topic. The common registration/attendee rate is 25-50%. If webinars are a new endeavor for the organization, then set the bar low.

4. Agree on topic and format

Now that you’ve decided “who” the webinar is for, you can develop topics that attract their buyer’s interest. The topic and associated promotional materials will determine the overall number of registrations for the webinar. A fundamental best practice for attracting the largest audience are to make the topic as relevant and interesting as possible for the buyer. Many companies make the mistake of creating webinars that are focused on selling their product or service. Also, consider provocative topics as a way to capture a larger audience. The most popular technology webinar I ever produced was: “How to Replicate the World’s 10 Most Amazing Network Failures”.  The target persona for this event was the super-busy, attention-starved network infrastructure person. In order to get them to take notice and set aside time from their daily fire drills, we had to create an exciting, arresting topic. It worked.

The format of the event is the next critical decision. There should always be one moderator and at least one speaker.  There are a number of formats to consider:

  • Single speaker presentation – One speaker presenting their slide deck.
  • Multi-speaker presentation – Multiple speakers present with each speaker getting a specific amount of time with little or no moderator interruptions. Each speaker will have their own sections of the slide deck.
  • Panel – Panels feature multiple speakers who respond to questions or topics delivered by the moderator.

The other format decision is to do video or slide-only. Most webinars are slide-only today with video beginning to pick up steam.

5. Recruit moderators and presenters

Recruiting moderators and presenters is the next major step in the production process. Because it is a presentation, the speaker will have to be engaging and articulate for excellent audience viewing experiences. Presenters who have strong personal brands can also be a major draw for the event. Many organizations choose third party, objective speakers to present educational content. Third party speakers lend credibility to the event (people don’t want to sign up for hour-long sales pitches) and bring their fans and followers to the event.

6. Build a promotional plan

The optimal process for building the promotional plan is to start with the target number of registrations for the event and then determine which promotional tactics will allow you to hit that goal. Like any marketing campaign, each tactic may have it’s own requirements to be successful. For example, email marketing will require automation to send the emails. Email marketing will generate the vast majority of registrations to the event, but the promotional plan should be a multi-channel approach. (We talk further about various approaches later in this post).  Each channel should have it’s own goal, for example if the goal is 100, a promotional plan might look like this:

  • Email marketing – 75
  • Corporate website promotions – 10
  • Social media marketing – 10
  • Blog posts – 5
 7. Create campaign materials

Here are the necessary campaign materials for webinar events:

  • Email templates – There should be an optimized, standard webinar invite template. When starting out, copy one from a marketing department that has been successfully running webinars for awhile. For example, I copied Marketo’s template for my webinars.
  • Email copy – Best practices are to send three promotional emails leading up to the event. Follow standard email best practices and pay particular attention to the subject line, email body copy, and call-to-action.
  • Landing page – Like other marketing campaigns, the landing page is critical to converting people into registrations. Key best practices include: promoting the speakers, making date and time of the event clear, creating an obvious registration form,  providing a clear description of the webinar agenda and writing  messaging which clearly tells the prospect WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
  • Advertising materials – If one of the promotional channels is to cross-sell website visitors then marketing will need to create web advertising assets.
8. Promote the event

As mentioned before, promotion is a multi-channel approach with a heavy emphasis on email.  Below are some recommended options:

  • Email campaigns – Best practices are to do three sends (3 weeks, 1 week, and 1 day) with a slightly different message for each one. Email is key so if the house list isn’t big enough, considering investing in third party email sends. Email typically produces 70-100% of your registrations.
  • Corporate website advertising – If the corporate website has traffic, then promote the webinar throughout the website via banners, links, and pop-ups. Also, websites should have event resource centers were visitors can find on-demand and upcoming events.
  • Social sharing – Social sharing should begin immediately upon the first email send. Create your event hashtag early in the process and include it in your social sharing from the start. Make sure to ask speakers, employees, etc to share socially as well. An event should be created in Google+. Google+ is a great tool for webinar as it allows organizers to promote their event to people in their circles and will actually automatically create an event on Google calendars.
  • Blog posts – 1-2 blog posts should be created leading up to the event. If there are writing resources available, guest blog posts on relevant websites can drive new traffic. The content for these blog posts should not be promotional because nobody will read it. Instead, the posts should be related to the topic but should provide meaningful stand-alone content. For example, for a recent event I did on Account Based Marketing, I wrote a post entitled: Account Based Marketing: 11 Tactics to Drive Your ABM Strategy. Links or even an advertisement can be placed in the post to promote the webinar, but should not look be too over the top.
  • Video previews – Another great promotional tactic is to create videos leading up to the event.  Like the promotional blog posts, the videos cannot be overly promotional. One tactic is to interview the speakers leading up to the event. The interview should last 15 minutes and then be edited into five segments of three minutes each. Now, there are six pieces of content to help drive awareness for the event. The event URL should be promoted  in the “bottom third” of the video screen and in the intro and the conclusion. The videos should be posted to the blog, YouTube, a resource center if you have one, and any other relevant video platforms.
  • Phone (sales) – Sales can help promote the event as well.  In order for sales to be successful, event organizers will need to provide training on the event (what it is about and who it is for) as well as email templates, scripts, and social messages for sales to use.
9. Execute an attendee campaign

Once people have registered, a well coordinated plan should be executed to make sure people attend. It is important to remember that everyone is really busy and they signed up to attend so they won’t be annoyed by a series of reminders. There are a number of proven techniques:

  • Include an ICal or other calendar widget that allows registrants to add the event to their calendar
  • Email:  Send a 24 hour reminder, 1-2 hour reminder,  and a 15 minute reminder
  • Social: Promote the #hashtag to the event immediately and begin to produce social reminders. These reminders also serve as promotions as well. The webinar is a great reason to connect socially to prospects. Time permitting, an intern or social media person at your company should follow everyone attending. Finally, speakers should send reminders to their social graphs.
  • Voice Mail:  Voicemail reminders can often lift registration-to-attendee conversion by 20-30%. Depending on resources or the volume of registrations, internal resources can do the calls. Another option is to use automation to send the voice mails. Boxpilot is a guided voice mail service that uses automation to blast recorded voice mails to a list of contacts.
  • Text: In order to send text reminders, ask registrants if they would like a text reminder in their form submission. I have not personally tried text reminders for the events I have produced, but recently received one before an event as an attendee. I was impressed with the impact of the text reminder as I saw the text pop up on my iphone and remembered to log in.  The reminder email did not catch my attention but the text did.
10. Produce the event

Webinars aren’t overly complicated to produce, but having an organized, well-thought out production plan is absolutely essential to creating a flawless event. There are a couple production best practices to consider:

  • Assign a producer – There should be a single point of contact for the entire webinar production.
  • Rehearsal session – Organize a 30 minute rehearsal session to talk through the logistics of the event, verbally deliver instructions, and train the speakers on the technology.
  • Pre-event meeting – Have all speakers sign into the event 30 minutes before it starts to walk through final logistics including sound checks and final instructions.

I recently presented at a webinar where the sound was not working. Thankfully, the producer and  speakers had dialed in earlier because we were able to problem solve the issue and launch the webinar on time. The audience had no idea. Many speakers believe they know what they are doing and will resist the extra 30 minutes. If that is the case, compromise by having them show up 15 minutes earlier but never have them show up right before the event.

11. Foster event engagement

One of the areas that makes webinars unique is the ability to engage with your audience. As mentioned before, the webinar is a classroom and the best way for the “students” to get the most out of the session is to be involved in the conversation. There are a number of engagement tactics to deploy:

  • Twitter – Twitter is a great vehicle for in-event social engagement. Every webinar should have a hashtag associated with the event. Announce the hastag at the beginning of the event and invite attendees to tweet with the hashtag. Display the hashtag prominently at the beginning of the presentation and have it visible in the footer of every slide. Also, an internal resource should be the official hashtag community manager to follow and send tweets and engage with other participants.
  • Polls – In events with 75 or more attendees, polls are a great way to engage the audience. I recommend 1-2 polls per event. You can announce the results in the event and also create more original content by posting the results to the corporate blog at a later date.
  • Question and Answer – Always leave 10-15 minutes at the end of the event for question and answer. 5-6 questions should be prepared before the event to get the Q/A started. Questions typically start slow with the audience, but they will begin to ask more as the presenters answer a couple of the prepared questions.
12. Produce, post, and promote event-related content

In the era of competitive content, marketers are confronted with the challenge of creating a quantity of quality content on a consistent basis.. The answer to this challenge is to  “produce once, publish many”. Webinars produce an 60 minutes of raw content to be repurposed into a variety of assets. Here are some examples:

  • On-demand recordings – Once the event is complete, post the on-demand recording the next day and send an email letting both registrants and attendees know that the on-demand version is up for viewing.  Any organization doing a high frequency of webinars should have an events resource center with on-demand recordings on the corporate website. Also, many organizations post their recordings on third party websites such as Brighttalk to promote the event to new audiences.
  • Blog posts – 2-3 blog posts should have been created leading up to the event and 2-3 blog posts can be created after the event. Some ideas for content are publishing poll results, event recaps, and presenter answers to audience questions.
  • Whitepapers and ebooks – Another great tactic for creating content is to crowdsource the main points from the webinar into a whitepaper or ebook.
  • Video – Video previews end up becoming great long term content assets. A great idea for video is to produce a segment with the presenter answering unanswered questions from the webinar.
13. Have a clearly defined lead management process

Marketers need to have a defined lead follow-up plan for the leads that are produced during the webinar.  Webinars produce great data for behavioral scoring on leads such as whether  they attended or their level of engagement. The data from the event not only helps sales and marketing prioritize follow-up but provides a great opportunity to customize and personalize their approach. I recently attended a webinar and the sales rep responded via email with “You asked a great question during yesterday’s event” and in the email body offered some of her answers. Here are some other lead management tips:

  • Sales follow-up—If sales is following up on the webinar leads, then train them on what the event was about, how to use the data (which should be loaded into the CRM system), and sample follow-up scripts based on the lead data. Like any marketing campaign, marketing should have a service level agreement with sales that guarantees that webinar leads will followed up on in a timely manner and will receive multiple touches.
  • Marketing follow-up – As mentioned previously, marketing should send an email alerting registrants that the on-demand version of the event is on the website. As well, marketing should send another email 5-6 days later to offer follow-on content such as the crowdsourced whitepaper.

Then schedule your next webinar and do it all again.

Webinars should be a staple in your marketing strategy. This guide should help you produce great events or provide ideas on how to optimize your current events. As always, I am open to hearing your thoughts or recommendations.

Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder of TOPO and the author of the sales and marketing blog Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter.




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