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Enhancing collaboration with webinars and web conferencing

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock)

We’re often asked in our daily lives what kind of work we do.  If we were truthful, many of us would say that we spend much of our time in meetings.  A recent eShare survey of 1,000 UK office workers found that an average employee spends 10 hours and 42 minutes each week preparing for and attending 4.4 meetings.  With this amount of time and effort spent getting ready for and in meetings, it makes sense to make them as effective and productive as possible. 

In a world of increasing globalisation, online communication tools make it easy to collaborate virtually across time zones, but not all digital solutions are appropriate for the same task.

A key consideration for effective collaboration is using the correct tools to ensure meetings run smoothly and efficiently. The terms video conferencing, web meetings, conference calls, web conferencing, webcasts, and webinars are all mentioned frequently – and seemingly interchangeably.   However, there are key differences between them.

Webinar vs web conferencing

The decision as to which approach to take depends largely on the purpose of a meeting.  The first step is to consider the audience and desired outcome. Most companies wouldn’t hold a critical investor call, customer event or shareholder meeting in an open-plan office.  Similarly, they would not want to host an important virtual event on a platform intended to support small-group collaboration and teamwork. So, here we’ll look at the main differences between webinars and web conferencing before focusing on some key differentiators and uses for these technologies. 

Research from analyst Frost & Sullivan shows that two-thirds of companies use web conferencing on a regular basis for project collaboration, and that more and more of them are turning to the same solutions for critical internal and external events.  Whilst web conferencing solutions can also be used to support large-group or strategically important meetings, webinar technology is designed specifically for that purpose, and will almost always deliver a better experience and a higher return on investment. 

The most significant difference between a webinar and web conference is scale.  Webinar technology is typically better suited for large group meetings and events.  A webinar is, in effect, a seminar held over the Internet.   Like seminars, a webinar is best used for presentations, workshops, lectures, and training, and are held exclusively for online audiences in a secure environment where hosts know who has registered.   Interactivity is possible in a webinar – Q&A, polls and chat -  but is usually controlled by the host. They are really designed for one-way communication to a large, remote audience where information is broadcast to a large group and little interaction is required.  

Webinar tools

Frost & Sullivan defines webinars as a set of cloud-based technologies that enable delivery of web-based content (audio with slides or audio/video with slides) in real-time over the internet to a large number of simultaneous attendees. In the corporate world this means, a webinar is a live event that viewers can access online in real-time. They are typically informative presentations, such as seminars, lectures, workshops or product and service demonstrations.

 Web events have also become an established way that businesses can use communications technology to create impactful and cost-effective ways to get their message out to a large, often global, audience.  Prices are now lower than previously and a plethora of new and useful features are encouraging companies to use webinars to drive their marketing, sales, training and corporate communications events.

Webinars are usually characterised by certain common traits.  They are often pre-planned and scheduled, with a start and end time and a clear agenda.  They can make use of customisable branding, promotion and marketing, and enable more than one presenter to present to participants.  They include audio and content-sharing capabilities, including live and recorded video.  Hosts can record and play back the session for on-demand access, and make use of content syndication, management and distribution features.  They can be moderated to give the session a structured feel and provide comprehensive analytics and reporting.

A growing number of organisations are now using webinars as a business-critical communications tool as a result of three key drivers:  

  • Requirements to reduce costs and travel times associated with face to face meetings, by making use of online event capabilities and the reach they provide
  • The increasing need for flexible working, spurred on by trends such as digital transformation, globalisation and the consumerisation of the workplace
  • The ubiquity of mobile, video and social technology - combined with advanced analytics - and its capabilities to deliver measurable ROI cross-channel

Marketing and sales staff who hold events continue to be the primary users of webinars, followed by those involved in corporate communications, training, all-hands meetings, investor relations, talent acquisition, R&D and project management.

Marketing

For marketers, though, the ability to deliver targeted, relevant content to prospects and customers is very important.   A dedicated webinar product offers robust invitation, registration and reporting tools, meaning richer lead qualification and better conversion rates. 

Corporate communications

The allied field of corporate communications can also benefit from the use of webinar technology.  Their audience is frequently geographically dispersed, often across the world.   Effective webinar technology means that events can be scheduled to run in sequence, across multiple locations and time zones. 

Training and HR

For anyone involved in employee training of any description, use of webinars can ensure they can create invitations and target the right people for a training session quickly and easily, and simple-to-use registration tools ensure the right people are aware of the availability of training sessions.

Before webinar technology became as ubiquitous and reliable as it now is, large-scale employee meetings or training sessions required attendees to travel to a single location.    Webinar tools mean this is no longer required and can offer features that can positively impact large-group meetings.  For instance, hosts can use them to ask a series of questions specific to their organisation, including requests for feedback and suggestions.  This provides the opportunity both to learn more about employees’ attitudes in general and to tailor content to specific audiences.

Investor relations

The image a company presents to investors is critical to corporate success, whether teams are hosting an annual shareholders’ meeting and want to be able to invite people to participate remotely, or when offering content for high-value and institutional investors.  Purpose-built webinar tools are excellent at helping a business customise its branding and messaging on everything from invitations to follow-up messages. 

Web conferencing

While webinars are often used by marketing teams for larger events, web conferencing tools can be excellent for delivering personal demonstrations or sales proposals to a single client, prospect or their team.   Web conferencing often involves real-time screen sharing and PowerPoint or web-based content, allowing two-way communication between two or more participants. 

This facilitates collaboration using interactive tools that can include, slide annotation, whiteboard and desktop sharing.  Participants normally attend web conferences from their personal computer and also, increasingly, their mobile phones. 

Web conferencing is the best option for smaller team meetings and small-group training and brainstorming sessions too. They are not designed to effectively support hundreds or thousands of attendees. Webinar platforms excel here.  However, web conferencing does lend itself well to one-on-one meetings with high-value clients, to walk them through new market opportunities, change-of-life issues and updates to regulatory requirements.

In summary, web conferencing tools work well for most small-group meetings, but for large-scale virtual meetings with high-value targets it makes sense to use a webinar platform. Web conferencing is also widely used by a vast range of companies for communication and collaboration across an increasingly dispersed workforce and customer base. While basic web conferencing can support large-group meetings, purpose-built webinar technology delivers a better experience for customers, prospects and employees because of the wide variety of useful features many now incorporate. 

Lyndsay Cook, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Demand Generation, PGi
Image Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock