Wow, I completely missed this story earlier this month! Brother completed acquisition of Nefsis in early December. That is just plain weird. Nefsis is a webcasting/videoconferencing products vendor. Their solutions have been marketed under the names WiredRed and e/pop (I can’t even figure out whether these were acquisitions or just name changes).
Brother is a hardware vendor. Best known in the US for their printers, copiers, and fax machines, you can go to their home page and also see menu selections for labeling systems, sewing machines, garment printers, typewriters, machine tools, and gear motors/reducers.
I am completely confused as to why a manufacturer of office hardware wants to get into development and support of cloud-based collaboration software solutions. The press release says that Nefsis will continue operating as a wholly owned subsidiary entity as “a Brother company.” I would hope so… I can’t see the guys on the sewing machine assembly lines suddenly taking over web conferencing development!
I sure didn’t see this one coming! Arkadin announced today that they are acquiring ConferencePlus, with an expected close date of December 31. It’s interesting in that ConferencePlus goes back to 1988, while Arkadin is only ten years old.
The acquisition should be relatively easy and seems to make sense to this outsider. While ConferencePlus has a private-label web conferencing solution, their larger and more profitable customers use third-party solutions such as WebEx or Live Meeting. So there isn’t a big shock from a major product being yanked off the market. Arkadin’s private-label solution offers more features and larger room capacities than ConferencePlus Online Meeting, so current customers should not be at a disadvantage.
And ConferencePlus gives Arkadin extra resources for audio conferencing and professional services, which will supplement the company’s offerings and let them grow their bundled solutions business.
AnyMeeting started out with the philosophy of offering their webinar platform for free. It was supported by advertising that ran inside the viewing console.
When they added the ability to collect payments for fee-based webinars, their customers demanded the ability to eliminate the display of ads. Somebody paying to attend a webinar doesn’t also want to see advertising the entire time. So AnyMeeting made that change.
I occasionally check in on AnyMeeting related Twitter messages and I noticed a lot of people asking the company for the option to pay a licensing fee and remove the ads. Although that wasn’t the original business model, AnyMeeting has modified their licensing and introduced ad-free options. Room capacity for 25 people is about $18/month and 200 people is about $70/month. (In a brief aside to the company, can we drop the silly $17.99 and $69.99 pricing? You aren’t a gas station and if I’m willing to pay $17 I am just as willing to pay $18. Stop complicating my accounting.)
The original free version is still available, making this a great way for people to try out the technology without financial risk and then upgrade to a paid license if the advertising annoys them.
The email that announced the new options also said that anybody buying an ad-free monthly plan before the end of the year will be entered into a drawing for an Amazon Kindle Fire, so there’s that too.
This is the second post inspired by my attendance at ON24’s 2011 Webinar Benchmarks online event. In the last post I recapped some of their content and findings. In this post I want to talk about my personal (and highly subjective) impressions as an attendee.
I continue to be impressed by the ON24 Webcasting Platform 10 technology (but not the name… My fingers are bleeding!). I love the fact that it allows me as an attendee to open, close, resize, and move component windows around my screen as I see fit. It feels like a graphically oriented operating system for webinars, and it’s completely unique in the industry in that regard.
ON24 loaded up the interface with all kinds of widgets for this webinar. They obviously wanted to show off the flexibility and functionality. But they never called attention to it. The component items were just there, waiting to be used if desired by attendees. The simple icons arrayed along the bottom encouraged experimentation. And there was ZERO platform instruction given before getting to the content. Do you have any idea how unusual and extraordinary that simple fact is? It was a breath of fresh air. No time wasted on talking about how to open and close chat windows, etc, etc.
One of the widgets was a Twitter connector. It showed a current stream of tweets falling under their desired hashtag. I was able to login to my Twitter account inside the widget and post tweets related to the webinar. However ON24 set up the widget for this event with a template that dedicated 98 characters for their long hashtag and a link to the webinar. That left me only 42 characters for my messaging. It was frustrating and I went back to Tweeting outside the event so I could fit more text. Watch out for killing the tool’s functionality with your own branding!
Another widget allowed open, public typed chat. It worked just fine – maybe too well. I found my concentration split between the speaker’s voice, the slides, and the chat stream. As a result I lost some fine points the presenter made at times. Public chat is a double-edged sword. Yes, it kept us engaged and interacting within the webcast platform, but did it keep us engaged with the content itself?
The other problem with open chat is that it gives the floor to individuals having problems. Early chats tended to be the usual “I don’t see video. Have we started? I don’t hear the audio. My slide isn’t moving.” These comments come in with EVERY webinar, no matter the platform. Someone will be confused, have local technical problems, or will be frustrated about some aspect of the event. If this minority becomes the voice of the audience by making their comments the things that other attendees see first, it can build an unwarranted negative impression of the technology or the event. ON24 deserves a bravery award for trying the open chat concept in an open, public webinar. At least they made sure that they had reps monitoring the chat and answering questions (and trying to deflect the inevitable “How much does this cost?” questions).
ON24 made the very interesting decision to omit live video of the presenter. That is the same decision I normally make in public-facing lead generation webinars. It is quite difficult to set up a professional-looking video feed and for a presenter to appear comfortable and professional on camera. But ON24 is a professional webcasting provider that offers videocasting services to its clients. The content also called specific attention to the fact that video is a positive feature for webcasts. So its omission in the event was obvious and was commented upon several times in the group chat box. This was a case where I think the circumstances warranted the extra time and effort for ON24 to show how it could be done well.
ON24 threw in a couple of polls, and I was not completely satisfied with them. One poll asked a Yes/No question and the answer choices included some pre-canned responses for the negatives. Something like “No, it’s too expensive” – “No, it takes too much time” – “No, I don’t have the equipment.” The problem is that this eliminates a segment of respondents who have a different reason for their NO answer. It can reduce the response rate. Think very carefully when designing poll choices and make sure you have a way to include all your attendees. I also found the results display just slightly confusing… ON24 shows answer labels stacked between the results bar graph lines for each answer. It is hard to tell whether a label refers to the bar above it or below it.
Despite some nitpicking, responses in the general chat were extremely positive at the end of the event and on Twitter. People said it was a fantastic webinar and that they loved participating. In addition to the technology, some of the contributing factors included:
All in all, this was part of that far too small percentage of webinars that was a pleasure to attend.
Yesterday I attended an ON24 webcast covering statistics and best practices gleaned from the webinars they hosted during 2011. It was an interesting webinar from several angles. I’m going to write two posts about it. This one covers the factual content and the next post covers my subjective impressions of the event. ON24 was kind enough to give me permission to recap some of their findings here.
They decided to concentrate on marketing-oriented webinars for their topic. They started with some quotes from other sources confirming that webinars are an important factor in modern marketing strategies. You can go back to their presentation for the sources, but I liked these figures: “93% of companies include webinars as part of their marketing mix” – “Over 80% of marketers rate webinars as one of their top 3 marketing tactics for lead generation” – “60% of decision-makers attended a webinar in the last month.”
In a live audience poll, the top webinar priority/frustration/concern for attendees was how to drive registration. ON24 said their research showed that the most effective promotion vehicle was your own in-house prospect list. Down in the less effective categories were direct mail, print advertising, and – surprise! – social platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Is this because it simply doesn’t result in registration click-throughs or is it because most businesses don’t have a large enough social reach and following to get their social media listings seen by a wide audience?
ON24 said that their studies showed only 62% of webcasts incorporated polls and surveys (c’mon folks… we need to drive that number WAY higher!). 89% incorporate Q&A, but I’ll bet that’s mostly “10 minutes at the end” rather than actively soliciting and responding to comments and questions throughout the presentation.
In a head-scratching statistic, one of their slides proclaimed that “webcasts with video have 24% higher attendance rate and higher lead conversion.” I just don’t understand how the fact that you have video in your content can affect attendance rate. Unless it is related through factors that are not cause-and-effect. For instance, huge corporations are more likely to get higher attendance rates simply because they have a larger audience to draw from and larger marketing budgets. They are also more likely to include video because they are set up for it. So the two would be seen as corresponding, but the fact of the video does not drive the attendance.
I was intrigued to see a slide title saying simply “Good Content + Bad Speaker = Bad Webinar.” The quote on the slide was that 70% of all companies who conduct webinars ranked dynamic and recognizable speakers as the number one determinant for a successful webinar. This would be the perfect place for me to introduce a side note about my presenter training program and all the tips and best practices available in this blog for improving your presentation skills. But that would be wrong, so I certainly won’t do it.
The overall summary benchmarks slide for 2011 said that in their sample set of marketing webinars ON24 saw an average registration count of 441 (this is probably useless to you… I am sure the range varies widely from company to company and event to event). Average time spent in session by an attendee was 38 minutes (maybe you should shorten your 60-minute events?). Companies typically reported a 15-30 percent rate on getting qualified leads. And the stat that really threw me: Average attendance rate of 58%. Huh??!? I know for sure this is too high.
Then it became clear on the next slide. Their 58% attendance rate included attendees at the live event (34% rate) and on-demand viewers (24% rate). Ah yes, exactly what I have seen and reported in the past. Whew!
There was definitely more good content, and you should check the ON24 site to see when the recording is posted for review. I don’t have a link yet, but I’ll update this if they send it out.
I just found out that tomorrow (Wednesday, December 14) ON24 will present a summary of benchmark data taken from “over 25,000 webinars and virtual events for marketing, training and corporate communications.” They say they will share results and will suggest best practices to improve the ROI of web events. Sounds interesting!
The start time is scheduled for 11am US Pacific / 2pm US Eastern. Those times obviously target a North American audience. I do not know if they are including EMEA/APAC events in their number-crunching.
In a humorous note, the invitation says the duration is “24 minutes plus 15 minutes live Q&A.” I wonder if one of their best practices is to keep total scheduled time for an event under 40 minutes?
You can register at http://communication.on24.com/webcasting-elite
If they allow me to summarize their summary, I’ll try to write a recap after the fact for those who couldn’t make it.
Basic functionality is fairly well established for webinar/webcast products that support one-to-many web events. All the major players have given us ways to present content, interact with the audience, and manage setup and post-event reporting. At this point in the industry lifecycle we should be demanding more sophistication and the ability to handle advanced needs as a way to justify spending our license dollars on one product over another.
Yet I find over and over again that vendors continue to skate by on “good enough” status quo, keeping basic functionality constant rather than improving and advancing those core competencies. If you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, how about giving your users more control and more options in the areas that first came to prominence as necessities?
Here is a list of basic operations that tend to be lacking sophistication in the marketplace. I know of no vendor that addresses all these items, so there should be plenty of room for improvement for everyone. And yes… Some of these things benefit only a percentage of your users. But they are all items that I have needed at one time or another when working with real clients on real webinars.
1) Full support for PowerPoint effects. Screen-sharing products have no problem with this (other than the usual complaints about screen update speed messing up display of smooth movement animations). But the companies relying on slide upload and conversion need to support PowerPoint animations, slide transitions, and proper conversion of embedded tables, graphs, and Smart Art figures. Why should we accept the fact that we have to downgrade our snazzy presentations to the level that our webinar product can display properly? Unacceptable.
2) Full email customization. If you want to give me a template and a default email format, fine. Thank you. Now give me the ability to throw away all that boilerplate garbage and include my own text, graphics, HTML layout, and displayed sender field. Why aren’t you implementing the standard WYSIWYG formatting editor used so ubiquitously on the web to let me design my email content? Oh, and I get to decide whether there is a disclaimer at the bottom and what the font and display characteristics are. Stop advertising your service on my communications.
3) Full registration page customization. Registration page layout and design have a proven, measurable effect on registration rates. You are negatively impacting my results and I’m tired of it! I want to put my own headers and footers on the reg page. I want the ability to override your standard field names. I want to include text in the middle of the page before and after fields. I want “State/Province” available to me as a standard field with the dropdown menu prepopulated and I want it to show up conditionally based on the user selecting USA or Canada as their country. I want to be able to change the label and the color on the “SUBMIT” or “REGISTER” or “SIGN UP” button. I want the event clearly labeled and promoted under my company’s name… not your web conferencing service name.
4) Lead source tracking. If your registration page URL won’t take a lead tracking parameter, you are killing my ability to see which promotional strategy is working best. I need summary and detail reports on which campaign or source is bringing in my registrants.
5) Registration page analytics. Why aren’t you providing me with a report of completion versus abandonment on the registration page?
6) User-specific reporting. I want a report after my session that lists behaviors and responses for each attendee. I want a record showing their name and email address, chat messages, poll responses, post-event survey responses, entry/exit times (including multiple entries), and lead source (which campaign drove them to the registration page). Yes, there is still a place for separate summary reports in those different areas, but I want an easy way to know everything about an individual attendee’s interaction with me at a glance, collected in one place.
7) Support for payment processing. I am happy to see that this has become more common in the last year. If you don’t yet give it to me as an option, you need to.
8) Support for external registration. I want to be able to add registrants to an event in three ways: Manual registration. Mass upload via a spreadsheet/csv file. Synchronous insertion via an API call.
9) Question management. As questions come in from attendees, I want the presentation/moderating team to be able to mark and prioritize them behind the scenes where the audience can’t see what we are doing. I want the option to answer the question privately to the individual or publicly to the full audience (showing them the original question as well). I want a post-event report showing me which questions were marked as “answered in session” vs. those that were marked for “follow up later.”
10) Two-way audio integration. I want to be able to offer my attendees and presenters their choice of audio connection… Computer or telephone. Presenters and audience members can listen and speak via telephone or they can listen and speak via computer-connected speakers or headsets. If content such as a prerecorded audio/video clip is played in the session, it feeds out to both the telephone conference and the streaming web audio. Oh, and I want to be able to tie in my choice of audioconference providers rather than being forced to use yours.
11) Support for pre-show setup. The presentation/support team needs to be able to talk together, check slides and content setup, and deal with technical issues in private while early attendees are accepted into the session and see some kind of holding pattern (lobby slides, title slide, music, or something else). Don’t block attendees with a “session has not yet started” message.
12) Flexible polling. If you still limit the number of answer choices I can set up, you are behind the times. If you still limit me to “choose one” instead of giving me the option of “select all that apply” you are behind the times. If you don’t let me choose the displayed results format (percentage, raw number of votes, chart) you are behind the times. And why hasn’t anyone implemented some kind of scrolling display on the poll results screen for “Other” text answers so that we don’t have to split response functionality between polling and chat?
13) Recording file download. If you use a proprietary format for playback and store the recording file on your servers, that’s fine. But I must also have the option to download a “flat file” version of the archive in a standard format (FLV, MP4, or WMV) so I have it available for backup, distribution, or repurposing. Stop holding my content hostage.
Vendors, start your development engines!
ReadyTalk just announced beta availability of a new feature letting webinar hosts include prerecorded video clips as part of their session content. Video clips must be uploaded to the ReadyTalk server where they undergo a conversion process. The Quick Start Guide says that conversion can take up to two hours, and ReadyTalk recommends doing the conversion at least a day in advance and testing the converted output before the live session.
Once uploaded, videos can be played as part of a webinar session. Attendees hear any audio in the clip and the playback audio/video is included in the session archive recording.
Q: How is webinar registration like Christmas shopping?
A: A portion of your desired audience responds to early enticements. They sign up at your first email blast, four to six weeks before the webinar. These are the shoppers who go out the day after Thanksgiving in response to the newspaper ads.
A percentage of that group puts your registration confirmation message “in the closet” and completely forgets about it until after the event. You need to remind them to haul out the gift in time to use it!
Another segment of your desired audience puts things off as long as possible. They are the ones out shopping on Christmas Eve. You need to send another email blast along with real-time notices such as Twitter and Facebook postings to rope them in at the last minute.
The third segment falls between the two extremes. They go to the malls or browse Amazon all through the month of December, making more considered decisions and letting items catch their eye. These are the people you need to reach with long-term promotional materials placed where they can be found on the audience’s own schedule. Banner ads on websites, press releases indexed in Google, pay-per-click ads that take your “shoppers” to information pages that give them the rationale and justification to register.
A good webinar promotion strategy acknowledges all the different audience “shopping” behaviors and works to convert them into “purchasers” of your webinar. Don’t think this applies only to fee-based events. People pay with their time commitment just as much as with cash.