Wow. Lots of spirited discussion going on in a multi-blog roundtable about the subject of webinars vs. podcasts. I hit this subject on January 18 in my entry When Words Are All You Have. At the time, I hadn’t seen this January 11 entry by Brian Critchfield at BlueLine. His provocative article started a thread going at Church Of The Customer with Jackie Huba weighing in. That’s been picked up by the B2B Lead Generation Blog with commentary by Brian Carroll. If nothing else, this is a spectacular example of the pervasive nature of Internet blogging (and a clear view of the downside, since discussions are occurring in several places simultaneously with no good way to organize and manage them as a single thread).
The comments coming in are fascinating from many different perspectives. I came back to the whole thing because I was about to write an entry on live vs. archived webinars and how to use each more effectively. But I got sidetracked by the fracas and felt driven to contribute my two cents.
There is a lot of apples vs. oranges comparison going on in this discussion. One of the problems is the arbitrary nature of the coined terms that have come into use around the online communications media. Little did I know when I wrote my What’s In A Name entry how quickly it would come back to resonate. At the end of that piece, I suggested that the terminology wasn’t that important. I hereby change my opinion on the subject.
Webcasts and podcasts are the most similar terms and usages. They are one-way broadcasts of information and in practical use they tend to rely almost exclusively on audio content. If you sit at your computer and listen to the audio stream, you might call it a webcast (at least, this is what all the corporate investor relations groups are calling their quarterly earnings broadcasts). If you download the file onto a digital media player to take it with you later, you probably call it a podcast. There’s no difference from the source side. I contend that in these uses, the created products are completely interchangeable and neither is a great way to acquire new leads. Listeners are too passive and have to make an offline separate effort to contact you to follow up. Quality of anything you get is spectacular. Quantity will be in the dumps.
If you include imagery in your broadcast, I maintain that the computer is far and away the preferred platform. Adoption of portable video media players (like the newer video iPods) is still very limited. But beyond that, watching a 2.5” LCD screen for any amount of time is wearying and far too subject to external distractions. The argument about listening in your car while driving goes away. You’re left with your audio channel as the only reliable part of the communications bandwidth.
But a webinar should be a different beast. At least as used as a marketing vehicle to acquire leads, a webinar should be more interactive – including polls, Q&A, chat modes, feedback forms, and direct links to lead acquisition pages. It typically relies heavily on visual channels. These might be live video, PowerPoints, live product demonstrations, other types of application sharing, and so on.
I have read a number of comments about it being too hard to get people to attend your webinar, and that this is easier with a podcast because they can timeshift to attend at their leisure. I don’t buy the simplicity of the statement. Problems with acquiring leads occur everywhere from finding initial invitation lists to promoting the event to finding out who registered and who attended. The physical aspect of having the person sit down and listen to you is only one small piece of it. That’s why you should always record and make available your webinar for later access. Now you’ve overcome the objections of the podcast supporters. But not by magically turning a webinar into a podcast... You’re still creating a different media vehicle for a different purpose. You’re just letting people see it at their convenience. And that’s a lot different than saying webinars are history, podcasts are the only viable medium.