I just caught up with a bit of cross-blog discussion on the ethics and practicality of playing back recorded webcast content as if it were a live presentation. This tactic is not yet prevalent, but it may be growing in popularity. There is no hard evidence that I have seen giving a clue to the overall trend.
Howard Sewell brought up the subject on his Direct Connections blog related to direct response marketing. Then Dale Wolf picked it up on his Customer Experience blog. They don't have a lot of comments and feedback posted yet, so I thought I would give the subject an airing over here and see if we can get some more response from the crowd.
Certainly the technology side of things is not a barrier. Your audience can't see you and has no way of knowing who is on the other end of the connection. If you want to go the "fake live" route, you can do it in any number of ways. You can record an entire broadcast from start to end, including a faux Q&A session where you supposedly read off audience questions that are actually your own cleverly written queries. Or you can record a main content session, but use a live moderator and/or subject expert to do the lead-in and to answer live audience questions at the end. You could even have the majority of your webcast be live, with one of your speakers queued up as a recording.
The arguments on the two sides of the debate tend to boil down to:
- You are lying to your audience, so how can they trust you about your products or services?
- You are providing the exact content they signed up for. No harm, no foul. Who cares how it is delivered?
I see the validity of each side's viewpoint, but I think we are overlooking a few practical matters. Consider these purely pragmatic issues.
- Murphy's Law is particularly active around webinars. Things go wrong, connections drop, software has glitches. It seems to me that relying on perfect operation of several technical aspects that have to mesh up correctly in order to bring off your deception is inviting disaster. Ask Milli Vanilli or Ashlee Simpson. They had more experienced professionals working on their broadcast technology than you will ever get.
- Effective webinars engage and hold the audience's attention by involving them in interactive behaviors. Responding to questions or comments as you go along... Inviting audience feedback and acknowledging it... Running polls and questionnaires. If you take this aspect away, you are left with a long unbroken speech. There's no better way to bore and lose an audience on a webcast.
- Some companies might use this technique to save themselves effort when running the same topic as a recurring lead gen activity. "Come see our live introductory webcast every week on Thursday at 10am." But people do sometimes attend the same event twice. Either because they missed a portion the first time or because they wanted to recheck something, or because they want to steal some of your information... Whatever. These people will figure it out pretty quickly if they hear the same words and the same coughs and the same intonations delivered at the same speed. In the age of open forums, it doesn't take much for them to expose you publicly and give you a very bad reputation for honesty.
All in all, I'm more comfortable with delivering a live performance when you say it's live. If you want to include recorded content on a scheduled event, go ahead and tell your audience, but frame it in terms of the benefit to them. "We wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to benefit from our expert." Or "portions of this event were prerecorded to ensure the best possible quality." A little honesty can be refreshing.
That's my take. What's yours?
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