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!