"Simulated Live" or "Fake Live" webinars are a niche application of the web conferencing market currently enjoying increasing attention and demand. I spoke to Geoff Ronning, co-founder of Stealth Seminar, about his product and approach to satisfying the unique demands of simulated live webinars.
In this type of webinar, the content is prerecorded, but the goal is to make attendees feel that they are part of a live, interactive web event. A host might want the entire event to run without any personal attention or action, or a host might want to play the majority of the content in automated mode and then come on at the end for some live interaction with attendees. Geoff calls this a "hybrid webinar" - although I more frequently use that term in another sense completely, talking about a presentation done before a live, local audience that is also webcast to remote attendees.
Stealth Seminar can handle live webinar needs using the same basic screen-sharing/video collaboration seen in other products such as Google+ Hangouts. Where it comes into its own is in the features that support fully automated webinars that can run over and over again without human intervention.
Applications might include training, customer/employee orientation, and company overviews, but those could probably be accommodated by traditional on-demand recordings just as easily. The sweet spot for Stealth Seminar is definitely lead generation. Your goal is to inject a sense of urgency into getting a prospect to take action. If you place a link to an on-demand recording on your site, there is no impetus for a casual visitor to sit and watch it. Attention spans are shorter when watching recorded content, and viewers tend to jump the playback ahead, skimming to find "the good stuff."
On the other hand, if you can get visitors to register for a scheduled event where they have a chance to interact with the presenter, they view it as a solid time commitment, they tend to stay longer, and they show greater focus on the content.
Creating a Stealth Seminar starts with prerecording your content. You need to create a computer video file in your choice of format. You might use a simple webcam recording for a "talking head video" or a more complex screen capture program such as Camtasia to show materials such as slides, Prezi, web content, or product demos. The production methodology and level of work is up to you. Serious production professionals might do audio editing, video editing, resynchronization, and edit in some fades or overlays.
Once you have your content produced as a video file, you are ready to use it in your scheduled webinars. You upload the content to your Stealth Seminar account and it gets encoded into several streaming formats. This will allow attendees to view the content on a variety of operating systems, browsers, and mobile devices. That takes place automatically, behind the scenes, so they don't have to manually select one stream format over another.
From there, things get really tricky. You can schedule supposed "live webinars" that will start on your choice of days and times. For maximum coverage, you want there to always be an upcoming webinar not far away when a visitor expresses interest. But if you have a page listing 47 upcoming events, each spaced two hours apart, you aren't going to fool anybody. So Stealth Seminar has a clever "Just In Time" feature. You can have your landing page show only the next event. The visitor thinks "Wow, am I lucky! I just happened to show up right before their webinar!" Or you might choose to display two events. Maybe one starting in an hour and another the next day or the next week. That seems reasonable for a live webinar and a repeat. The landing page automatically updates the registration to the next most relevant events in your schedule. Neat.
Registrants show up to your event and log in as attendees, just as they would for any other live webinar. But we behind the curtains know that because of the scheduling frequency, you probably only caught one or two new attendees for this showing. You want to make them think they are part of a big, popular topic with lots of interest. So Stealth Seminar lets you populate your room with a fake attendee list. The attendee list shows a bunch of names who filter in a few at a time. You can use a canned list of available names or supply your own (to better reflect a gender-specific topic or regional/cultural differences).
It gets trickier… Stealth Seminar lets you show a communal Chat/Q&A window where attendees can ask questions. The fun part is that you can pre-populate a list of chat messages from the other "attendees" that get displayed at set time marks as you go along. Of course building a list of fake messages can get tiring, so there is another cute feature that captures real messages typed in during the various showings of your event. Each contribution is captured along with its timestamp corresponding to the content display. Afterwards you can go through the list and approve/reject individual comments for display in future showings. As you do more events, the list of real comments and questions grows, creating a realistic-sounding dialogue assembled from real comments by attendees from many different webinars.
Then there is the question of streaming content. Simple playback of a recording won't work. You don't want someone joining at the 20 minute mark to see the playback starting from the beginning… That's a dead giveaway that it's just a recording. But you would really like the late attendees to see your full message, including your setup of pain points and your priority messages towards the beginning of your talk. So you can set a "Prime Insertion Point (PIP)." This is a timestamp that all late attendees join from. It should be comfortably after your introductory remarks, but early enough so they don't miss anything truly important. Anybody who joins late sees the content from that time onward. They don't know how much they missed, but you know they are still catching all the good stuff.
Of course once a person leaves and rejoins (either voluntarily or through a disconnection), they rejoin based on a continuation of content. They don't see things restarting from the beginning or from the PIP. They miss the content that passed while they were away, just as they would in a live event.
The rest is much as you might imagine… You get reports showing registration and attendance for each scheduled showing. You can embed various action buttons on the HTML page holding the webinar frame. This lets you do things like give attendees an order button, a button for more information, or start a live chat with an online sales rep. You get reports showing all questions submitted during the event. You can track lead sources that brought people to your registration page. You can integrate with CRM or automated response systems. There are email reminders built in if you don't want to use your own communications system.
Pricing seems extremely reasonable. Their Membership Plans page has a basic package for about USD $70/month that lets you schedule up to 100 event showings, each with up to 150 real attendees. Higher capacities are available for more money.
I might be hesitant to use this for lead generation on high-end big dollar B-to-B lead generation. Multiple attendees from the same company could easily spot that they see the content on different timing or that they aren't seeing each others' messages. But it seems like a fantastic way to grab a wider consumer market or SOHO businesses where the decision maker is a single person acting on their own. Geoff told me that they see a lot of interest from personal and business service providers such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial advisors, realtors, mentors/coaches, and the like.
I think the concept is fascinating and innovative, which is why I am happy to highlight it in this rather long post. I wish them well.
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