Some higher-priced webinar products have very sophisticated emailing capabilities that work quite well, so I do not want to damn the entire industry with a single broad brushstroke. But in too many cases, email functionality is not given enough design attention by the product development teams. After all, when you set out to build a web collaboration product, the in-session experience is foremost on your mind. But for the organizations that use web collaboration products, control over the emails that go out under their names are just as critical a concern.
Emails represent the company holding a web event. They get forwarded and they get retained. The impact of an improperly-handled email can potentially last longer than the impact of something going wrong inside a live webinar! It doesn't matter whether an event is intended for marketing, sales, corporate communications, customer training, partner relations, fund raising, or some other use… The communications surrounding the webinar need to reflect the brand, the image, and the professional integrity and reliability of the sender. And controlling that can be a challenge with some webinar products.
Here are some email design failures I see too often in web conferencing products. These are not in any particular priority order, as I think they are all important.
- No ability to send test emails. Showing me a preview window is not sufficient. I want a real email sent to my choice of a receiving address so I can see it on different operating systems, different devices, check the "From" name and address, verify fonts, click links, and so on.
- Adding anything about the webinar vendor. You don't get to piggyback your advertising on my emails. No "Powered by" or "Click here to find out more" footers tacked onto the end of my message. The email must represent my organization. You already have my money. Do your marketing through your own channels.
- Hard-coded "From" and "Reply-to" fields. I want to be able to specify the name that people see the email coming from in their inbox. I also want to be able to change who gets replies - which can easily change from event to event. Don't make this a fixed field for the entire account.
- Fixed text that is always inserted in the email. I love it when the software provides a starting template for an email. But I get to override everything. Some vendors only let you insert a block of text into the middle of their boilerplate template. That is inadequate. You don't get to determine what people see under my name and logo.
- Inability to customize content after the event. Some technologies make you lock in your post-webinar send time and email text ahead of time, and once the event is over, you can't change them. We do a lot of work after our webinars conclude. Maybe hand-editing the recording and placing it on a server. Or getting materials ready for distribution. Let me make changes to content and scheduling for follow up emails after the event is over.
- Inability to manually send further emails to registrants or attendees. Work on enough webinars, and eventually you will mess up something. Maybe a link to materials had a typo, or you misspelled the email address of a contact person. It is very handy if you can write a correction email and resend it to all recipients of the original message. I understand that webinar vendors don't want to turn into ad hoc bulk mailing services, but I think the utility of this feature in an emergency overrides the small risk of it being misused by an unscrupulous customer.
- Inability to resend an email to an individual. If somebody doesn't receive their registration confirmation or instructions email (or loses it in an overstuffed inbox), it is sure nice to be able to click their name on a registration page and have the system resend the email. Extra points if the software allows you to type in an alternate email address for them as a way to work around delivery problems on their primary address.
In addition to the above problem cases, there are some extra "nice to have" features I always appreciate, but which are not critical functionality. Vendors get bonus points if they allow these enhancements:
- Ability to fully customize HTML content in the email with tables, HTML formatting tags, links, and other standard HTML.
- Ability to use a WYSIWYG visual editor to customize fonts, colors, links, indenting, numbering, and other HTML formatting in your emails without having to write the actual HTML code.
- Ability to create a secondary text-only version of the emails for "multipart MIME" sends. This lets you exactly control what people see if they use text-only email readers, as are sometimes found on mobile devices. (This gets less important every year, but still exists as a thing.)
- Ability to add file attachments to emails (this is VERY unusual, and I understand that it opens the door to intentional or unintentional misuse and security risks). Another option I have imagined - but have not seen - is the ability for the host to upload documents to the vendor's server and have the software automatically generate an access link that gets inserted in the email.
- Ability to track open rates and bounceback statistics on all system-sent emails.
- Ability for the system to send out follow up emails not at a specific time, but as soon as the system recording is available, with a link inserted into the emails.
- System-generated time conversion link. For confirmation and reminder emails, add a web link that shows the start time in global time zones.
I think webinar vendors can do better at providing differentiation and extra value for their customers in this area. Let your vendor know you care, and definitely check out email functionality as part of your investigation and evaluation when choosing a new web conferencing product.