Our Observations on Webinars During COVID-19

Webinars aren’t new. Web conferencing technology originated in the 1990s and BullsEye created our first webinar summary for Harvard Business Review in 2003. (HBR remains a client, 17 years later.)

With the suspension of conferences and in-person gatherings, the number of webinars and virtual events has dramatically increased. In addition to increased volume, we have seen several other changes—some big, some small—in the past few months.

  1. Rapid response. Previously, webinars were planned months in advance. That still happens, but we see organizations quickly orchestrating webinars in just a few weeks (or days) to address newly emerging topics. Responding fast in today’s world is often more important than perfect planning.
  2. More casual and comfortable. In the old days (like February), webinars were often somewhat formal (and sometimes stiff). Today, with everyone using Zoom and other video platforms, formality has decreased. Participants are accepting of more casual productions; they value less formal content that is relevant and authentic. A webinar can still be professional and valuable, even if more casual and comfortable than in the past.
  3. Replays have become standard. Even a year or two ago, platforms such as ON24 urged organizations to record their webinars, post the replays, and market the replays to increase views. Now, most webinars are recorded and available for reply. Replays are now essential as they enable end users to choose what to watch, when to watch it, and at what speed, and to skip around as they want. If you’re not offering replays, think about doing so.
  4. Shorter (sometimes). Historically webinars have been 45 to 60 minutes—and the majority still are. But in the last few months we have seen webinars of 30 or even 15 minutes. Organizations have seen the success of TED talks and podcasts and are offering, or experimenting with, shorter, more bite-sized content, targeted to busy professionals.
  5. Prominent guests. With no one traveling and most people working from home, organizations are attracting prominent, impressive, thought-leading webinar guests. These individuals are available and interested in participating in webinars to get their message out. This fits with other trends of webinars being scheduled on short notice, for a shorter length of time, on important topics. Don’t hesitate to ask industry thought leaders—you might be surprised to find out who is receptive to participating.
  6. More series. We have seen many organizations replace conferences with a series of webinars or virtual events. Series spaced out over time may be more convenient for participants to attend and can be attractive to sponsors. One example: Google Cloud Next. Originally planned as a live multi-day event, the plan initially shifted to a multi-day virtual event, before being reimagined as a 9-week series of webinars/virtual sessions.
  7. Different formats and structures. We have seen organizations try different structures, such as fireside chats and interviews with thought leaders. The goal is to creatively engage the audience. Last week, for example, HBR launched “Ask HBR,” billed as a “new interactive webinar experience from Harvard Business Review.” The inaugural episode featured a live Q&A session with thought leader Marcus Buckingham.
  8. Follow-up programs. Some webinars are “one and done.” But we see organizations leveraging webinars as part of comprehensive ongoing marketing programs. Follow-up can include any of an email or a series of emails, a link to the replay, a blog post, an article, an executive summary, an ebook, a white paper, and information about future events. The goal is to leverage the webinar to increase the value for attendees and sponsors and to nurture relationships.
  9. Content curation. Beyond targeted follow-up, we see organizations creating post-event microsites where they curate relevant content (from the webinar/virtual event and beyond) and invite participants and a broader community to engage. Curation can include replays, videos, articles, summaries, case studies, and other types of relevant content. See how Harvard Medical School sliced and diced content from a recent Precision Medicine virtual event, with event key themes, summaries of individual sessions, and a conference summary (all by BullsEye), along with videos and transcripts of each session.

These developments show that even though webinars have existed for decades, organizations are tweaking, experimenting, and innovating in real time to make webinars fresh, relevant, and engaging.

As you’re rethinking your webinar plans for the next 90 days, particularly your post-webinar content, let us know if we can help. Contact us.