Making the Most of Online Events

Publishers looking for new revenue streams are finding success with Webinars and virtual events, online offerings that combine the convenience of from-your-desk access, live expert commentary and lower overhead for publishers. While occupying no more than a window on a desktop screen, smart publishers should pay attention to the style, environment and functionality built around online events as much as the quality of the content, Tim Stark, Penton Media’s director of online events, tells Publishing Executive Inbox.

INBOX: What considerations make for a successful webinar – are there different rules (content, logistics, etc.) compared to a live event?

TIM STARK: The word successful is a subjective term. From the point of view of the party hosting the event, a successful webinar would be seen as delivering relevant and quality content to their audience through a flawlessly executed and professionally marketed online event. From the point of view of a presenting sponsor, success can be looked at both the quantity and more importantly the quality of the audience viewing the webinar. We have managed events that have had well over 3,000 live attendees and other events with less than 25 people in attendance. Both events were considered successful by both the host and the sponsor.

INBOX: How do you publicize your webinars? Is publicity mostly tied to your existing products or do you find ways to reach potential new audiences?

STARK: Our webinars are marketed through a variety of channels. Direct email and newsletter promotions, various web ad units on our publications’ sites as well as print components, both as ads and editorial mentions. We have begun exploring social network marketing through various Twitter feeds as well as paid targeted Facebook ad campaigns.

Why do you think webinars have proven so successful for you in terms of drawing participants into your events segment?

STARK: From a technology standpoint, the user friendliness of the environment has been one key to our success. To allow our audience to attend one of our events without having to download special software, plug-ins, etc. and simply use their standard browser was key. From a content standpoint, ensuring that the material that is presented to our audiences is educational and relevant has allowed us to ensure our audience will return for future events.

INBOX: It seems as if some businesses find virtual events a bit of a scary prospect. What would you tell a publisher reluctant to jump into hosting?

STARK: If by virtual events you are referring to virtual tradeshows, my #1 suggestion would be to spend the most amount of time on developing a rock solid event mission statement and then build relevant content (webinars) around that mission. When a publisher has determined a topic that they know is of vital importance to their market and then develop content around this, everything else falls into place. With this foundation, you almost guarantee your target audience will not only want to attend your event, but needs to attend your event. With these in place, the decision will be made for the sponsors to be affiliated with the event.

INBOX: What criteria did you use in selecting a webinar platform? What sort of functionality is most important?

STARK: As I stated earlier, user friendliness of the environment, from both the end user and production side, is vital. Every webinar is unique in terms of the required functionality so having chosen a vendor that allows the flexibility to build events that not only function differently but also look unique from event to event is important. Sponsor B does not want to come market with an event that looks and acts just like Sponsor A, especially if the two are competitors. Also a vendor should be truly cross-platform, meaning the experience your audience has should be identical and their operating system and browser should make no difference.

Finally, and probably most importantly, your chosen webinar vendor should be looked at as a partner and not a vendor. A vendor sells you on platform, a partner provides a environment that allows you to create a sustainable and growing online events business.