Reaching any audience with a webcast

Whether video or audio, there are various ways to ensure a webcast will be a success.

Whether video or audio, there are various ways to ensure a webcast will be a success.

As video gains in popularity every day and PR pros seek ways to engage audiences, webcasts are proving to be flexible PR tools that have many measurement element options. Kim Ryden, director of lead generation at ON24, says, "Look at webcasting as part of integrated marketing solutions, rather than as widgets."

Consider audience and message when deciding on video or audio. Video is a great option if you can afford it and have a charismatic speaker, a big event, product launch, or crisis. Ryden says ON24 finds higher retention rates with video.

"Video is essential if you want to make an emotional connection, show people how to do something, or build trust," says Albert Maruggi, president of Minnesota-based PR firm Provident Partners.

"Video is always more engaging," adds Gary Anderson, CEO of Netbriefings. "If stock [price falls], people usually want to see the CEO and know if [he's] nervous."

Mike Piispanen, SVP, Thomson Financial (TF) webcasting group, says more types of content are moving to video, and costs will decline. "We're entering the YouTube generation," he notes. "Employees and customers will demand to hear and see messages."

Audio is typically used for earnings reports, employee training, and for multiple speakers in diverse locations. "Quarterly earnings webcasts are usually audio because they want to get the message out to the widest audience, yet keep cost down," says Kevin West, VP of operations at MultiVu. "From a content standpoint, [they're] 'dry.'"

Maruggi advises audio for relatively undemanding topics. "For example, [with] legislative regulatory issues - I can drive, run, walk my dog, and still get the message," he says. "Portability of audio is a huge benefit."

Be mindful of length and consider who your audience is, he advises. "Display or highlight information so people get an idea of [content and sequence]," Maruggi adds. "Set expectations and let people know what's coming."

Ryden notes webcasts usually contain about 40 minutes of content, with 15-20 minutes for Q&A. Piispanen says 20 minutes is the maximum time for audience attention to video webcasts.

TF developed iShowcase (a flash-based template) to quickly produce 15-20 minute video webcasts, which are typically truncated forms of longer presentations. Piispanen has seen viewership within the first 24 hours rise from 400-500 to 2,400-2,500 using these short webcasts. "Pull out key messaging points - take the Power Point out, and [emphasize] the speaker," he says. "There's white space so the speaker is broken out. It's much more personal, one-to-one, and subscribers [will] view the whole thing."

Ultimately, length will vary depending on audience and message. Keeping audiences engaged can drive length, and it's beneficial to include interactive elements, such as surveys, polls, Q&A, and chat rooms. "Interactive polling [lets you] change direction if viewers [aren't interested]," Piispanen says.

Cece Salomon-Lee, marcomms manager at On24, notes that the in-depth information that's available provides valuable targeting and measurement. "Polls [give] information in real time, and you can filter out those who are receptive," she says. "It helps prioritize and focus energy efficiently. We can follow to a sale and track leads."

One thing to avoid is a hard sell in webcasts. "It turns people off," Ryden says. "Keep webcasts educational and informative, and people will organically want to learn more."

Of course, webcasts must be promoted. Anderson suggests e-mail, snail mail, and Web sites, while Maruggi advises utilizing the blogosphere. West suggests e-mailing the URL two to three weeks before the webcast and again the day before or morning of.

"There [aren't] definite standards like in direct mail, where a 1% return on 100,000 is good," West says. "For one company, 100 attendees could be good. For another, [it can be] disappointing."

Piispanen says attendance is "about 1% of the invite," and he advises not to overspend. It's also wise to archive webcasts right away. "For every live attendee, you'll get three to four on-demand attendees," he adds.

Technique tips

DO

Use video to make emotional connections or for demonstrations

Use audio for earnings reports, training, or multiple speakers

Keep under 40 minutes when possible

DON'T

Forget interactive tools, such as polling, surveys, Q&As, and chat rooms

Hard sell

Forget to promote webcasts and archive them

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