Unlike Television, a Webcast Is a Two-Way Event

My brother owns an oven, but cannot bake to save his life. My college roommate owned a typewriter, but she was an awful writer. And just because you have a Web browser and the tools to create live Internet events, that doesn’t make you an effective e-communicator.

For Internet marketers, Webcasting is becoming an increasingly popular option for educating customers and positioning products. If done thoughtfully and effectively, you can develop rich customer relationships using the immediacy and availability of your company’s Web site. However, if you neglect some very basic tenets of Internet marketing, you will likely find the experience to be more painful than rewarding. What follows is a primer for things to consider when assessing your readiness to create live, Internet events that deliver on the promise and potential of the medium.

Interaction spells Webcast success. Technology on the Web makes it easy to repurpose content from other sources and broadcast messages globally. But unlike television and radio that only require a passive audience to hear and to watch, the Internet begs customer response. “Click here to buy now … to subscribe … to enter our contest.” The Internet gives your audience the power to respond in a way unlike any other medium through which you send your message. Consequently, for Internet marketers, Webcasting without interaction is like a sport utility vehicle without four-wheel drive: It does not fully exploit the vehicle’s design.

The emergence of interactive multimedia technologies and the development of a network infrastructure around the Internet backbone begs a marketing plan that uses the Web as a two-way communication channel. One-way Webcasting does not fully enable marketers to build a learning relationship with their customers. Remember, people who sit in front of their PCs want to interact. Otherwise, they’d be sitting in front of their televisions happy to be couch potatoes.

Study your customers. A live, interactive Internet event should evoke customer feedback. As Peppers and Rogers, authors of “Enterprise One to One,” evangelize, ” In a learning relationship, the firm uses a customer’s input and feedback to continually adjust and update it’s own behavior toward that customer.”

To be a successful Internet marketer, you must be ready to actively respond to that feedback. First, you must customize your message to the audience that has assembled for your event. If you focus on their interest and are willing to go where they wish to take you, you can command their loyalty by taking advantage of the collaborative nature of this real-time, interactive Internet technology.

In addition, Internet marketers are responsible for distributing the knowledge received from their Web events around their companies, so customers are rewarded for offering input and taking the time to engage in a dialogue with you through product innovations and better customer service. Don’t ask for the feedback if you aren’t ready to demonstrate how you will use it.

Promote the event. You would never put on a conference or a seminar and expect people to just show up. Delivering a Net event is no different. All the techniques you would use to drive people to fill the seats at the hotel meeting room can and should be employed to fill your virtual auditorium.

Although the hard costs to run the online event are much lower than they are to run that same event in a hotel meeting room or conference center, you can easily expect to spend the same to promote your virtual seminar. E-mail invitations can replace printed snail mail and reduce postage costs.

However, you should consider the cost of placing Web banner ads with a call to action that drives viewers to a preregistration page. Since people who regularly use the Net to access product information are more likely to attend Internet events, well-placed banner ads can be an effective means to attract an audience.

You also should be prepared to spend money to properly integrate your online events into your Web site. Remember, your virtual auditorium is located at your online place of business, and it should seamlessly integrate with the other information your audience members can access when they visit your virtual address. Are they being properly greeted, just as they would at the door to the bricks-and-mortar auditorium? Do they know where they can go if they need help registering? Everything about your Internet event must convey the feeling that each audience member is welcome and is a part of a community you are building.

Even with all the planning in the world, you will have to contend with the capriciousness of the Internet. A member’s ISP will disconnect him. A streaming server will go down. How successfully you traverse the public backbone to your customers’ PCs is one part science and one part magic.

The technology you used to bring your message to your customers’ desktops across the country or around the world in seconds depends on so many things: peering partnerships, connection speeds and POPs, to name a few. The slow adoption of broadband within the home must be carefully factored into the planning of a fully multimedia event targeted at the consumer market. You must pay special attention to ensure your content suits the medium.

Live, interactive Internet events are becoming increasingly popular because the cost per attendee can be lower than the average seminar series or conference. For traditional marketing applications, like product launches and informational seminars, the return on investment will easily be as great, if not greater, than traditional in-person events. And just like any other marketing tactic you will utilize, your success as an e-communicator depends primarily on your readiness to execute.

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