When people think of webinars, they usually think of academic or educational seminars broadcast over the internet. However, webinars have greater versatility. Businesses offering services, software and even products use webinars. They provide a great way to train new customers on your product, and you can post the recordings on your website to enhance customer support. The best webinar services take you beyond that use, however. They offer monetization and lead-generation tools plus social media integrations that let you use webinars for product and company promotion.
Whether you are launching a new product or promoting a great feature of your existing service, a webinar can help you connect with people who are interested while providing a service that benefits them. For a look at the best webinar services, check out our reviews of Cisco WebEx Event Center, Onstream Webinars and GoToWebinar. For more information about this topic, read our articles on webinar hosting.
Webinar technology has become more easily accessible to both businesses and viewers. Nowadays, attendees can join a webinar without downloads or complicated codes, while you can use administration features to invite faithful customers or to gather information that might help you close a sale in the future. While some of the webinar software services we reviewed are more complex than others, all are relatively easy to use on a PC or Mac. We looked for webinar services that work well for small and medium businesses and can accommodate a large, but not huge, audience. (If you need to reach an audience great than 500 people, check out our webcasting services reviews. If a smaller, more collaborative meeting is what you're looking for, we've reviewed web-conferencing services that do just that.)
The following features make these webinar platforms stand out from the rest.
Webcasting – the basic audio and visual abilities of a webinar platform – form the foundation of a good service. With today's mobile society, it's important that attendees can join in from a cell phone or tablet. Integration with Outlook is a great convenience to you and your attendees as it lets you invite, remind and schedule webinars from this common program. Social media integration makes it easy to invite people at large, share webinars and have attendees promote for you. The best services also offer encryption and passwords for security.
With archiving, you can hang onto your recorded webinars and share links if you don't want to transfer files onto your own website, although most services allow you to download the recordings as well. Most of the webinar services have limited editing software for these recordings, usually just for cutting out sections. With this limited editing, you can remove dead time and off-topic questions for a higher-quality final product.
If you need a webinar larger than your current plan, it's good to know the maximum plan size, and most webinar services allow you to upgrade for just a month. Multiple rooms is a plus if you are planning a conference or have a need to break your audience into smaller groups.
All services have VoIP capability and webcam functionality, but being able to handle phone-ins as well is a plus. Every webinar service we tested allows for screen sharing and loading of documents, such as PowerPoint slides, into a webinar "library" for use in the webcast itself. Those that made our top ten also allow sharing of individual applications so that you do not need to reveal your entire computer screen to your attendees.
With team presentation, others can assist in the webinar, taking over part of the lecture or acting as moderator. There are limits to the number of video streams you can have; even those that don’t set limits caution that if you have too many, you will lose quality because of bandwidth issues. Along those lines, a system check lets you ensure your own internet connection is up to par for the webinar.
Finally, some services provide in-webinar slide preview. Webinars are meant to be responsive to the audience, so it's useful for the presenter to be able to see his or her planned slides before he or she posts it for the attendees to see. This allows the presenter to adapt the presentation to the audience.
Unlike academic institutions, businesses want webinars for marketing and revenue, so monetization features play an important role. We looked first for services that let you collect payments during registration through PayPal or credit cards. Some services have lead-generation tools that go beyond simply asking questions during the registration or survey process. Also, some services can integrate with Customer Relationship Management software so that your sales representatives can follow up with attendees interested your company or service. Branding of the template lets you give it your own stamp. Finally, logout redirect lets you send attendees to a URL of your choice after logout, such as a survey or a webpage with more information about your product, or even a buy link.
Webinars differ from webcasts in that they encourage audience participation. In fact, one of the great advantages of a webinar over a live seminar is that it's easier for an audience member to not only see and hear the presentation, but also to ask questions. However, with hundreds of audience members, moderation tools are important.
The raise-hand feature makes it easy for the presenter to see who has a question, while screening questions allows the presenter to see the question first in order to decide whether to answer publicly, privately or not at all. Muting or removing attendees can take care of troublemakers or those who simply don’t realize their audio is on and their background noise is bleeding into the webinar. Having audio Q&A and the ability to moderate phone-in attendees keeps the room from degenerating into verbal chaos.
Some services have their own operators who can serve as moderators for your webinar. These are usually for hire and not part of the package.
Help & Support
Webinars are getting easier for attendees and presenters alike, but there are always occasions where you need help, such as to figure out how to use a feature or to solve an issue with the audio. Phone support is best when 24/7, and chat support is a great feature so that you aren't interrupting your lecture by talking with tech support.
Live training is a plus offered by several of the services. All the services had guides or knowledgebases, but the best have video guides not only for presenters but also for attendees. The latter are especially handy because you don't have to worry about training people who have never attended a webinar and are unsure about how to participate.
Whether you are interested in webinars to develop the how-to section of your customer support site or want to use them to generate income, webinars are an efficient way to reach large audiences across the nation or around the world.