New approaches to online events and webinars

Many publishers are experimenting with online events and webinars, and know they want to expand this business but are unsure of the next steps.  On Wed 2 Oct, at the latest SIIA London Issue Brief,  twenty publishers heard from two organisations that are further ahead on the learning curve – the Economist and Melcrum – and swap best practice with their peers.  If you missed it, here are the main takeaways of the session:

It’s not an event, it’s a content package

The Economist now plans a 3-6 month content package around a live event, with pre event articles from experts plus shareable content on a dedicated web destination, interaction and downloads during the event and a custom magazine style summary post event.  This brings together editorial and events teams.

Engagement is the publishers trump card

Brands can create content, and individuals can build targeted audiences on social media, but publishers know best how to engage audiences and this is how they can build valuable online events.  It’s hard to get more than 30-40% of registrants to attend a live event, but the Economist has seen up to 80% engaged in an event, ie commenting or downloading content.  Good engagement during an event depends on editorial teams investing the time to manage comments.

Choose the best business model

Online events span a range of business objectives, so choose the business model to match.  The majority are free to register and sponsored and this is a good place to start, as it is quicker to build an audience.  Content has to be compelling, a sales pitch won’t work, but sponsors can benefit from association with editorial content and get new leads.  Melcrum use online events to add value to high ticket memberships, and many publishers include them in a subs package.  The most successful category for pay per view events is training, and these require more interaction and smaller groups.  However, in scientific markets, pay per view works when content is clearly valuable.

Plan for an extended life cycle

The Economist have had good results from enlisting speakers and experts plus their editorial team to create articles and encourage conversations in the pre-event period.  This is also the best type of marketing (see next point).  Pressures of work mean that only 30-40% of registrants will attend live, but the on-demand period is also highly valuable, and can increase audience by 2-3x.  Investing in editorial/ expert input to keep the conversation going boosts post-event views.  Planning themes carefully will maximise the value of an archive for subscribers – and continue to generate leads for sponsors if appropriate.

Lead with content to market event

Traditional webinar marketing is email-led and copy heavy, but the Economist has found that creating relevant pre-event content which is easily shareable and linking events to dedicated LinkedIn groups has worked far better.  Registered attendees get access to bonus material before the event, incentivising early registration.  And shifting language from “registering” for an event to “following” a theme has helped.  Marketing material is more visual and design-led, with much shorter copy.

Build custom metrics for sponsors

Sponsors are usually more interested in quality of audience and levels of engagement than they are in sheer volume. Some events have an online networking element, but attendees always need the option to opt out of sponsor approaches.

Experiment with hybrid events

Live events can also benefit from an online element if this is planned upfront.  The “Good Bank” event included a live event with 40 VIPs who had a dinner with speakers afterwards, and the discussion was also broadcast live (free, sponsor-funded).  Longer live conferences may benefit from only having one or two sessions broadcast – and promoted to targeted segments of the audience.  For awards events, get the judges involved as online experts pre and post event creating more of a conversation.

Make sure the tech doesn’t let you down

Expectations of audiences are high, so use a managed platform for larger events, rehearse and test sound thoroughly in advance.  Pick the right platform for the type of event and the level of interaction – for example Melcrum use Goto meeting for 1-1s, Workcast for large scale events and Kulu Valley for training events.

Get your team ready for online events

Have a studio area with good lighting and sound, and train your editorial team on video presenting skills. Accept you need to match clients’ time zones and deliver live events when it suits them.  The best time of day for a global audience is about 3pm GMT.  Break down the barriers between editorial and events teams to get the best value from longer term themed “content programmes”

Our speakers were Victoria Mellor, CEO of Melcrum, and Jonathan Dewe, consultant to the Economist and formerly Head of Marketing, Events & Thought Leadership.

SIIA Issue Briefs take a different topic each month and bring together expert speakers and a group of publishers to share experiences, pick up new ideas and network.  Free to members, the Issue Briefs are also open to non members for a small fee.

SIIA members can also benefit from savings on training from partners Press Association and Flume Training, and get preferential rates on SIIA larger conferences.  Plus they can access all the online resources from SIIA internationally – including training and best practice webinars.

More about membership here

About the author: Carolyn Morgan launched the annual Specialist Media Conference, building on twenty years of publishing & media experience.  Earlier this year SIIA acquired the Specialist Media Conference and Carolyn was engaged as Conference Chair for the SIIA Digital Content & Media Summit in London in September 2013.   You can keep up with my latest thoughts on twitter @carolynrmorgan

Carolyn works with niche publishers to develop a practical digital strategy through her consultancy business Penmaen Media.

If you’re grappling with your digital strategy, do get in touch for a no-obligation discussion.