Webinars and webcasts gained popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, helping businesses create a digital community for their customers. The Manifest surveyed 501 people in the U.S. to measure the impact of webinars and webcasts and identify any future benefits.
The word “webinar” is a combination of web and seminar, describing an online model for in-person business seminars that combines live visual presentations with group and panel discussions. Webcasts are similar, except they are pre-recorded.
Webinars and webcasts are appealing because they provide access to presentations and information that would not otherwise be available to members of the general public.
The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the benefits of webinars and webcasts for small businesses.
The Manifest surveyed 501 people in the U.S to measure and understand recent trends in webinars and webcasts among small businesses.
The data reveals that over half of people (59%) have attended a webinar or webcast in the past year, indicating a high demand for community events even if hosted digitally.
Small businesses could consider hosting webinars or webcasts for their audience or community.
The question is: Which one?
The following insights outline the benefits of both webinars and webcasts to help small business owners decide which fits best with their business model.
- Most people (59%) attended a webinar or webcast in the last year. Webinars and webcasts are innovative ways for businesses to connect with current and potential customers online despite COVID-19 restrictions.
- More than one-third (39%) of people attended more webinars or webcasts in 2020 than they did in 2019, demonstrating consumers' interest in maintaining connections with businesses.
- About one in five people (18%) attended a paid webinar in the last year. Businesses can launch paid webinars to drive revenue and nurture leads.
- Just over one-third of people (36%) attended a free live webinar or webcast in the past year. Live events help simulate the feeling of a live business event while in-person events are still on a hiatus.
- Almost one-quarter of people (22%) attended a free pre-recorded webinar or webcast. Pre-recorded programming is an option for businesses working with limited resources.
What Is a Webinar?
Webinars attempt to recreate an in-person gathering using multimedia video technology that allows for two-way communication between presenters and attendees in real time. They can include events or seminars, video presentations, workshops or training sessions, and other types of lectures.
Webinars have been around since the 1990s when businesses were just beginning to explore the opportunities of multimedia technology and have since evolved into helpful tools that allow businesses to connect with their audience in new ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, presented even more opportunities for small businesses to leverage webinars.
In fact, more than one-third of people attended more webinars or webcasts in 2020 than in 2019.
As COVID-19 spread, businesses shut their doors and canceled in-person events with many scheduling webinars in their place.
Webinars also expand the reach and attendance of traditional, in-person seminars. While business seminars are usually small, 20-40 person events, the average number of attendees at a webinar is around 148.
In the summer of 2020, for example, many diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals and organizations hosted public webinars to address systemic racial inequality and renewed calls for justice in the U.S.
Businesses like Wethos, the host of a DEI webinar in June 2020, promoted their webinar on social media platforms to expand the reach of the audience to over 200 people.
Sessions like this, which normally would occur in a closed company session, were made available to all via Zoom.
Zoe Linda, affiliate program expert for online businesses, believes webinars are a unique opportunity for small businesses.
“To me, a webinar is an opportunity to connect with audiences live to move them along their customer journey,” Linda said. “Businesses can benefit whether they are pitching a paid product or using a webinar to provide value for free.”
A webinar is an opportunity to connect with audiences live to move them along their customer journey.
What makes webinars different from webcasts is the smaller session sizes and opportunities for interaction. Webinars are useful internal and external tools for businesses to educate their employees or even customers.
The Benefits of a Webinar
Webinars help businesses engage current and potential customers with their products through real-time, digital interactions.
They can also be a direct and indirect source of revenue for a company.
Because webinars often cover niche topics, businesses can maintain exclusivity by charging a small fee for attending the virtual seminar.
Almost one-fifth of people (18%) attended a paid webinar in the past year.
Paid webinars function similarly to educational courses or training sessions designed to train workers or educate them on a specific topic.
Attendees who pay for webinars — whether they are current or potential customers — are also unlikely to miss something they paid to attend. Even a small attendance fee will incentivize people not to skip the live webinar.
Businesses don’t need to charge attendees to reap the benefits of webinars, though. Free webinars are helpful marketing tools to build brand awareness and attract new leads for a company’s sales team.
Just over one-third of people (36%) attended a free, live webinar or webcast in the past year.
This is true for both webinars and webcasts.
By requiring an email for registration, for example, inbound marketers can expand their email lists and follow up with interested prospects after the webinar has concluded.
Charles McMillan, founder of business registration consultancy Stand with Main Street, believes webinars are a powerful lead generation tool.
“Webinars establish someone as an authority or an expert in a particular field,” Charles said. “I host my webinars for free. For me, it's a sincere way to show my target market that I'm coming from a place of help, and they usually reciprocate by paying for my company's services.”
Webinars establish someone as an authority or an expert in a particular field.
Both webinars and webcasts offer advantages, but for small businesses looking to increase engagement with real-time interactions with their audience and generate leads should consider adding webinars to their business offerings.
What Is a Webcast?
Like a webinar, a webcast uses a presentation format to communicate information about products and services to a wide audience.
Webcasts, however, traditionally involve broadcasting pre-recorded in-person live events to a virtual audience.
During COVID-19, however, webcasts look more like webinars, only with a wider audience.
Before 2020, companies would host live, in-person meetings and events then share a digital version of the event online, unlike webinars, which were always conducted fully online.
Webcasts are often broadcasts of a scheduled event, unlike webinars, which require advance signups.
Webcasts often draw large audiences of hundreds of people interested in a particular topic or event. Because of these large audiences, interactive components are more challenging.
COVID-19 has led many businesses to embrace webcasts as an alternative to in-person events.
Many gyms closed under pandemic restrictions, for example, will use video software to create webcasts of live studio fitness classes for gym members working out at home.
LES MILLS, for example, partnered with local gyms to offer in-person fitness classes in the past.
Since COVID-19, the company has focused on building more content for their virtual subscription service. Users can access an extensive bank of pre-recorded classes to follow along with at home.
Webcasting has helped LES MILLS continue to offer value for subscribers outside of traditional workout classes.
Social media platforms also make webcasting accessible for many businesses.
A B2B SaaS company hosting a demonstration on how to use their software, for example, might create a webcast and share on YouTube, Facebook or another social media platform.
Palantir is a SaaS company that focuses on solutions for interactive data analysis. The company recently did a live demo for their flagship product.
The live demonstration was recorded and shared via YouTube. Now, future users can use this webcast to learn more about Palantir’s products and services and participate in conversations in the comments section.
Webcasts are similar to webinars in that they facilitate presentations to share information from one group to another, however webcasts are traditionally recordings of past events and offer limited interactivity.
The Benefits of a Webcast
Like webinars, webcasts are an opportunity for businesses to reach a diverse audience online and generate qualified leads that can convert to sales.
Inbound marketing experts experimenting with webcasts during the COVID-19 pandemic will also have a greater competitive advantage as vaccine rollouts expand and in-person events resume.
Businesses that invest in webcast software, tools, and expertise now will be able to host in-person events that can then be shared online.
Additionally, hybrid in-person and virtual events are likely to increase in popularity because they provide customers with an experience that is both safe and informative.
The Manifest found that 22% of people attended pre-recorded events in the past year.
Because they are pre-recorded, webcasts have a longer shelf life than webinars.
They are also able to attract a larger audience if promoted through social media marketing strategies, so businesses can expect expanded awareness of their brand and products.
The broad audience also allows for an expanded scope of information. While webinars are often specialized and technical, businesses can use webcasts to focus on ideas, products, or services that appeal to a wide range of perspectives.
With increased reach and longevity, webcasts are an opportunity for businesses to get ahead of competitors in a post-pandemic world.
Webinar vs. Webcast: Which One Is Better?
The answer will vary from business to business, so it’s important to consider priorities and internal resources when deciding between a webinar and a webcast format.
Webinars and webcasts both require in-house employees to create and present the material, as well as marketing resources to promote the event. Businesses without the bandwidth could consider hiring a video production agency.
Regardless of the event format, businesses should record the webcast or webinar for future use and potential distribution among attendees or a broader audience.
Webinars are a good choice for small businesses looking to:
- Engage and interact with their audience in real time
- Connect with smaller groups
- Share niche, specialized content
- Generate leads
Webcasts are a better choice for small businesses that want to:
- Provide long-term value for their audience
- Connect with larger groups and communities
- Share broad, informational content
- Reach new audiences
In either case, small businesses need to decide between free and live events and should consider promoting on social media.
Despite varying business models, the majority of small businesses can find value offering in webinars or webcasts.
About the Survey
The Manifest surveyed 501 U.S. consumers that receive marketing emails.
Forty-four percent (44%) of respondents are male and 33% are female; 24% chose not to disclose this information.
Respondents are ages 18–24 (5%); 25–34 (10%); 35–44 (11%); 45–54 (17%); 55–64 (14%); and over 65 (18%). One quarter of respondents (25%) chose not to disclose their age.
Respondents are from the Midwest (32%), the Northeast (10%), the South (36%), and the West (22%).