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Webinar Marketing: Year One at The Linux Foundation

October 17th, 2017 Emily Kurze

This is a guest post from Emily Kurze, Marketing Programs Manager at The Linux Foundation.

There are a lot of problems a good webcast platform will solve. It can eliminate many technical challenges to host a webinar, give registrants a more intuitive and enjoyable UI, and provide a suite of tools to get more value from on demand webinars.

But if your company is new to webcast marketing, there are a lot of problems it can’t solve. It can’t prevent your webinar presenters from flaking, or your microphone from going out. It can’t stop you from overestimating (or underestimating) audience interest in a topic, or missing an opportunity that seems clear in retrospect. You still need to learn your market and make your own mistakes. Here’s what I learned in my first year of webinar marketing at The Linux Foundation.

Experiment to reach your webinar audience

The Linux Foundation is a nonprofit that provides events, training and certification, open source best practices, marketing, and promotion necessary to build, scale, and sustain critical open source projects and communities. Best known as the home of the Linux kernel development, our work extends far beyond Linux. Essentially, we exist to help support and manage over 100 different open source communities across diverse technology verticals including security, networking, cloud, automotive, blockchain, embedded, and web.

When we selected ON24 as our webinar platform, we had a broad range of goals. We wanted to migrate our legacy on demand webinar trainings for our developer audience, experiment with new topics to generate interest in new communities, and create content that would be useful for our users. Our first webcast had fantastic results — over 3,000 registrants, and more than 1,500 net new. It looked like our webinar program was an instant success.

But those numbers were a blip. Our second webinar had less than 1,000 in attendance, and our third webinar got hardly any. The numbers picked up again, and we ended up with a total of 11,000 registrants out of 13 webinars, but it didn’t break down how we’d expected. Our presentation on blockchain technology for business, seemed like a safe bet, because Hyperledger is one of our fastest growing projects and is generating a lot of interest in our community. Very few people actually showed up. Hosting a webinar on Raspberry Pi seemed like a shot in the dark, because our organization isn’t involved with it. We ended up seeing a huge turnout.

Our biggest takeaway was that successful webinar marketing in the open source community thrives on the same spirit that drives the community itself: experimentation. When you have a large, complex market, there’s not always a magic formula that will deliver every time. You just have to try new and creative ideas, and see what works.

Vet your webinar presenters

An interactive webinar can be a thing of beauty, incorporating gorgeous slides, engaging surveys and quizes, and rich audience interaction. But no matter how well-designed your content is, if you don’t have an engaging speaker, you’re probably not going to have a successful presentation. That’s why if you’re hosting a webinar, you need to vet your presenters not just as thought leaders, but as speakers.

I have a simple method of seeing if a presenter is a good fit for our webinar program: I call them. Since I can’t see the presenter, they need to grab me with what they’re saying — and compete successfully with my inbox for my attention. Sometimes it works, and it feels like we could talk for hours. Other times, it’s hard to follow what they’re saying and I find my attention drifting. Either way, I know whether they’re the right person for the presentation.

Hosting a webinar is all about preparation

Creating a webinar isn’t difficult, but it does take a lot of steps (24 of them in my workflow). When you try to keep it all in your head, it’s easy to forget where you are in the process — especially when you’ve got five or six presentations in the works. Use a detailed checklist, with every step planned out, and pay attention to what works. You might find elements of your webinar promotion aren’t working for your organization, it’s important to identify and eliminate those so you can spend time on what does work. For example, if you have little registration success from a particular social channel, don’t waste time continuing to promote there. You could also discover webinar tricks and best practices that work for your own organization. If you have a lot of experts in-house, you may want to have an extra speaker on call in case your presenter can’t make it.

Your webinar program is a work in progress

You’re not going to know exactly what’s going to work for your company from the first presentation. Successful webinar marketing means sticking with it, challenging your preconceptions, and learning what works for your organization.