How 4 news media companies are using Webinars to create audience habits

By Emmanuel Naert

Mediahuis

Brussels, Belgium

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It’s no coincidence we’ve seen an increase in the number of Webinars during the last few months. Nearly all of the world’s live seminars, congresses, and events have been postponed, cancelled, or redirected to a virtual alternative. Look at our own terrific INMA Virtual World Congress and weekly INMA Webinars.

The format of the Webinar is thriving. News media seem to have picked up on this trend. We see an extensive range of topics derived from the core business of the newsroom: introductions to political, social, or economic topics as well as practical workshops on writing, editing, teaching, writing business plans, and, of course, cooking and drinking.

A Qebinar is a live video cast with a focus on the online participants. Unlike in a live-streamed interview, viewers can ask questions via chat box or in audio during a Webinar. Technically you can set up a basic Webinar as a Facebook Live event and interact via the comments box, but media tend to use more advanced technology.

Webinar software permits you to put a subscription widget on the Web site, asking visitors to send in questions, book the Webinar directly in their agendas, and use an interactive video interface. With a bit of luck, the Webinar moderator will pass the mic if you have a question for the speaker.

When we did a quick round looking for apt software, we found that you will pay around US$300/year for a module to host 1,000 attendees. We looked at Livestorm, Bigmarker, Demio, Webinarjam, and Webinarninja in our research.

If you’re a professional organiser of seminars, a Webinar is a natural extension for your business. But why should news media venture into Webinars? What value do they add to the proposition? If you look at it, live sessions with journalists take their precious time and the set-up costs money with near to no return. One thousand one-hour sessions won’t help us fund our businesses, right?

I see two reasons to embrace Webinars: business diversification and habit formation.

Here are four Webinar case studies that show how to do just that:

The Guardian

A nice illustration of the first comes from The Guardian. According to its Web site, the company offers a “wide variety of disciplines from creative writing, journalism, photography and design, digital media, music, and cultural appreciation.” You learn from the best, and the three-hour sessions cost only £48 per head.

The Guardian sells tickets to its Webinars.
The Guardian sells tickets to its Webinars.

The New York Times

The New York Times set up a series of Webinars for education professionals after researching the needs of school teachers during the lockdown period. During eight weeks, the company hosted Webinars on topics ranging from argumentative writing to student podcasting. More than 4,000 teachers, students, and parents participated.

The Economist interviews thought leaders on various topics during its Webinars.
The Economist interviews thought leaders on various topics during its Webinars.

The Economist

The Economist’s “Insight Hour” offers Webinars on topics like illicit trade, agriculture and business, the ocean clean-up, and re-imagining business. The Webinars last one hour and are mainly sessions with industry and thought leaders interviewed by an editor of The Economist.

Some of the Insight Hours are sponsored. The participants in these niche conversations should be quite interesting for partners to reach out to.

De Standaard launched its first set of Webinars in June.
De Standaard launched its first set of Webinars in June.

De Standaard 

Like podcasts, Webinars are a way of setting up a recurring agenda of topics that create a habit of visiting your Web site or app. De Standaard’s first “dry-run” sessions of DSLive were planned on Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch hour, so the webinar could be announced with the popular midday news update. The promise of learning something and getting insights from our journalists while eating your sandwich (behind your desk at home) is highly attractive and could be one of the keys to making people more regular visitors.

De Standaard made its debut with Webinars in June. By the end of the month, we had launched four sessions with our editors. Our motivation was to encourage habit forming and community building — a business model not explored yet.

They focused on Black Lives Matter, traveling during COVID-19, the reconstruction of the start of the pandemic, and the seemingly endless formation of the Belgian government.

People asked hundreds of questions, and the sessions had an attention time between 11 and 51 minutes (live and on-demand). In our opinion, these numbers are quite promising.

We haven’t used any specific Webinar software so far, so these were basically video live streams with a comment blog on the Web page. When we plan to launch again in September, we will pay special attention to the quick start of the video, eliminate pre-roll advertising on the Webinar, announce the next Webinar on the video page, and pay attention to the introduction and conclusion in the script.

Banner image courtesy of Anna Shvets from Pexels.

About Emmanuel Naert

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