Both. Both are better.
While automated webinars are an exciting development (so exciting we revamped our own automated webinar feature), they’re not a “superior” to live webinars.
They’re simply another powerful tool you can use to maximize your reach.
In many ways, live webinars are irreplaceable. In short, live webinars are best for making deeper connections with your audience, while automated webinars are best for making more connections.
Let’s look at it in the simplest terms: advantages and disadvantages. By understanding what each type of webinar can (and can’t) do, you can play to the strengths of each.
In other words, use each type of webinar with the correct goals in mind.
For a more in-depth course on webinar automation, click here.
Automated Webinars: Advantages
This is the single best reason to build an automated webinar campaign.
You can make an automated webinar available for people to attend whenever it’s convenient for them. That is huge. It’s a classic game-changer, giving you the power to cast a much wider net for potential customers, wherever (and whenever) they are.
Automating removes the single biggest barrier to high registration and attendance numbers: finding a time that works for everyone.
This is especially important if you’re marketing globally. Hell, automation can be the thing that finally allows you to market globally. With automation, time zones are no longer an issue. If a contact in Ljubljana wants to learn how you can help them, you don’t have to get up at 2 AM. You simply make the webinar available at a Ljublhana-friendly time.
On our platform, you can even enable the “Watch Now” feature, which lets people attend the webinar immediately, or whenever they want, literally 24/7. Plus, you skip the awkwardness of trying to pronounce “Ljubljana” on a live webinar.
The reality is, you can’t clone yourself and host webinars around the clock.
I mean, someday you could, but we’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know they’ll eventually turn evil and try to replace you. At the very least, they’ll become self-aware and demand the right to pursue their own small businesses, and that’s just more competition.
You have to put some work in up front, but once you set up an end-to-end automated webinar system, complete with an offer, next steps for attendees, email sequences, and all the rest, that’s it. You go about running your business, living your life, sleeping, whittling decorative squirrels out of soap, whatever — as the leads and sales roll in.
In fact, we’re hosting a little challenge this month, where we actually walk you through the entire process of building an automated webinar system in 30 days. Learn how to do it once, and you’ll be able to repeat the process for passive leads and sales going forward:
They’re a massive opt-in incentive:
We all know the classic opt-in incentives: pdf downloads, e-books, any kind of content that seems worth coughing up your email address for. Those typical offerings are great, and as valuable as you make them. But a free webinar? That’s an incredible value.
More importantly, it’s an incredible value that people are more likely to use.
Because it’s a set length, people are more likely to take advantage of it: whether they get the instant gratification of a “Watch Now” webinar, or the convenience of a time that works for them later. The fact that it’s confined to a set amount of time — just an hour, for example — makes it easier to commit to than an indefinite task, like reading an e-book.
How many free e-books have you downloaded and never read, right?
Webinars are just more engaging — and therefore more valuable — even when they’re not live. Of course, you can’t offer a live webinar as an opt-in. With automation, you can offer webinar-level value for nothing more than an email address.
That’s a heck of a deal, and it can have a heck of an effect on the size of your email list.
If you slip up during a live webinar — flub your delivery, get stumped by a question, set something on fire — there’s no way to undo it. But with automated webinars, you can treat the recording like any other video. You can do multiple takes. You can edit. You can integrate more complex multimedia without worrying about the transitions.
There’s all the room in the world for error, because no one needs to see the errors. You can create a smooth, engaging presentation with way higher production values and much better rhythm and timing.
In other words, you can make it perfect.
Automated Webinars: Disadvantages
They don’t convert as well as live webinars:
...but since they bring in more registrants and attendees, you basically break even! You simply can’t make the same kinds of connections and build the same quality of relationships when attendees aren’t actually experiencing the webinar with you.
You can’t work the digital room, so to speak, because you’re not there.
This inability to instantly field questions (WebinarNinja lets attendees submit questions during an automated webinar; you just have to answer them later), or otherwise improvise based on attendee behavior, is where automated webinars fall short of the live experience.
That’s why it’s so crucial to record a video that’s specifically for automation, that acknowledges the fact that you’re not really “there.”
That means no repacking old live webinars, and no “how’s the weather there” live-style banter. Again, our upcoming 30 Day Automated Webinar Challenge addresses how to film for automation, so you get the most conversions possible.
Remember, the registration and attendee numbers are statistically higher for automated webinars. So just because the conversion rate is lower, the raw number of conversions can still climb to live webinar levels. Bigger net, more keepers!
They lack urgency:
A live webinar only happens once. Even if you make the recording available to registrants who don’t attend a live webinar, it’s like watching Hamilton on YouTube instead of going to the theater: just not the same.
There’s a certain urgency that compels live webinar registrants to actually show up.
Not so with automated webinars. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, sometimes the convenience of being able to attend whenever they want lets people put your webinar on the back burner. That’s why we recommend establishing timeframes and firm windows for your automated webinar, and maintaining solid email sequences that encourage attendance for registrants.
Live Webinars: Advantages
As marketing content, as an experience, nothing beats a live webinar for establishing your brand.
That’s because live webinars establish you as a person, right there (sort of) in front of the audience, in real time. Attendees come away feeling like they know you, on some level anyway.
There’s simply no substitute for this. Personal connection drives sales.
In today’s hyper-niched, über-targeted marketing landscape, potential customers want to see behind the curtain. They feel rightfully entitled to know how the sausage is made (literally, if you have a sausage business). Today’s customers don’t just want to know what they’re buying — they want to know who’s selling it.
There’s no better way to show them, and to demonstrate your own expertise and real value, than a live webinar. It’s the closest thing to actually meeting you that your audience will ever experience, and it’s your best to chance to make the kind of impression that builds real, sales-driving trust.
The proof is in the metrics. As I mentioned, conversion rates are consistently higher for live webinars. And for good reason.
They’re an event:
Unlike with automated webinars, registrants only get one chance to catch a live presentation. That makes it seem more important, even when the content is largely the same. Of course, there’s the fact that if they miss a live webinar, registrants also miss the chance to ask live questions.
But it’s more than that.
It has to do with perceived value. Something you can get to whenever just doesn’t seem as pressing. As time passes between registering and attending, the emotions that helped trigger registration fade.
Live webinars, by contrast, are appointment events. When you schedule something, you commit to it. Say you create an automated webinar that people can attend at 5 different times over the coming month. Psychologically, that makes each of those chances 1/5 as precious as the single chance you have to attend something live.
They’re the most interactive kind of content:
You can offer all the answers you want, but they’re not nearly as valuable without the questions.
Could your registrants read all your blogs, watch your automated webinars, and otherwise dig through your content to find out what they want to know? Probably. But nothing is more immediately satisfying — and trust-building — than just asking and getting an answer live.
How many times have you pressed “0” or screamed “representative” to get out of a customer service phone tree? How many times have you chosen “Live Chat” over a Help Article that probably has the info you need? People want to talk to people.
And of course, there’s always the possibility that an attendee at at live webinar can pose a question you haven’t answered in any of your available content. That’s what makes live Q&A so much more valuable to registrants than whatever else you have planned. It’s an answer to their question when they ask it.
That’s not just information. That’s a conversation.
That’s to say nothing of the interactions that don’t actually involve the product. The “how’s the weather” banter isn’t just talk; it’s strategy. There’s a hiring philosophy that says you should only ever hire someone you’d want to have a beer with. That’s true of marketing, too. People want to buy things from people they like as people, not just as content experts.
Live Webinars: Disadvantages
They’re not reproducible:
...at least not as exactly reproducible as automated webinars. The chemistry of a live webinar happens one time. If it works, you can try to duplicate elements that made it work. But the variables are many. Automated webinars are more consistent, and likely to produce more consistent results.
It would be great if we could bottle up a great live webinar and offer it to thousands more people. But we can't. Even live webinar replays just don't have the same effect.
They’re not editable:
Like I mentioned above, the blooper reel is real when you’re live.
You screw up, your hardware goes on the fritz, your roommate strolls through the frame in a bath towel; whatever happens live is permanently a part of your audience’s experience, for better or worse (depending on the roommate, I guess).
They’re limited by your time:
No one can pull off more than a few live webinars per week, at least not effectively. You put tons of work into creating a live webinar (and all the marketing and follow-up accouterments that goes with it), and you get one single chance to cash in on all that effort. No matter how great it is, you can only convert the attendees who showed up for this one single presentation.
Obviously, automated webinars don’t have that problem. You can run 5 webinars a day if you like, or keep them running around the clock.
Solution: 2 Prongs Are Better Than One
So now you know what makes each type of webinar awesome, and where each falls short. What are you supposed to do with all this?
Like I said, do both. Utilize both types, but remember to play to the strengths of each.
Host live webinars, and focus on connecting with your audience and building strong relationships. Keep your eye on that comment scroll, and react accordingly. Embrace the fact that it’s a meeting of real people in real time, and build that trust. Then, keep some automated webinars in the rotation. Build them for maximum reach, and get as many people converted as you can.It’s a classic “depth vs breadth” balance. To build the most relationships, create automated webinars. To build the best relationships, go live. With a balanced approach, you can use the power of webinars to turn your passion and expertise into serious sales.