When it comes to the whole webinar vs meeting thing, we mostly have a word problem.
Not the kind that made third grade math so tough for me (How many apples does Jane have left? Why did she have them all in the first place?)
Fruit monopolies aside, there’s a lack of clarity around what to call different kinds of online get-togethers — specifically, the difference between actual, honest-to-goodness webinars and simple online meetings.
This makes it really hard for people to figure out what they actually need when they’re shopping around for the right platform.
Everything from popular whim to companies’ SEO strategies contribute to the semantic Wild West that is our space. The result is a patchwork of terms (webinar, webcast, e-meeting, web conference) thrown around interchangeably, even as they describe very different tools.
On top of that, the tools themselves often change to fit the terms — or to fit whatever the companies think the terms represent by way of consumer demand.
Call it "Latent Semantic Incesting": too many companies using keywords too liberally in their marketing, sowing so much confusion that people can’t be sure what’s really right for their needs.
There are lots of layers to this, but I think the biggest distinction we have to make is between platforms designed for webinars, and platforms designed for meetings.
Based on the inquiries we get, this is the first knot worth untangling.
Too many teachers, trainers, consultants, and other entrepreneurs are using meeting platforms instead of webinar platforms to host webinars.
Likewise, we get lots of questions about WebinarNinja from people who clearly need a meeting platform...which we can’t really help with.
So let’s clear this up.
What Each Kind of Platform Does Best
Things Webinar Platforms Are Great For
Product Demos (e.g. Software walkthroughs)
Product Showcases (QVC-style)
Things Meeting Platforms Are Great For
Virtual Cocktail Hour
Standups (Not the Lenny Bruce kind)
Virtual Dating? Seems worth a try at this point.
The biggest difference between webinar and meeting platforms is what they’re for.
Short version: webinars are for teaching, showcasing, and otherwise presenting to an audience. Meetings are for…y’know, meetings, between people with (generally) equal ability to contribute to the conversation.
In other words, webinars are one-to-many. Meetings are one-to-one, or one-to-a-few, or several-to-each-other.
That’s not to say a webinar audience doesn’t interact with the webinar host. In fact, that interaction is what makes webinars superior as marketing tools, compared to simple videos.
The interactions, be they through chat, Q&A, or polls, are crucial — but much more limited than in a meeting.
Not that webinars can only feature one person being seen and heard; webinars can have co-hosts, and some platforms even let webinar hosts invite individual attendees to share their cameras, mics, or screens. But in broad terms, a webinar is usually a one-or-two-person show.
That’s because the objectives of a webinar and a meeting are very, very different.
Webinars are lead-nurturing and conversion tools. They’re marketing assets that utilize an educational approach to brand-building and sales. You teach people something, then leverage the value of your lessons into growth for your business.
Contrast this with how meetings work.
The purpose of a meeting is to exchange information, or just hang out with people remotely. Meeting platforms aren’t built to produce conversions, i.e. to create followings or sell products. They simply exist to let you and a few other people see and hear each other remotely, whether it’s to plan a business strategy or catch up over cocktails.
The differing objectives inform the differing functions.
Webinar platforms are intentionally designed to produce outcomes: a learning outcome, a conversion, a sale. Online meetings are only meant to produce what old-fashioned office meetings produce: an action plan, a resolution to a conflict, a status update.
Another way to understand this: think of what you want to do online. Now, imagine doing it IRL, not virtually.
Ideally, would you do it:
a) on a stage, or
b) in a conference room?
If you answered “a,” you’re in the market for a dedicated webinar solution. “B” means you just need a place on the Internet to meet up.
Who Is The Platform Built For?
Examples of People Who Should Totally Host Webinars
Coaches (Life, Business, etc.)
Marketers (of literally anything)
Professional Development Trainers
Health & Fitness Trainers
Arts & Crafts Instructors
Examples of People Who Should Totally Host Meetings
Remote Health Providers
The tech-savvy cousin organizing virtual family brunch
The friend from college who lives in Alaska now
Book Club Presidents
Stated somewhat over-simply, webinar platforms are for people with something to teach and/or sell. Meeting platforms are for people looking to collaborate with and/or manage others.
If you’re a remote team manager, or a freelancer looking to review a project with the development team at your client company, you need reliable meeting software.
If you’re a SaaS founder looking to show people how your software works, or a meditation instructor trying to teach virtual classes, you need a good webinar platform.
Technically, can a remote team manager use a webinar software to pow-wow with a few employees?
Just like technically, a meditation instructor can host an online “class” on a meeting platform, if the class is small enough. But neither situation is ideal.
And yes, there will be many of you who use both kinds of platforms, myself included. But choosing the appropriate tool for what you’re trying to accomplish is crucial to your success.
If you fall onto the “meeting” side of the table above, you might want to invest in the best meeting software for your budget (some of which have webinar add-ons that aren’t awesome, but might be good enough for your purposes). If you fall more on the “webinar” side, invest in that, and hop on a Google Hangout or Skype call for your occasional meetings.
Webinar vs Meeting Platforms: How They Work
Super-Useful Webinar Features
Registration/Thank You Page Builders
Super-Useful Meeting Features
Attendee Webcam Share
"Waiting Room" Features
There's a reason the webinar side of the above list is so much longer: webinar platforms should do more.
A good webinar platform includes a specific set of tools designed to move attendees down your sales & marketing funnel. It also requires the host to have a certain skill set to actually get the most out of these tools.
Don’t worry, btw; these are skills anyone can learn).
During the presentation, the webinar host usually presents a slide deck and/or screenshare, plus other multimedia. They field questions, respond to audience chat, share polls, and maybe present embedded sales offers.
The host uses the platform’s tools in service of a conversion objective: getting as many members of the audience to [insert goal here: become customers, share pain points, join you for a future sales webinar, or just believe in you and your solutions enough to consider your product].
Not so with meeting software.
Meeting platforms don’t generally include what a teacher/marketer needs to produce such outcomes. Some meeting platforms have interactive tools, but those tools aren’t structured to organize data for marketing purposes or give attendees any kind of “win” that builds trust.
Some great examples to illustrate this:
Q&A: Webinar Q&A is a separate function from the main “Chat” feature. Why? A webinar host wants to separate questions from the rest of the chatter, and timestamp where the answers are in the presentation. This makes addressing the questions of a large audience manageable — and lets the host track what kinds of questions come up often, revealing pain points and other valuable information.
After the webinar is over, attendees or registrants with replay access can peruse questions, find the ones that matter to them, and zip to the answer. It’s a shortcut to information for them, and a shortcut to credibility for the host!
Sales Offers: Meeting software might have workaround ways to present a sales offer, but a good webinar platform integrates that offer into your presentation, integrates with the payment processor, and records the sale as part of the webinar’s analytics.
Analytics: Analytics are much more important for webinars: who registered, who actually showed up, how long they stayed, whether they watched a replay, who clicked on sales offers….it’s an ecosystem designed for marketing results, for gathering and sharing information strategically with a business goal in mind.
So what do meeting platforms do? Mostly a lot less — and that’s ok.
One thing meeting platforms do that webinars don’t is let more people share their cams, mics, and screens. In fact, a meeting software generally lets ALL attendees do that. But anyone who’s experienced an over-crowded Zoom call understands why that would make for a terrible webinar.
Webinar Platforms, Meeting Platforms, and Everything In Between
"Webinar" Features Awkwardly Tacked On to Meeting Platforms
Webinars on Air
This is where the available options can get as confused as the language.
Different companies offer different solutions, some of which overlap, and some of which are awkward attempts by one kind of platform to perform the other kind of platform’s function.
We’ve had lots to say about this before, but we can break the various platforms down into the 3 categories on the table above:
- Dedicated webinar platforms
- Dedicated meeting platforms
- Half-assed webinar tools included or upsold on meeting platforms
If that last one sounds less than ideal...maybe I need to work on being more subtle. The best example is Zoom “webinars.” But GoTo and others are running a similar play: offering “webinars” because that’s a thing people want, even though it’s not really what the company does.
It’s like ordering the steak at a waterfront seafood restaurant. Can the kitchen handle a filet mignon? Probably. But is it going to be better than the one at the steakhouse? Of course not; it’s only there because...some people don’t like fish.
And sometimes, inexplicably, those people end up in seafood restaurants.
Likewise, right now someone is ordering the flounder at some legendary steakhouse. The kitchens at both places don’t know why people come to the wrong restaurant; they just do. Maybe a carnivore is dating a pescatarian, or a Catholic on a Friday night. Stuff happens. But when it comes to your business, go to the right restaurant.
As we pointed out when Zoom experienced its COVID-induced catastrophic success, meeting platforms and webinar platforms aren’t in competition; or at least, they shouldn’t be. They’re simply two different tools, no less distinct from each other than a hammer is from a saw.
Stock your toolbox with whatever you need, and building your business will be a lot easier.
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