Using Webinars to Foster Member Relations

Repurposed from the “Webinars 2.0—More Than Just Lead Generation” Whitepaper, Commissioned by WebEx

Executive Summary

The webinar has well established its value to marketers as an application to generate qualified leads, launch products or services, and provide training. However, a new paradigm is replacing this one-to-many “broadcast” approach that has been the standard of the early stages of webinar adoption. Just as today’s Web 2.0 technologies support the immediacy and two-way give-and-take typical of conversations, webinars likewise include sophisticated capabilities that support two-way interaction. As a result, webinars now offer a far wider range of applications for businesses–particularly as a means of reaching out to and nurturing relationships with existing members. This new application of webinars offers organizations the opportunity to cement member loyalty, and uncover new avenues for serving them.

The American Marketing Association for example is a professional association that is unique in its use of webinars. To the AMA, webinars are a means of delivering its primary service value to its membership: supporting the flow of expertise between marketers, and nurturing a professional community with a common interest and purpose. This reframing of the webinar model offers potential to any organization that wishes to enrich its relationship with its members.

The question in the traditional sense then is: How might I use webinars to promote conversations and sharing of information with their most valued community members–my members?

The American Marketing Association: Creating Beneficial Relationships

In its six-plus decades, the American Marketing Association (AMA) has been the leading source for information, knowledge sharing, and development in the Marketing profession. In addition to advancing the practice of Marketing, the AMA is likewise a marketer, seeking to build and provide value to its membership–which today exceeds 38,000 worldwide. In today’s Web 2.0 world, the AMA provides an interesting study of a marketer that has long succeeded by placing the relationship with its constituencies front and center.

One important perspective from the AMA is that the college classroom is no longer the primary venue to learn the art and science of Marketing: things are simply changing too fast. As new technologies make their mark on our society–the personal computer, the Internet, mobile devices, Google marketing strategy and techniques invariably evolve to keep pace. The heart of the AMA’s service offering then is to offer ongoing professional development that is up-to-date, relevant and useful to its members, but that also suits the requirements of their hectic schedules and workplace demands.

While publications, conferences and seminars have long been primary vehicles for interaction with its membership, the last decade has seen the Internet emerge as a major venue for providing service to the AMA’s market. In addition to making publications and case studies available over the Internet, the AMA also has adopted chats and listserv technologies, and has taken great strides in creating online communities among its members. By taking part in AMA Special Interest Groups (or “SIGs” as they are called), members foster beneficial online relationships with peers, sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences. For Marketing practitioners, the AMA offers nine different SIGs, covering real-world topics like Marketing Strategy and Planning, Non-Profit Marketing, Business-to-Business, Brand Management, and so on. The academic community can choose from 18 different SIGs, generally of a more theoretical bent: Marketing and Society, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, Global Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Marketing Research, Marketing Communications, and a dozen more.

So for the AMA, the Internet has become a potent tool for communicating and delivering value to its target markets. And as business travel bottomed in 2001, the Web took on a much greater significance in the continuation of these SIGs: the organization found that it could successfully continue its mission of bringing AMA members and marketers together with industry thought leaders, by offering webinars. While its on-site conferences remain core offerings, the AMA’s calendar now also includes six to eight webinars per month, each with attendance ranging from hundreds to thousands.

By using webinars, the AMA discovered a number of capabilities that provide for outstanding interaction with its attendees.

  • The “Share, Don’t Tell” format of webinars creates better interest and involvement in the event.
  • Attendee profile information from advance registration can be shared with speakers, for use in preparing the presentation.
  • Audience polling features allow instant feedback that could be used to tailor content to the audience’s interests and experience level.
  • The ability to include multiple presenters, from different locations.
  • Chat and Q&A provide attendees the ability to ask the expert, or interact directly with the speakers; these valuable exchanges are also archived in the event data files.
  • Attendees can be channeled to surveys or other weblinks, which allow for the capture or delivery of additional information, beyond the timeframe of the webinar itself.

The AMA has found great value in recording each webinar, complete with all visual content and audio, for hosting on the their website ( This allows members who missed the actual event to still gain value from it on-demand. At the same time, this on-demand content can be repurposed, for lead generation and inclusion in other programs. The event’s speakers or content providers also benefit, by using the on-demand content for their own purposes. The AMA’s use of webinars is unique in some important ways. For example:

Breaking down the barrier between member and prospect
While it is most common for webinars to target new member prospects, the AMA challenges this approach by offering its webinars to both AMA members and prospects. Also, content presenters are not AMA staff members, but rather fellow members of the marketing community–and this peer-to-peer communication between member and prospect further turns the common webinar “lead capture” paradigm on its head.

Beyond lead generation: The care and feeding of a community
And while the AMA does indeed hope to convert prospects into members via its webinar program, its primary purpose is to play the role of host, providing a venue for its attendees to benefit from each other. Much of the uniqueness of the AMA’s approach to webinars is a factor of its educational mission; its purpose is not to sell products, but to elevate the practice of marketing. As a professional association, the idea of creating and nurturing a community–of fostering beneficial conversations among like-minded members–is central to its mission. The AMA’s leverage of the webinar platform opens up some compelling issues, with significant implications for marketers.

The New Toolkit–Using Webinars to Support Member Communities

In considering ways of enriching member relationships through community-building, it makes sense to look at methods that organizations are already using to reach this goal–and then consider how webinars might be used as a more effective alternative. For example, three common vehicles that companies already use to work with their existing members include preferred member programs, member advisory groups, and conferences. How might these be enhanced using webinar technology?

The Preferred Member Program is generally a kind of frequent buyer’s club where the marketer’s goal is to increase loyalty and encourage membership renewal. This type of program can be enhanced in a number of ways using webinars. For example, associations can offer a slate of special “platinum member” webinars to target members, where special attention is lavished upon these investors, useful topics are covered, internal contacts are introduced, and so on. Webinars offer a rich array of opportunities for truly offering value to the target member, while being a very cost effective alternative to achieving the same results using physical seminars, or even regional events. At the same time, the webinar format can be used to capture important insights and feedback from members, which helps the organization to refine its messaging or service offering to its broader member base.

The Member Advisory Group is a marketing program with an inverse goal. Rather than seeking to propagate habitual member behavior, typically the goal of the member advisory group is to align the marketer’s behavior with the needs of the members. Keeping decision-makers in sync with realities of the member is a constant concern, and is especially important in growing organizations where executives might become far removed from the member. The webinar can be an effective means of reaching and learning from members in these contexts. Importantly, the webinar offers excellent targeting and screening ability, to zero in on a particular region or member segment, and capture rich member detail in advance of the event. The flow of the webinar can be designed to elicit a range of feedback, both quantifiable responses to survey questions, as well as free-form input using chat or Q&A tools. And what might be one of its most compelling advantages is the ability for any member of the association to experience the members’ thoughts and issues through the on-demand recording, hosted on the organization’s intranet.

A third application is the use of webinars as a means of supporting a Conference. The most common purpose of the conference is to help ensure that the member is getting optimal value from the association’s services. As in the other applications discussed, webinars offer a wide range of opportunities to support conferences. The most important aspect of the conference is the delivery of expertise and knowledge–and in that, the conference most closely resembles the AMA model. The focus is predominantly on techniques, though content can address any topic of value to an audience. Also, it is very common in conferences to have members with strong experience lead the presentations. Webinar capabilities like audience polling and instant feedback provide a means for checking the learning levels of the attendees, and determining needs for future education. The ability of webinars to support multiple speakers, and virtually any kind of presentation are clearly well-suited to a conference venue. Automated email follow-up can help assess how much the training has impacted actual performance in the field. In addition, the use of webinars as an alternative to the physical conference can result in tremendous cost savings, especially when compared to flying a large contingent from the association to a hotel for multiple days.

These three use cases represent only some of the ways organizations can use webinars to engage in conversations and foster stronger relationships with their members to improve their results. Using the example of the American Marketing Association, organizations may find that webinars offer untold opportunities to support value-based conversation between the firm and its clients. Richly interactive technology has already evolved in the webinar platform, and will no doubt continue to evolve as marketers explore new avenues for reaching out to their markets, and creating sustainable advantage in a world that is more fractious and competitive than ever.

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