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

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 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 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 organization’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.  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. 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 a sustainable advantage in a world that is more fractious and competitive than ever.

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