Are webinars a sleeping giant?
Take computers for example. Famously their pioneer developers thought that there might be a market for about 'half a dozen' computers worldwide.
And more recently, nobody at Telstra dared dream about the astonishing success of transmitting a few sentences to your friends and colleagues via something called a Short Messaging Service, now more commonly known as the cash cow that is text.
On the other hand, there are those that look like killer apps, smell like killer apps, but don't behave anything like killer apps.
Take webinars for example.
The promise of webinars is, in my view, revolutionary. Because if there's one thing that business operators and students in the big city had over their regional counterparts was the ability to attend the myriad of available seminars, workshops and conference events without forking out the travel, accommodation and time-loss costs those less metropolitan had to contend with.
Just like being there, kind of...
With webinars, not only could you 'sit in' on presentations of some of the most informed speakers on the planet, but actually interact with speakers via clever 'show of hands' and chat question capabilities.
And all from the comfort of your office chair!
Webinars essentially reduce the tyranny of distance to the span between your nose and your computer screen.
Yet despite the wonderful benefits webinars can provide, attendance to some of the best presentations in the land is modest to say the least.
And I've been blinded by the science as much as anyone.
The world at your fingertips
Sensing the potential to broadcast my web education seminars to a new global business audience, I shelved our successful local seminar events to focus on the delivery of the same content via webinar.
Two years later, I'm madly reinvigorating our 'in person' events to compensate for the loss of business our foray into webinars has created.
So what went wrong?
It's a question I'm still grappling with. Our seminar content has always been well received so it stood to reason that an online audience would greet it with equally open eyes and ears.
But in wonderful hindsight, I can put this initial lack of success down to four key factors.
1. There is no 'hurt' money
Most webinars are essentially free as either a sponsored or loss leader model. But history has shown that the price of an event provides a perception of value. And if the price of a webinar is free, the perception is it can't be worth much.
The fact that only 30 to 40% of registrants 'show up' to a free webinar helps prove this theory.
2. Yet more new technology to grapple with
SME operators often report being overwhelmed by the rapid change of technology, including the internet. A 'webinar' is yet another newfangled development they have to get their heads around. All when many are still coming to terms with tools like Google.
3. 'In person' events still work
For all the time shifting and distance reducing capabilities the internet provides, people still like the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.
Networking is still a considerable attraction at in person events and despite the rise in online social networking, it doesn't cut the mustard as well as a shake of a real hand and a look in the eye.
4. Computers mean work, less play
Despite the amount of leisure that now occurs on computer, when it comes to a business event, the computer still seems like work instead of the social benefits one gets from a live event. That means that webinars represent more work when most people are trying to reduce it.
Not that the webinar horse has bolted yet. I have great faith in it being a fantastic capability for both providers and audiences in the years to come.
It just needs to find its place in a schedule already being crushed by the influx of information and competition for one's increasingly valuable time.
Care to add to the discussion? Tell us about it by posting a comment below.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.