Contact: David Alston, vice-president of marketing at Radian6
Location: Fredericton, NB, Canada
Industry: Internet technology, B2B
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 35
Radian6 and CrossTech Media built it, and they came—over 1,500 marketing and PR professionals to the industry's first Twebinar, an event Radian6 vice-president of marketing David Alston describes as "a mashup between the real-time, multi-directional messaging and networking power of Twitter, with the convenience and rich media experience of a video webinar."
The event took place this past June in cooperation with Chris Brogan of Canton, MA-based CrossTech Media and included interviews with over 30 of the industry's social media leaders, whom participants were encouraged to connect with before, during, and after the event. It was an experiment that Alston hoped would spark greater use of social media among industry professionals, and in turn, more demand for his company's Web-dashboard product, which helps clients monitor all forms of social media in real time.
"The Twebinar tried to accomplish many things but primarily aimed to give those new to social media a chance to jump into the game with both feet alongside veterans in the biz," said Alston.
Radian6 leveraged (you guessed it) social media and the medium's inherent word-of-mouth properties to generate interest, and it succeeded in bringing in over 1,500 participants—far more than the average 300 attendees registered by most webinars—simultaneously generating significant brand awareness.
Radian6's Web dashboard monitors blogs, forums, online news, rich media, and networking sites and helps clients analyze the impact of comments, views, and links in real time.
The company understood that interest in its social-media-monitoring platform depended on a wider adoption of social media so that potential customers could understand the true value the technology it offered.
Originally, Radian6 planned a webinar series that would educate and attract marketing decision-makers while solidifying its connection to the channel. The series was to target those professionals who wanted to learn about social media but had yet to embrace it in their own marketing activities; it was to include interviews with several social-media pioneers that were recorded with Chris Brogan of CrossTech Media during the Web 2.0 Expo and the Society of New Communications Research's (SNCR's) NewComm Forum; both conferences were held in April.
While attending those events, however, Radian6 VP of marketing David Alston noted a "digital divide" among social-media veterans and newbies. While the newcomers busily took notes, those already active in the medium were connecting with each other and discussing the content both face-to face and via back-channel conversations on Twitter.
Alston saw the advantages that could be gained if everyone were involved in these types of interactions and actually used social media in parallel with the content that was being presented. Unfortunately, a regular webinar did not lend itself to that approach, so Alston instead set out to develop a more dynamic and interactive experience that would encourage its participants to get involved in social media.
What resulted was a Twebinar, a free multi-dimensional webinar, which Alston positioned as an experiment with three main objectives:
- To provide quality content and insights from social media's leading experts: The event, titled "Game Changing Moves: Doing Business with Social Media," was hosted by co-creator Brogan, who has built a name for himself in the social-media world. The Twebinar included in-depth interviews (conducted during the Web 2.0 Expo and SNCR NewComm Forum conferences) with the likes of Richard Binhammer of Dell, Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and Shel Israel of FastCompany, among others.
- To incorporate social media technologies into the conferencing platform: Real-time conversation on Twitter took place in correlation with the online webinar video, hence the name "Twebinar." Participants were urged to sign up for Twitter accounts to "get the full value of each one-hour experience" and either follow or join in the Twitter conversation during the event, said Alston.
"Making everybody a participant upped the ante," said Alston. "People interacted with what we put out there and had their own detailed conversations, and we tried to stay active with everyone's comments so that they felt heard."
- To foster networking among speakers and participants: Participants were encouraged to follow @twebinars, @chrisbrogan, @davidalston, and the Twitter handles of the various speakers (provided on the Twebinar Web site) as a way to make valuable business contacts and keep up with the latest on the social-media scene.
"As part of this experiment it was our hope that the open nature of the messaging platform would facilitate connections between the speakers and the participants and amongst the participants themselves, before, during and after the event," later wrote Alston. "This was to be an improvement over the traditional webinar experience where participant connections could not happen during the event and certainly didn't continue on afterward."
Alston began announcing the event—which took place on June 26, 2008—two weeks prior with emails sent to Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) members and subscribers, the SNCR mailing list, and CrossTech Media subscribers. The company also posted an ad on Facebook targeting users from Fortune 500 companies and agencies with a marketing/PR profile.
Most of the publicity, however, came through word-of-mouth endorsements spread via the following:
- Blog posts: Brogan began mentioning the Twebinar on his blog, which inspired other bloggers to "chime in" and alert their own readers to the new event.
- Advocacy from the experts involved: Social-media authorities interviewed for the series also helped spread the word by publicizing their involvement to their own audiences, which created a strong network effect.
- Twitter itself: Alston and Brogan, both of whom have strong followings on Twitter, "tweeted" about the event, and the exposure snowballed as followers commented and posted their own tweets. Many were people excited to be a part of the new experiment; some were bloggers who went on to share the news with their readers. A few even grumbled that they were already tired of seeing the term "Twebinar" in discussions, which further worked to the company's advantage.
"The more someone would complain about the use of the word, the more it would gain exposure," said Alston. "How many branding experts out there would love to have that!"
Over 1,500 people registered for the Twebinar—five times as many as a typical webinar—most of them PR and marketing professionals: i.e., Alston's intended audience. The word-of-mouth campaign also generated significant blog coverage and Web site traffic from 71 countries. 2,000+ tweets were recorded about and during the event.
Alston said the event was successful in "pulling people into the [social-media] curve" as well as in generating goodwill and growing brand recognition. Although Radian6 has so far refrained from mining the Twebinar registration list for leads, Alston noted that the company is still benefitting from word-of-mouth surrounding the event.
"People want to get to know us better. They want to talk to us, and they respond better when we reach out to them," he said. "These are seeds of people who will grow into potential customers once they start using social media and see that our tool can help them manage it, monitor it, and analyze it in a more efficient way."
By analyzing the tweets and blog posts, and making a request through Plurk.com, Alston further collected a good amount of feedback, which he is using to improve the remaining two Twebinars in the series (the second, "Who really owns your brand?," was held on July 22, and the third, "The Importance of Listening," will take place on August 19).
The campaign became a textbook example of the power of online word-of-mouth marketing, due in large part to several strategic components:
- An attention-grabbing name: The word "Twebinar" retained enough of its constituents "Twitter" and "webinar" to be easily deciphered and played off the exposure Twitter has been receiving in the media lately. It was also quirky enough to make people look twice, and easy to track once people started using it in their communications.
- Quality, in-demand content: Information on social media—considered marketing's next frontier—has become highly sought after. But Radian6 didn't just rehash the basics or regurgitate reports. Instead, it incorporated real-life insight from the people who are experimenting with the medium and offered free access to anyone interested in learning more.
- The perceived privilege of being a part of something new: Radian6 generated extra buzz by telling people the Twebinar was an experiment that they as participants would be able to influence, and many in turn expressed their excitement by telling friends and colleagues. Several of the speakers, too, honored to be regarded as experts, spread word of their involvement and broadened the web of exposure.
- The very nature of Twitter: Each published message on Twitter reached more and more recipients as new connections were made with @twebinars, @chrisbrogan, and @davidalston; the various speakers involved (Ogilvy's Rohit Bhargava, for example, received over 150 new Twitter followers through the promotion); and the participants themselves.