My thoughts on video panels versus webinars

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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and associated shutdown (plus the cancellation of numerous in-person events) I’ve been researching webinars tools a lot over the last several weeks. In fact you could say it’s become something of a side project. Why have I done this? Well, because it ties closely with a passion of mine. One that you’ll find out later on in this article.  

First, let’s be very clear. Zapnito is an expert network and knowledge sharing community platform. Live webinars and video panels are just one delivery model that you can use to develop expert networks. But they are not made equal. Because of this, Zapnito has developed a video panel capability, but has no plans (yet) to build a webinar capability. I’ll delve into this decision in greater detail further in this piece.

As the Zapnito team develops the platform to continue to help the event use cases more and more, the differences between video panels and webinar solutions becomes ever more apparent. 

How video panels shape up
The first major distinction between video panels and webinars is that video panels naturally lend themselves to fostering connections and a community. They are ideal for 1-to-1, 4-on-4 or up to 14 people to have conversations. These discussions can be either formal or informal and they can also be recorded and published to a Zapnito online community for other members to benefit from after the fact. There’s also screen sharing capabilities for each panel participant. 

The benefit of this is that, with Zapnito’s integration, the entire conversation happens within the community and can spark further ideas and knowledge sharing. It is also fully branded with a community’s identity, focused on the target audience and, vitally, perfect for the job at hand. Which is to have a video discussion with experts, for other experts and the wider community. 

Plus, the user experience is easier to engage with compared to a webinar tool that often has to be downloaded and pre-installed before an event. Everything happens within the community, where the audience already spends their time. Video panels occur in-browser and don’t require a download. 

Video versus community solutions
Of course, at this point it’s worth mentioning the Zoom in the room. Our video panel solutions don’t intend to compete with Zoom. Zoom is ideal for video calls but it isn’t focused on community building or events. To develop a truly engaged and interactive community, you need to invest in a dedicated online community solution. 

A complex web of webinars
Recently, we’ve often been asked about supporting a webinar style experience within the Zapnito platform. Now, compared to a video panel, a webinar usually involves a few speakers who deliver to a wide audience. Whereas video panels offer intimate, fireside-style chats between experts, webinars are suited to broadcasting the views of a few to an audience. There’s occasionally an option to interact live, but this can be limited to chat and Q&A tools as audience numbers can reach hundreds (if not thousands) and speakers may not be able to answer every question. 

Due to this, it’s not overly suited to online community building and we’d rather leave this functionality to those who are solely building this capability. 

Returning to my lockdown-inspired research, there are three types of webinar platforms.

Type 1 – these are traditional webinar platforms such as Go-To-Meeting, Webex or Blue Jeans. They have quite an old school feel (although some, admittedly, are quite new to the market) and are mostly targeted towards large corporations. They can be inflexible, and lend themselves well to pre-scheduled video meetings where a broadcast of one or two individuals’ expertise is planned. All participants and attendees must download the app beforehand and sign-up which makes the user experience feel rather restricted and clunky.  These types of tools traditionally have been targeted at the large enterprise.

Type 2 – these are new breed tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts. They often involve a free as well as paid option and are accessible for anyone to sign up. However, they can lack a professional, slick feel, especially where branding is required. They are well suited to informal and sudden meetings but for professional webinars or service delivery, they may not be suitable. There are also increasing security concerns that may put business leaders off. 

Type 3 – there are also niche players that tailor their solution to specific use cases like learning (Adobe Connect) or marketing (TwentyThree). They prioritize interaction and content experiences to set them apart. For this reason, they can be complex to engage with at the start and some newer vendors haven’t nailed their support services yet. 

Then there are the EventTech providers (of which Zapnito is not) which are out-of-scope for this piece. Hopin, Ivent, Crowdcast et al all have their pros and cons for event organisers, but that’s an article for another time. 

Not a perfect match
In my research, the one thing that rang clearly was that there is no one perfect webinar tool. It has also been very challenging to find one that embeds nicely or can be integrated with Zapnito. This is partly because Zapnito is web-based, so any app-based providers are immediately ruled out.  The tools themselves are often not necessarily designed to integrate or interoperate within the bounds of another provider.

Now, Zoom, by and large, has become synonymous with the current times and the challenges that business leaders face in connecting their workforces, attendees, and audiences. It’s nigh on impossible to have this as an embedded experience in Zapnito. Another webinar provider, On24, purposely locks out the embedding options as they wish to own the entire experience. Others allow embedding to a certain extent, some deliberately, some by accident. This ultimately means that Zapnito hasn’t found (yet) a webinar tool that’s a perfect fit for the platform or our mission – to create expert-driven online communities. 

Of course, we will continue to hunt for our perfect match (a web-based webinar platform that facilitates embedding, has the right support capabilities, and places the user experience above all else – in case you know of any!). However, until we find this, we cannot endorse a webinar provider to our customers.

Returning to my passion
Finding this webinar platform is another way we can help business leaders and event organisers succeed in today’s complex market. This is my passion, to foster greater engagement, knowledge sharing and relationship building. To help Zapnito’s clients and the wider industry to navigate this time with the right technology. That’s why I’ve been doing (and will continue to do) my research.  Wish me luck!

Go to the profile of Jon Beer

Jon Beer

CTO, Zapnito

A technical leader and hands-on CTO with 17 years' experience implementing web technologies. I lead the technical delivery of the Zapnito platform, ensuring a scalable multi-tenant architecture, disruption-free daily release cycles and a highly effective development team that delivers platform enhancements for our customers. Get in touch with me to discuss your requirements for this or any Zapnito network or to share your feedback at any time.

8 Comments

Go to the profile of Charles Thiede
Charles Thiede 23 days ago

Thanks Jon for such a great and insightful article. I too wish it was as easy as finding the perfect goldilocks partner but I think our clients will appreciate that this is more nuanced. Looking forward to the next article about this;)

Go to the profile of Carolyn Morgan
Carolyn Morgan 23 days ago

Jon, agree that video panels if well moderated can feel more intimate and more like a discussion within a community, and more welcoming to external contributions.  As webinars have long been used for commercial lead generation they feel a bit more impersonal and broadcast in style. 

Go to the profile of Jon Beer
Jon Beer 21 days ago

Thanks Carolyn - there's definately a time and a place for these different types of tools.  The key drawback for many of them is they don't consider the time leading up to the webinar or the time after it.  They are still very much point in time, fire and forget.

Once we find the right partner the integration with the continuity of our expert network community platform will significantly extend the shelf live the of these types of comms.

Go to the profile of Pablo Markin
Pablo Markin 22 days ago

Jon, this is a great article. Integration functionalities are definitely key for webinar deployments on the Zapnito platform.

Go to the profile of Jon Beer
Jon Beer 21 days ago

Thanks Pablo - yes certainly, I'm sure we will find the right partner eventually, or set of partners.  No one tool fits all use cases so I expect there will be three or four that fit best for different scenarios.

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
Thirza Loffeld 7 days ago

Hi Jon, many thanks for sharing your research findings with us - this is very useful. I have been receiving a few member questions about which webinar tools would be a best fit with our Zapnito platform (WildHub) so they can start preparing conferences digitally. Any new insights you may have gained since publishing this article would be most appreciated. Thanks! 

Go to the profile of Jon Beer
Jon Beer 7 days ago

Hi Thirza - yes is the short answer.  We've been working with another client, Simply Communicate to host their virtual event which has run today.  The approached used in this case has been to use a live video stream using RTMP and stream a video feed from MS Teams, and play that alongside an embedded Sli.do Q&A feed.

https://simplyic.info/   

This approach seemed to work really well.

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
Thirza Loffeld 7 days ago

Many thanks Jon for your quick reply! I will look into this. Thanks again!