If you are serious about your webinars, it’s likely you (will) invest heavily into running great webinars. You may not be aware of it, but there are a couple of little known questions you should ask your webinar provider before you purchase their services. These are the kind of questions usually only insiders know about, but that provide you with the insight you need to evaluate your webinar platform properly. It’s all too easy to be sold on a pretty interface or a cheap price, but what about the things that really matter? The kind of aspects that mean your webinars won’t break or abandon you mid-webinar with an audience of 200 attendees waiting for you to reappear. Intrigued? Read on.
Do you know the feeling when you buy something new, for example a car, and over time you begin to notice that certain things just don’t work as well as you expected them to? It’s usually the kind of thing you wouldn’t or couldn’t have known about in advance – and even if you had known, you probably couldn’t have checked them before you bought anyway.
So while the car salesman tells you about the new digital radio, in-car wifi, and wireless charging features, you don’t hear anything about how realistic that 62mpg is. And you certainly never expected your car’s CPU to break because of a design flaw that meant the screen wash tank leaked onto the CPU casing, because it crackled during last winter’s extreme cold conditions.
WOW – what? Even if you had known your eyes would have glazed over, because you were just too excited to get your hands on the new car. But when you buy a marketing technology solution for your organisation, a wrong decision or lack of due diligence can make an unsightly dent in your career path.
So, once again we’ve spoken to the geeks, the experts, and the people that live and breathe webinars, and asked them to tell us the questions that nobody knows to ask, but everyone should ask before deciding which webinar platform to buy.
Here are the three questions you should always ask:
Question 1: What is your webinar platform’s release cycle?
The term “release cycle” refers to the frequency with which updates and changes are made to a software. These are usually a combination of bug fixes and feature enhancements that improve your (and your audience’s) webinar experience.
You can relate this to the frequency with which your smartphone prompts you to update your apps, except with Software as a Service (SaaS) it’s controlled centrally and you don’t need to do anything. But that also means you probably won’t notice how frequently your webinar platform is updated, so you need to ask the question.
Why? Because the release cycle frequency is a sign of how well maintained a platform is and how often it is improved. No software is ever finished, so infrequent or long release cycles mean the platform is not as proactive or dynamic as others.
But it’s not just about the release cycle frequency or length. You should also ask about how the changes and updates are documented. Are release notes available? Are they sent to all customers without having to request them? How detailed are they? If you’re unsure or the answers you get leave you unconvinced, just request the release notes for the last three release cycles.
Your expectation should be that the changes and new features are communicated proactively and regularly, as well as being well documented. You should expect at least four releases per year, although more is better. The release frequency depends on the company’s ability to complete work consistently on time. This means it needs to proactively seek, review and identify features that are relevant to customers and provide a commercial benefit. Equally, the company needs to have processes in place to identify, prioritise and resolve bugs within the system. So-called agile workflows or sprints form the basis of sustainable development and are proof of a well-organised development strategy.
Question 2: How many CDNs do you use?
CDN is the abbreviation for Content Delivery Network, which – in layman’s terms – is a private internet. While the public internet is a global network of interconnected computers, a CDN provides access to globally networked servers that are owned by a single organisation.
The benefits of CDNs lie in their ability to circumvent performance and delivery issues caused by the unpredictable load on the public internet. In other words, the public internet is used by everyone, which can cause bottlenecks and delays in data transmission, while CDNs are only used by those who pay for it, which means data transfer is much faster.
For webinars, where a live stream is the main feature, fast data transfers are key for a good user experience. Frozen, pixelated or buffering streams are unacceptable. This loss of quality can be caused by webinar providers not using CDNs at all or by using substandard CDN providers.
The best webinar providers use multiple CDNs at once. This allows them to build in redundancy, i.e. a backup in case one CDN fails, but it also allows them to cover various geographies, as not all CDNs cover all parts of the world equally well.
In practice, this means that a webinar attendee based in Singapore can access the webinar stream from a server close to them, instead of fetching data from the location the stream originates from, e.g. London, San Francisco etc. In doing so, the connection and streaming quality is optimised for the webinar attendee.
When asking the question “How many CDNs do you use?” it is, therefore, not only important to find out how many CDNs the vendor works with, but also how many are utilised simultaneously for each webinar.
Question 3: Tell me about your data centre setup?
Data centres are at the core of your webinar platform. This is where the streams originate from in their final and encoded format. From here they enter the CDNs and eventually reach the viewers around the world. Think of them as the engine that drives everything else.
It would take an IT expert to determine exactly how good and suitable the data centre setup is, and it’s very unlikely that any vendor would share the exact detail or their setup. However, there are certain aspects anyone can ascertain, allowing you to judge – albeit on a basic level – what the quality of the answer is.
The answers you get are just as important as the answers you don’t get. In other words, if one vendor is willing and able to share information on certain aspects, while another is unwilling or unable, it may tell you something about each vendor.
Ownership: Your webinar vendor may either own their data centre, or may instead have chosen to use a third party data centre or hosting service. While each solution has pros and cons, a vendor that has invested in their own data centre setup is showing commitment and the technical expertise required to run a reliable platform. Ownership also provides an additional layer of control, which vendors using 3rd party services don’t have. Ultimately quality is about the control you have and your ability to change any and all aspects of your platform.
Site redundancy: Redundancy, i.e. the provision of a secondary backup, can be built into almost any aspect. We saw that, for example, with the CDNs above. Just as you can have redundancy between servers within your data centre, you can also have redundancy between data centres. In other words, if one server fails, another takes over immediately – or – if one data centre fails another takes over. It’s the same principle, just on a different scale.
For a number of reasons, redundant data centres should be in geographically diverse locations. So if one data centre is affected by power outages, significant natural events, or man-made disasters, the second data centre should be georgraphically so far removed from the first that it remains unaffected. The best webinar vendors have this data centre reduandancy on top of the data centre ownership.
Equipment: As with all technology, the quality and type of the equipment being used determines the suitability, efficiency and performance of the equipment to fulfil the necessary task. A vendor using good equipment from known manufacturers should be willing and able to share some of that information. In contrast, you are unlikely to get any insight from vendors who use unsuitable or cheap equipment, or who simply don’t have the insight or knowledge in-house, because it has been outsourced to a third party.
This may not be be the most thrilling blog post you have ever read, unless you are a webinar geek like us, but it provides you with some core questions any buyer should ask. The devil is in the detail, as they say, and knowing as much detail as possible allows you to make an informed and good decision. Ultimately you want to avoid any unwelcome mistakes from occuring further down the line, so ask the tough questions up front and as part of your due diligence.
Or look at is this way. Would you rather spend an additional 2 weeks finding the right webinar platform, or be faced with a webinar platform that breaks at the worst possible time? Not only are you committed to a contract, but the loss of trust, good-will and reputation can be the most damaging result of making a wrong decision.
Get in touch today for a free demo of the webinar platform hailed as “The best webinar platform for marketers” by Forrester Research. Call us on UK 0207 1939 748 / US 302-261-5178 or sign up here for a 14-day free webinar trial.