It's Not Really Free: The Ethics of Webinars

Let's preface this post by saying that we get it: in this economy, everyone needs to acquire clients at a low cost. However, let's look at the following scenario. Through a friend and blogging colleague, who twittered about it, we heard that Acclaro, a translation and localization agency, was offering a free webinar tomorrow. The topic is translating marketing slogans, which we have been doing successfully for years. We thought we might learn something and could potentially add something to the conversation. The tweet (=short message on Twitter for you non-Twitter folks) stated that this would be a free webinar.

Judy quickly went through the registration process, only to receive two separate e-mails a few minutes later. One stated that the registration was denied. The other one read:

Thank you for your interest in our webinar. Please note that Acclaro restricts our webinars to business people who are potential sales leads for our translation and localization services. Based on the information you provided us, we have declined your approval to view the webinar. Please feel free to provide additional information about your interest for this webinar and your interest in our services and we will reconsider your request.

We share many colleagues' opinion that this might not be the best way to handle webinars. Instead of building goodwill in the T&I industry, Acclaro has managed, with two e-mails, to do the opposite. Here's some food for thought on this:

  • You never know where your next customer will come from. While it's true that the two of us won't hire Acclaro anytime soon, we might know someone who does. And how does one know what a "potential sales lead" is? Isn't everyone, in one way or another, a potential sales lead?
  • There's little or no extra cost to allow us to attend the webinar. Let's assume there's a fixed cost for the presenter and the software. We are not familiar with webinar software pricing strategies, but even if it's charged by the user/caller, the cost would be negligible. So: if it doesn't cost (almost) anything, why not accomodate interested parties and share the knowledge?
  • The "price" of buzz. Acclaro had a fantastic chance to share what they know with the T&I community. They would have generated some social media traffic, and folks would have talked about the webinar. That's the whole idea when building business: to get people talking about your services. We don't know too many clients who write blogs about translation, so the social media content would most likely come from precisely those folks who are not welcome at the webinar: freelance professionals. And let's think about this: do potential clients really want to attend a free webinar about a service they outsource? We are not sure.
  • Sometimes you have to give before you can get. It's a competitve market, but we can't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands (Maya Angelou said that). Acclaro not allowing interested parties to attend their low-cost (to them) webinar is equivalent to an organization not sending its electronic newsletter to an interested party unless they are a member of the organization. While the newsletter should be a benefit for members, why not send it to someone who requests it who then might become a member?
  • Don't deliberately mislead people. If you twitter about a free webinar to the entire Twitter universe, which is certainly not restricted to "sales leads," then people rightfully expect the event to be free and open to everyone. If it's not, you've purposely mislead people.
At least, in a way, Acclaro is honest. We've attended many a webinar only to be innundated with sales calls afterwards, which is annoying, too. What is your take on these seemingly free webinars? And here's another thought: if Acclaro had decided to offer this at a low cost, we might have attended anyway!


Anonymous said...

Judy, I think this is a balanced look at the issue. They have the right to limit it, but it is a bit sticky and came across a bit badly on their end. And, as you say, you never know from where you next lead will come!

Kevin Lossner on February 24, 2010 at 12:36 AM said...

I was quite offended by the incident. I was interested in what the company had to say and would have blogged it if it was good. Instead I get brushed off in what I consider to be a rude manner. I recommend agencies all the time based on region, etc. and they just blew any chance that I'll have a good word to say about them!

I distribute information without charge all the time and don't worry that every minute will bring me exactly a dollar or perhaps more. The bottom line takes care of itself.

Corinne McKay on February 24, 2010 at 9:08 AM said...

Thanks for this balanced assessment Judy! Personally I think that as part of my work in the translation-related social media universe (blogging, Twitter, etc.), I accept that a lot of people who consume the information I offer are my direct competitors. In some cases I've had people read my blog posts, apply the information in a much better way than I did and then achieve results that I have not achieved. As you said, I get it ... It's not easy to have someone e-mail you and say "guess who just hired me!!" and it's a client you're interested in, and the person who landed the client used your tips to do it!

But to me that's just part of the information-sharing (instead of information-hoarding) mentality. As you said, at least Acclaro is honest about their goals and you can't fault them for that. But I do agree that you never know who is a potential customer and I think it's short-sighted to restrict your information to people who you qualify as "sales leads."

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on February 24, 2010 at 10:02 AM said...

@Eve: Thanks for the comment. We do believe that this is a short-sighted strategy.

@Kevin: We completely agree. As bloggers and contributors to magazines in our profession, we are all about giving free advice and content -- it's the way collaborative networks work. It is quite stunning that Acclaro wants to take advantage of our free work -- distribution through Web 2.0 -- but doesn't want to give away any of their content to competitors. We could all be competitors, but we prefer to think of each other as colleagues. We can all learn a lot from each other. That's one of our Entrepreneurial Linguist principles, and we're sticking to it. :)

@Corinne: You are very right -- you do share a lot of free information that can be applied by competitors/colleagues, and of course you do so completely free of charge. It's a wonderful thing that you do it. Just thought about this: if everyone adopted Acclaro's attitude about not giving away information, we wouldn't have any conferences! Can you imagine speakers saying "No, no, I don't want to present, these are my secrets!". We are all better off when we share information. Love the "information hoarding" term, BTW!

Janine Libbey on February 26, 2010 at 12:44 PM said...

Using Twitter to publicize a webinar that has restricted access shows that Acclaro doesn't understand the social part of social media.

Andres Heuberger on March 1, 2010 at 2:25 PM said...

I imagine that the conversation at Acclaro went something like this: We want to communicate our expertise far and wide but let's make sure that costs don't spiral out of control. And, oh yeah, let's not "give away" our expertise to competitors.

The easy solution is to restrict access to a webinar (or newsletter or Twitter fee), and keep out anybody who doesn't have a chance of becoming a paying customer.

It's a dilemma that I understand because we went through a similar discussion at ForeignExchange Translations - but we ended up with different conclusions.

Our audio conferences ( aren't free, mainly because we believe that valuable information shouldn't be free of charge, and, importantly, free information, is often viewed as less valuable than paid-for information. But our events are open to all comers - prospects, clients, partners, competitors, freelancers - everybody is welcome.

At the same time, we "give away" a lot of content through our blog (Medical Translation Insight) and newsletters. This helps us establish expertise and thought-leadership in our narrow sector of the translation business.

We believe that ones expertise cannot be restricted to just clients. Market leadership is a 360-degree kind of thing - employees, suppliers, consultants and clients all need to recognize and talk about that expertise.

While I can't say for sure, I guess that the webinars help Acclaro's sales effort but they do nothing for the company's market positioning.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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