Top Web Conferencing Functionality
for Small-Business Users
IndustryView | 2015
Web conferencing software makes it possible to hold meetings online, ranging from spontaneous collaboration sessions between co-workers to webinars with vast audiences and extensive interactivity.
With the potential to reduce business travel expenses, Web conferencing software offers a particularly compelling value proposition for small businesses. To learn more, Software Advice surveyed small-business employees (those from companies with 50 or fewer on staff) currently using this technology to identify the top benefits of—and considerations for—implementation.
Web conferencing software gained widespread adoption in the early 2000s as a way to reduce travel expenses and comply with demand for “green” business practices. While large enterprises that need to streamline operations clearly stand to gain from deploying Web conferencing technology, it has also become entrenched at smaller companies.
In fact, as early as 2006, leading Web conferencing vendor Citrix surveyed its customer base and discovered that 76 percent worked at organizations with 500 or fewer employees.
Despite the growing importance of Web conferencing solutions for smaller businesses, however, there is little research on the subject. Thus, we targeted employees using Web conferencing software at small businesses (those with 50 or fewer employees) to identify the benefits, business value and ideal use cases for this technology.
Looking at our overall sample—including those employees working at organizations with more than 50 employees, whose answers to other questions we screened out—we can get a sense of the overall state of Web conferencing adoption:
Unsurprisingly, traditional audio conferencing still holds sway over other conferencing technologies, though the adoption rates for screen-sharing and video conferencing solutions are only 5 percentage points behind. More interestingly, Web conferencing solutions for hosting large virtual events are catching up to older forms of conferencing.
Webcasting—the broadcasting of live or pre-recorded content, such as a company meeting or marketing event, to an online audience—is nearly as popular as screen-sharing and video conferencing. Webinar hosting (the coordination of online seminars for marketing, training and collaborative decision-making) is also popular.
However, these events are generally restricted to sales, marketing and training use cases, whereas audio and video conferencing are involved in any number of business processes.
Most Web conferencing products offer the same audio conferencing, video conferencing and screen-sharing functionality as other conferencing solutions. Webinar hosting and webcasting functionality, on the other hand, is generally found exclusively in Web conferencing products.
While Web conferencing can be specifically defined as “the hosting of webinars and webcasts,” the term can also refer more generally to conferencing technologies that transmit audio and video data over the Internet. The evolution of VoIP technology has made it possible to make conference calls without using hardware desk phones or conference phones—and our sample seems to prefer it that way:
It’s important to keep in mind that we screened our sample to include only employees who have experience using Web conferencing solutions at work. Among members of this demographic, reliance on hardware phones for conference calling is quite low.
Additionally, this group eschews apps that must be directly installed on desktops and mobile devices in favor of apps that run within Web browsers. (It’s important to remember, however, that even though participants can join online meetings via their browsers, presenters still need to download software in order for the technology to work.)
The popularity of Web-based apps reflects the general shift toward the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployment model (in which software is delivered through an Internet browser) in the consumer market in general. However, there are additional reasons why small businesses are turning to Web conferencing.
In order to arrive at a detailed picture of the benefits that Web conferencing offers, we dug deeper. We asked respondents about the advantages of browser-based online meetings over traditional conference calls and online meetings that take place within dedicated applications, such as Microsoft Skype for Business (formerly Lync) or Cisco Jabber.
One of the traditional pain points with Web conferencing has been the lag it introduces in meetings, as everyone scrambles to download clients, locate PINs or join via phone if the client doesn’t work properly. The small businesses in our sample clearly appreciate the simplicity of contemporary Web conferencing solutions, which speed up the process of joining a meeting (cited by 55 percent).
One of the major technical innovations that has allowed Web conferencing solutions to simplify online meetings is the advent of WebRTC. WebRTC is a project focused on developing APIs; platforms for building and integrating software applications) that will allow for real-time communications within Web browsers—no plugins or downloads required. For example, imagine if setting up or joining a video call were as easy as accessing a video stream on YouTube.
WebRTC is still quite far from universal implementation. That said, however, some Web conferencing vendors are already leveraging it to eliminate the need for participants to download and install plug-ins to join online meetings. Instead, participants can simply click a link in an email or calendar invitation to join.
Our respondents also appreciate the interfaces of Web conferencing solutions. A majority of our sample (51 percent) think these products have a better interface for holding interactive online seminars, or webinars. An equal percentage of respondents believe Web conferencing solutions have a more straightforward interface overall than traditional conferencing technologies.
Our findings reflect that those looking for a way to make meetings more painless for employees or clients, or to better coordinate large virtual events, should consider opting for a Web conferencing solution.
In addition to progressively eliminating the need for software downloads, Web conferencing products are also eliminating the use of PINs for joining online meetings and conference calls. Older conferencing technologies commonly forced participants to memorize or store these long series of numbers and then input them correctly to join a call or an online meeting.
Of course, PINs can get buried in inboxes, misplaced or forgotten. Additionally, it’s easy to press the wrong key when entering a long series of numbers—forcing all the participants in the meeting to wait as the sequence is entered again. Thus, it’s no surprise that the employees we surveyed are sick of PINs:
Only a tiny handful of our sample doesn’t think that the elimination of PINs would make conferencing easier. Meanwhile, a majority (56 percent) believe that PIN-less conferencing will significantly ease the process of conducting online meetings.
Clearly, a PIN-less Web conferencing solution is another way to make life easier for employees, clients and business partners.
In order to get a sense of how small-business employees are using Web conferencing products, we asked them how frequently they use various functionality of these products specific to the hosting of webinars and webcasts.
A webinar differs from a normal online meeting in a number of respects. Webinar functionality enables different privileges for presenters and participants. For example, presenters can:
Functionality for participants includes the ability to virtually “raise one’s hand” to ask a question in an online meeting.
Webcasts are similar to webinars, though the extensive functionality for presenter/participant interaction that characterizes webinars is not included.
The following chart shows how often the employees in our sample use webinar hosting and webcasting functionality in the workplace:
One striking conclusion we can draw from this data is that nearly all webinar hosting and webcasting functionalities are popular among small-business employees. Even “raise hand” functionality, the least widely adopted technology in the above chart, is still utilized by 83 percent of our sample.
Most Web conferencing products integrate with email and calendar applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, to make scheduling easier. Hosts can send email and calendar invitations with links that participants can click in order to join the online meeting (calendar invitations also allow for the creation of calendar events that include links). We find that email scheduling is more frequently used than calendar scheduling, though not by a significant margin.
Screen-sharing, which is frequently used in webinars focused on demonstrating software functionality, is used on a daily basis by nearly one-third of our sample. And a majority use Q&A management, which funnels participants’ questions into a queue to help the presenter move the webinar along efficiently, at least once a week.
In other words, the functionalities that Web conferencing products offer beyond general audio conferencing, video conferencing and screen sharing aren’t mere “nice-to-haves.” Rather, they are vital elements of the work lives of many employees at small businesses.
To further understand how an organization might utilize the functionality in the above chart, we asked the employees in our sample about the contexts in which they have used online meeting solutions.
Unsurprisingly, planned business meetings are the most obvious use case for conferencing solutions, cited by 84 percent. That said, 55 percent of respondents in our sample are using Web conferencing to demo products online. Nearly as many are including webinars as assets in marketing campaigns (49 percent).
In fact, when taken together, online product demos and webinars for marketing purposes are actually more popular than ad hoc, one-on-one collaboration among the respondents in our sample. This makes sense, given that internal collaboration can be handled through modes of communication such as voice calling, instant messaging and email. The interactive functionalities included in online meeting solutions, on the other hand, are much more vital for managing the large audiences involved in marketing events.
The results of our survey show that the following questions are especially important to ask when deciding whether to deploy Web conferencing software at your business:
Do I need browser-based conferencing? Small businesses are increasingly shifting from dedicated conferencing applications to using browsers as conferencing platforms. Nearly half of our sample views the elimination of software downloads for participants as a major advantage of Web conferencing.
Do I need a simpler interface for my conferencing solution? On the whole, employees feel that Web conferencing products have a more straightforward interface and are better designed for coordinating large online events than other conferencing solutions.
Do I need better scheduling functionality for online meetings? Email and calendar scheduling are among the most frequently used functionality of Web conferencing solutions, according to our sample. These functions can help improve communication and efficiency.
Do meetings start too slowly at my organization? Employees in our sample appreciate the fact that meetings start more quickly when using Web conferencing products. Most respondents think the elimination of PINs for joining online meetings would significantly ease collaboration.
Could my business benefit from product demonstrations? Web conferencing solutions allow products to be demoed easily and cheaply online, as opposed to traditional contexts for product demos, such as trade shows. Over half of the employees in our sample use Web conferencing for this purpose.
To collect the data in this report, we conducted a one-day online survey of 10 questions, and gathered 148 responses from random employees. We screened our sample to only include respondents who use Web conferencing and who work at organizations with 50 or fewer employees. Software Advice performed and funded this research independently.
Results are representative of our survey sample, not necessarily the population as a whole. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.
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