Still sorting out the difference between webinar, webcast, and Web meetings? Each means of interacting with clients, customers, or staff members via the Web is used to a different end. The one you choose depends on the business situation you’re addressing.

You’d hold a Web meeting, for instance, to interact with outside clients or with team members. A webcast would be useful for managers with a message for a dispersed team of employees. And webinars can help build your client base.

Obviously, the way you choose to interact with clients and customers will likely change according to your subject. Here are some tips for choosing the best option to suit the message you’re delivering.

Decide how much interaction you’ll need between participants

Unlike Web meetings, where everyone can participate, talk, and share presentations, both webinars and webcasts have a single presenter, or at least one presenter at a time, says June Bower, vice president of the collaboration software division at WebEx of San Jose, Calif., which offers all three services.

The primary difference between a webinar and a webcast is the amount of interactivity between the presenter and the audience. A webcast is a one-way presentation that commonly uses streaming video. “The analogy is to the television experience,” Bower says.

  • Little interaction. Do you have financial numbers to present to team members? A webcast is the way to go, says Bernardo de Albergaria is vice president of global marketing at Citrix Online of Santa Barbara, Calif. His company makes GotoMeeting tools for all three methods of Web interactions.
  • Moderate interaction. Webinars are generally held to communicate about a new service or initiative. They typically feature moderated interaction, with a moderator helping the presenter by organizing questions from the audience. You can present PowerPoint slides, photographs, and software demonstrations during these meetings, Bower says. You’d hold a webinar much as you’d host a sales or marketing presentation in a hotel conference center, de Albergaria says.
  • A lot of interaction. Will you need to discuss an issue? Then a Web meeting, which allows for back-and-forth interaction, is applicable here. Think of it as a conference call with updated visual and collaborative Web functions. “We’ve found our customers use the words Web conference and meeting interchangeably,” Bower says. “They’re for when you have something specific to talk about with your customers or clients that's not a marketing message. You’re collaborating to get work done.”

The medium isn’t the message

Whichever Web-based contact method you choose, you’ll still need to follow best meeting practices. You’ll want to make sure attendees will have an agenda to follow, for example.

Keep in mind, webinars take much more planning than Web meetings, which can be set up on the fly, de Albergaria says.

These Web tools make repeated interactions pretty easy, de Albergaria says. You can archive webinars and webcasts at your website for replay, which makes them powerful marketing or refresher tools.

Consider more than one meeting method

A first contact may be more applicable to one method, a follow-up meeting another method.

“So if you want to update internal people on a new service you’re rolling out you could do it as a Web conference, then follow that up with a webcast,” Bower says. “Of you could hold a Web meeting and point attendees to a pertinent webinar you have archived.”

SIDEBAR: Questions to Ask When Choosing a Web Meeting Option

  • Who is your audience?
  • Is your message marketing or informational in nature?
  • How much interaction between participants will you need?
  • Will you need a presenter? Someone to take questions? Or will all participants speak freely back and forth?
  • Should you use a second method for a follow-up meeting?