Advertising equals the Art of Manipulation…but that’s no surprise to you, right? You know that the fast food companies showing you melty, cheesy burgers on TV just want your money, and same goes for the technology companies showing you sleek new phones with epic music playing in the background. A lot of the time, you KNOW you’re being played, so you don’t really take it personally, even if you buy the product you saw advertised.
But what if an advertisement successfully got you to buy something…by promising you something FREE, wasting an HOUR of your time, and NOT EVEN GIVING YOU THE FREEBIE??? You’d take it personally then, wouldn’t you?
This is how many free webinars work. A lot of companies will advertise a free webinar on social media, get you to sign up and attend, and spend the whole hour making a sales pitch instead of giving you the information you came for. What’s even worse is HOW they get you to stick around for that full hour: by sneakily accumulating engagements with you using minimal effort on their part, which gets you emotionally invested in them and makes it more likely you’ll purchase one of their products.
Here is an Engagement-Hook point system that will show you how sleazy, free webinar scams hook you and get you to engage with their content.
The word “free” in all capital letters is the most important part of the ad; people LOVE free stuff. So the ad says, “FREE(+1) Webinar on Interesting-Topic-You-Care-About(+1)”. You are intrigued.
Call to Action
Believe it or not, a button with the words, “Schedule now!” is more effective than just a picture ad. I learned about this technique called a “Call to Action” from Health Coach Institute which quite literally means to give your potential customers a command(+1). I guess people like being given direction, but whatever makes it so effective is why so many ads say things like, “Buy now!” or “Call us today!” Plus, if you put these words on a button, you can’t deny that clicking that button(+2) is more satisfying than clicking a link that doesn’t move(+1).
The call-to-action button then leads you to an input form. When input forms ask you too many questions, you’ll likely click away, so the smarter businesses only ask for two things: your name(+1) and your email address(+1). You think, “Okay, sure, I can give them my first name and email; those aren’t too personal.” You click, “Submit”. BOOM—you’re now subscribed to their email list(+1), so they can spam you! And repeated viewings of a company increases the likelihood you’ll purchase something from them.
Oh, but that’s not all; their automatic email generator now has your name, which it will include in EVERY email(+1). Well guess what? Another advertising trick I learned in school was to USE A PERSON’S FIRST NAME as often as possible, because hearing your name increases your feeling of connection.
+4 …for now…
Scheduling the Webinar
Either the input form or the first email you receive will let you choose which webinar to attend. The webinars I attended offered four different timeslots per day on at least three days of the CURRENT week.
But here’s the tea: they offer free webinars EVERY week. By only featuring the CURRENT week in their ad, people who want but cannot attend the webinar that week panic and comment on the post (+1), asking, “Are there other ones I can attend?” which offers an opportunity for the business to reply (+1).
Those previous 2 points may not be for you, so we won’t count those. But with at least 12 available timeslots in one week, you’re almost guaranteed to find one you can attend eventually. You schedule the webinar(+1), which results in the link being emailed to you(+1).
You open the email(+1). You click the webinar link(+1). You’re now logged in, and you see the video screen, a chat feed, and a textbox. Here’s where it starts to get MESSED UP.
First of all, you are NOT attending a LIVE webinar. This webinar was live once—the FIRST time—but the one you’re watching now has NO ONE on the other end. You’re watching a pre-recorded webinar—and that doesn’t stop the person in it from playing several tricks to make you feel like it’s live.
+A LOT, just wait…
Second, the active chat you see might not even be live. In fact, you might be seeing the chat from the FIRST airing of the webinar, but it has names and comments streaming right along with the video, making it feel live(+1).
If the chat is NOT live, the textbox beneath the chat feed does NOT submit your comments to chat; instead, your comments get EMAILED to the business(+1), giving them the opportunity to reply(+1). Otherwise, you DO have a live chat, in which case when you submit a comment(+1), you see it appear in the feed(+1).
+2 , per submission
Keeping You Hooked
These webinars typically last one hour, so the speaker has to put in a lot of work to keep you there the whole time. Remember, the longer they keep you there and the more engagement they get from you, the more invested you become with their company and the more likely you are to purchase from them, even if they gave you none of the useful info they promised in the webinar. They have this live-feeling setup which buys about 15 minutes before you lose patience and peace out, so they use the following tactics to appease you for the remaining 45 minutes:
To fill up an entire hour with zero information, the speaker needs to use a lot of filler talk: vague sentences that outline the subject but have no real value to you. These are the types of filler talk I can almost guarantee will appear in a free webinar:
Power Words: things that everyone desires. The speaker will say, “We know you want confidence, money, and success.” (+1 per word)
The Index: a list of subjects you want more information about that are part of the webinar’s theme. The speaker will say, “Today, we’re gonna talk about x, y, and z.” (+1 per reference to the index)
Testimonials: information about people and/or businesses their business has helped. The speaker will say, “This is Name, the Position of Business; we helped him/her boost sales by X% within Time!” (+1 per testimonial)
Inspirational Quotes: …yup. (+1 per quote)
+4 , at least
The speaker will prompt you at least twice to engage in the chat. At the beginning, they’ll ask at least one personal question such as, “Where are you from?” so they can then say, “Wow, we’ve got people from all over today! We have Name1 from Place1, Name2 from Place2, etc.” This contributes to the live webinar feel(+1), because who’s really gonna scroll back through the feed to check if those people are there? The speaker will also encourage you to submit any questions you might have(+1)…even though there’s no one there to answer them.
+2 , at least
These are the sleaziest of the engaging tactics, because these are just straight-up LIES. The speaker will make promises to you that they won’t keep. Every once in a while, after referencing The Index, they’ll throw in a, “And I promise we’re gonna get around to this, but first I wanna mention More-Filler-Talk.” This makes you feel assured that you’re not wasting time(+1), even though you are. They’ll also promise a Q&A at the very end while requesting that you submit your questions early on(+1), counting on the fact that you’ll: 1)have already made it through the presentation by then, and 2)not scroll back through the chat feed. If they do NOT offer said Q&A, they’ll usually excuse their lack of response to the chat feed by saying, “If I’m not answering any questions, it’s because we’re gonna go fast during this part,” which also contributes to the live webinar feeling(+1).
+2 , at least
At minimum, a typical free webinar will hook your attention TWENTY-FOUR times, and the count rapidly increases every time the speaker uses a tactic or you submit a comment. That is a LOT of interaction between you and the business with minimal effort on their end. Free webinars really are brilliant forms of advertisement, but when they’re conducted as mentioned above, it kinda makes you feel sick from being taken advantage of.
Are ALL Free Webinars Bad?
No; in fact, some free webinars are great! Granted, they ALL are trying to engage with you as much as possible for the benefit of their business, but that’s just advertising for ya. Businesses need to make money to survive. But as long as their freebies (webinars included) actually give you something useful, your engagement with them feels a little more mutual and a lot less parasitic.
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