What Do Cargo Cults and Webinars Have in Common?

What Do Cargo Cults and Webinars Have in Common?

 In BrightTALK Academy, Uncategorized, Webinars


Richard Feynman, in his renowned Caltech commencement address from 1974, popularized the term “cargo cult science.” He told an oft-repeated parable of the formation of these cargo cults in the South Pacific’s Melanesian Islands. During World War 2, Japanese, and later American, troops occupied the strategically important islands. In order to defend them, they built airstrips and, for the first time, imported copious supplies of technologically advanced goods such as manufactured clothing and canned food. The islanders were often given excess supplies in order to garner good will. The wartime was a time of great prosperity among these islanders. To them, the cargo dropped out of planes was a life-altering godsend.

As the war drew to a close, the troops departed the islands and the cargo supply dried up. Desperate for access to their newfound goods, the islanders began to pray to the technology gods: they carved airman’s headsets, marshaling wands, and even airplanes out of wood. They would go out to the abandoned airstrips and play act the mechanics of summoning airplanes that they had observed during the war. Lighting fires by the runway (beacons) they would sit for hours trying to summon the planes back. While they had mastered the form of aircraft landing, “they were missing something essential.” Lacking fundamental information, the cargo cults were practicing a blind faith in hopes of achieving an unreasonable result.

In this, we find the correlation to modern day webinars. To date, much of the information about webinars is thin and disconnected. Anecdotes about best practices are rampant, but supporting data is limited. Reasonable measures of success are extremely difficult to come by and, in their absence, marketers have been forced to carve virtual wooden idols out of their limited data sets. Webinar vendors (and I count BrightTALK in this crowd) have access to reams of data but often don’t share it in a meaningful way that will help you draw conclusions about best practices that work for your specific program. Pseudoscience is abundant; hard data is rare and, at times, misleading.

To address this, we have put together DataLeaks 2012: The Demise of the Webinar Cargo Cult. Building on last year’s similarly named event, I hope to provide a snapshot of webcasting today and the trends we’ve observed over the past few years.  The idea is to provide unfettered insight into webcasting data–what’s working well, and, importantly, what is less impactful. I hope this webcast will help you contextualize your webcasting activities and will dispel some of the mythos that has crept into the industry.

Among the many questions that will be answered in this webcast are:

  1. What impact does time of day/day of week have on my attendance?
  2. What is a reasonable number of attendees for my topic area?
  3. What percentage of pre-registrants should I expect to attend?
  4. Are people using social media to drive audiences?
  5. What does best of breed performance look like?
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