Who knew 2020 would be the year of the virtual event? It seems strange, in a way, that it’s taken a pandemic to truly unleash the power of remote working, online classes and eerily futuristic drinking sessions. The technology’s been there since the 90s (albeit nowhere near as sophisticated), and yet it’s only today, twenty-something years later, that we’ve clocked onto the sheer brilliance of doing live yoga classes in our living rooms; raucous pub quizzes in bed.
Zoom has undoubtedly been smack-bang at the centre of all this. But with increased attention comes increased scrutiny.
While there’s no denying the platform is exceptionally good at what it does, it’s faced some recent criticism over its pricing, overly complicated plans and even privacy factors. Aka – it’s not necessarily for everyone.
Good news, then, that there are tons of alternatives to Zoom – which can come in handy if you want to pay less, need bigger, better features, or simply refuse to follow the crowd. Here are our top five:
Great for those who are serious about webinars, including small, medium and large businesses.
WebinarJam has been praised for being the most cost-effective, high-spec webinar software out there, and is an extremely slick tool for those who want to run regular, larger events. It’s incredibly easy to use and lets you invite either up to 500 ($499/year), 2000 ($699/year) or 5000 ($999/year) attendees to any one session. It has an extensive list of features, like the ability to pop up an offer mid-session with a call to action (hello increased sales!). Plus, it automatically records every webinar, and offers 24/7 online support and excellent tutorials.
Great for those who are looking for a free video chat platform for smaller events.
We think Google+ Hangouts is a great free alternative to Zoom, although it’s worth bearing in mind it’s significantly more basic than other paid-for platforms. Having said that, if you’re looking to run a small discussion, talk or meeting, it’s got plenty of useful features like group conferencing, intelligent muting, and integration with other Google applications. Plus it’s been praised for its simplicity, making a good choice for virtual meeting novices. If nothing else, it’s hard to argue with a £0 price tag.
Great for those thinking about taking virtual events seriously, but who aren’t ready to grow just yet.
It’s helpful to think of Cisco WebEx as a highly trustworthy and reliable video conferencing tool that offers webinars as one small feature of this. This has it’s pros and cons – it’s great if you plan on hosting smallish events (up to 200 people will cost you £22.50/month and there’s a basic free option too). But it’s not going to be the right tool if you’re planning on expanding to events with hundreds or thousands of attendees anytime soon. Still, it’s Cisco, so we know it’s going to offer all the webinar features you’d want, including HD video, screen-sharing, in-app voice listening, and great security.
Great for large organisations with enterprise contracts.
One of the main criticisms of GoToWebinar is the fact it looks and feels a little outdated. But that doesn't stop tons of people using it, which is probably to do with its impressive large-scale webinar abilities and thorough events-hosting features. These include the ability to share promotional videos and demos during your broadcast and personalise your sessions with your own branding, plus polling features to enhance audience engagement. It doesn’t come cheap though, starting at £69/month through to £319/month, with much higher, customised enterprise level plans too.
Great for those who run educational events.
Blackboard Collaborate is used by a range of educational organisations, from schools through to adult ed courses and even government programmes. Some of its notable features include hand-raising, interactive whiteboard abilities, custom polls, student-student collaboration, and break-out groups. We like it because it does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a virtual platform dedicated to education and education alone, which can be really appealing if you want to avoid a lot of the business-y jargon of other tools. Prices start at $300/month and go all the way up to custom prices for enterprise level organisations.
Of course, there are hundreds of other webinar and virtual events platforms out there – and the landscape changes daily (watch out for new social media developments in this space). One thing we would say, though, is that it really does pay to shop around. It may feel like everyone on the planet is using Zoom right now, but since when was a one-size-fits-all approach good for anyone?
The good news is most of these platforms have free trials, making it easy to research, test and measure. Do that, and you’ll soon see the attendees (and ROI) come rolling in.
Now you’ve chosen the perfect software, here are some useful tips for helping you to prepare for your webinar.