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Virtual events: The ultimate marketers’ guide

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Virtual events: The ultimate marketers’ guide

Virtual events weren’t born of COVID-19, but their development and evolution were dramatically accelerated by the pandemic.

It’s indisputable that virtual events are as varied in format as their physical world counterparts. In purpose, composition, duration, presentation technology, virtual events are as wide-ranging as the organizations who are pioneering this medium.

This guide is for marketers who are looking to build their sales pipelines, acquire customers and retain existing customers with virtual events. Here’s what’s inside:

Estimated reading time: 17 minutes

What is a “virtual event”?

The definition of “virtual events” is evolving rapidly. For this guide, we’ve defined them as live and/or recorded presentations, typically organized by topic or subject. This guide focuses on virtual events produced for business purposes, including building sales pipelines, acquiring customers and retaining existing customers

Content may be presented live or may be recorded. Often it is available for live on-demand after it premieres live or recorded. Virtual events typically require attendees to either pay for access or provide their personal information in lieu of payment.

Most virtual events feature more than one presentation. Webinars, which have been produced since the 1990s, are one variety of virtual event. Typically they feature one presentation.

In addition, 1-to-1 meetings arranged between vendors and participants may be offered as a component of virtual events or may be the entirety of the programming.

Virtual events also typically feature networking opportunities for attendees and participating exhibitors/sponsors. These activities include audience polling, chat, Q&A, along with elements intended to entertain the audience like group yoga, bartending, DJ/music events, and virtual swag and meals delivered to the attendee’s location. Much more on networking is here.

Virtual event history

The development of virtual events began in the mid-1990s with several software applications that enable users to share their screens.

PictureTel introduced LiveShare Plus software, an application that provided users with remote access to another computer. In 1996, Microsoft introduced NetMeeting, which enabled users to communicate and exchange data in real-time.

Xerox released the first webinar software, PlaceWare, later that year. PlaceWare allowed users to create presentations that many others could attend. PlaceWare also included several features that are staples of webinars today, including audience polling, private chat, and the ability to elevate a webinar attendee to a presenter.

Webinar platforms proliferated at the end of the 1990s. Notable platforms debuting then included Cisco’s WebEx Meeting Center, GoToMeeting and On24.

For more on the history of virtual events, visit this page.

COVID, changes in customer behavior accelerated virtual event development

COVID accelerated the pace of virtual event development as prospective attendees sought alternative professional development opportunities and ways to stay connected with their professional community. Solutions providers, precluded from participating in live events, sought alternative ways to identify prospects.

Virtual event/webinar platform provider On24, which is publicly traded, illustrates the growth COVID-19 spurred. The company added nearly 600 customers in 2020, compared to just 150 in 2019. Its revenue grew 76% in 2020, compared to just 8% in 2019.


On24 Growth, 2018 to 2020

2020 2019 2018
Customers 1994 1401 1241
Sales ($ millions) $156.90 $89.10 $67.80

Source: Martech analysis of On24 earnings reports


Changes in the sales dynamic, particularly the B2B environment, also accelerated the adoption of virtual events.

Customers are educating themselves before contacting company salespeople. That means offering access to information about products and services online is essential in this environment.

In addition, virtual event platforms and technology stacks cost-effectively facilitate customer engagement at scale, engaging large numbers of prospective customers and customers.

The cost of participating in virtual events, in addition to producing them, is typically a fraction of the cost of participating in an in-person event.

Virtual events are a viable alternative to in-person and popular with attendees

Interest in virtual events is likely to remain high, as the timeline for a return to in-person events remains uncertain. Marketers are reluctant to attend large gatherings. Nearly 50% said they won’t attend an in-person event through the first half of 2022, according to MarTech’s Event Participation Index, which measures marketers’ attitudes toward attending in-person and virtual events.

Half of Marketers Expect to Attend an In-person Event in 2021

Source: MarTech Event Participation Index

Meanwhile, virtual event participation — and satisfaction with them — is high. Eighty-one percent of marketers responding to the Event Participation Index survey said they attended a virtual event in the last three months, and three-quarters said they were satisfied with the experience. (Editor’s note: Respondents were marketers who self-selected to participate in this survey. Results for other industries and populations may be different.)

Marketers attend/are satisfied with virtual events

Source: MarTech’s Event Participation Index

Three in four marketers said they were satisfied with the virtual event experience. Factors contributing to the high degree of satisfaction included:

  • Risk of infection is not a concern
  • Most virtual events are free or relatively inexpensive, compared to in-person events, to attend
  • Travel — and the associated expense and investment in time — is not required
  • Participants can engage with virtual event content at their own pace, provided live sessions are available on-demand

While 100% satisfaction will remain an aspiration, there’s room for improvement rooted in the disconnect between what the medium is able to deliver and what attendees expect.

Virtual events are NOT physical events

Virtual events provide an experience that’s different from physical events — for attendees and exhibitors/sponsors alike. The experience is so different, it’s unfortunate the “event” analogy and terminology was adopted to describe virtual events at all.

For attendees, perhaps no online experience can replicate the energy of a packed ballroom of people anticipating an inspirational keynote, the electricity of an expo hall humming with engagement, a chance meeting with a like-minded peer, or reconnecting with colleagues or friends.

For exhibitors/sponsors and speakers, the tactile satisfaction of being face-to-face with customers has not translated well.

Attempts to replicate the expo hall experience for exhibitors have fallen particularly flat. The Second Life-like representations of virtual booths don’t effectively connect buyers and sellers. Meaningful engagements haven’t occurred in volume adequate to justify creating and staffing a virtual booth.

Virtual events excel at identifying prospects and their intent to purchase, and bestowing thought leadership

Disciples of the marketing funnel analogy are likely to categorize virtual events as top-to-mid funnel opportunities. They are highly effective in attracting attendees, gathering intent data from those who register, and enabling exhibitors/sponsors to demonstrate authority and thought leadership.

Virtual events are capable of attracting more registrants and participants than their physical counterparts. They eliminate barriers that limit in-person event attendance including travel/entertainment costs and scheduling conflicts.

Data gathered from virtual events can also signal that certain individuals are likely to be interested in hearing from exhibitors and sponsors. Intent data can be a byproduct of participating in the event. (Did a given individual register, attend or participate?) Or it can be solicited and provided by participants in questions asked during registration or via applications like polling that solicit responses to questions.

Thought leadership opportunities are unlimited since the time and space limitations of physical events don’t apply; the amount of inventory and the time available to present depend on the amount of content there is to present. The attention of the audience is the only aspect of a virtual event that is finite.

Virtual event “networking”

Creating rewarding and scalable networking opportunities that serve all constituencies is the trickiest aspect of executing virtual events. It’s also been the least satisfying aspect for attendees, exhibitors and other event participants.

“Networking” is an ill-defined activity. Even at in-person events, it means different things to different participants, depending upon if networking is attendee-to-attendee, exhibitor-to-attendee, speaker-to-attendee, exhibitor-to-exhibitor, press-to-exhibitor, etc.

For exhibitors, networking typically means meeting potential prospects, business partners, press/analysts and investors. Exhibitors often use “engagement”, “interaction” and “networking” interchangeably to describe these activities.

Meanwhile, attendee expectations of “networking” may be vastly different, depending on the type of event they are attending. The motivation for attending trade shows may be principally commercial, e.g. attendees go to buy things for their stores and businesses. The commercial opportunities are front and center, while training and networking play supporting roles.

“Conferences,” on the other hand, are predominantly educational sessions and keynotes. Commercial activities are often limited to cocktail hours, coffee breaks, and meals. Conference attendees may define networking as meeting like-minded professionals during meals or after-hours activities, being able to ask questions of presenters during/after sessions or arranged meetings via “birds of a feather” tables, speed networking or meeting apps like Braindate or Brella.

With the diversity and potential mismatch of exhibitor/attendee expectations, it is not surprising that producers of online events have struggled to fulfill the expectations of networking. Fifty percent of producers surveyed in the Virtual Event Tech Guide said their top frustration with virtual events was matching the level of engagement provided by in-person events.

Source: The Virtual Event Tech Guide 2021 from EventMB

It’s just not like being there

The rewards of attending an in-person event have kept participation high because physically being with others in-person with similar interests and sharing a common experience, when properly orchestrated by the event producer, is satisfying. (Interested in learning more about the psychology of events? Check out The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath.)

Unfortunately, the tactile pleasures of in-person gatherings are absent in virtual environments. For each person, the experience is mediated by the device they’re accessing the event on, the software they’re using and the bandwidth they have.

In addition, the environments they chose for viewing — coffee shops, living rooms, offices or conference rooms — influence the experience greatly and are beyond the control of the organizer.

Overcoming the mediated nature of virtual events is not possible, at least today. Organizers have no choice but to work within the capabilities of the medium and do their best to overcome the limitations.

Making the exhibitor-attendee connection with virtual events

Like other lead generation tactics, connecting with virtual event attendees is often based on an exchange of value. Exhibitors offer something of value to attendees in exchange for their attention and agreement to share their personal information.

Valuable content is the most commonly used tactic to get attention. Compelling and successfully promoted sessions are the typical drivers of attendance.

Once an attendee accesses a presentation, the opportunities to engage begin to unfold: real-time chat and Q&A, book a demo, ask a question and polling are just a few of the on-screen presentation connections that can be accomplished.

Supplemental experiences can be promoted while you have the attendee’s attention, such as small-group video chats, one-on-one meetings with speakers and invitations to visit a virtual booth.

Offering incentives (a version of gamification) is another way to encourage attendee engagement and maintain attention. Gift cards, goodie packages and food/drink/swag giveaways are all tactics exhibitors are using to achieve these goals. Registration data, whether provided pre-event or used post-event to invite attendees to a supplemental activity, is key to ensuring the success of these incentives.

Allocating resources to making connections

Exhibitors need to be mindful of whether these opportunities to network are “live” or asynchronous and plan resources accordingly.

If the activity is truly live, as is the case with Q&A, group chat and virtual booths, those apps can’t be left unattended during “show hours”; staff must be present and able to respond to requests from all attendees who might want to engage. Asynchronous alternatives must be available when staff isn’t available to respond.

Asynchronous engagement applications don’t require 24/7 staffing but are integral to the virtual event experience. Since space and time don’t apply to virtual events (at least not to on-demand presentations), exhibitors need to be able to communicate with prospects whenever they choose to engage.

Enabling access to applications typically available on the exhibitor’s website — “request a demo,” contact us or even chatbots — are effective ways to be responsive in an on-demand environment.

Regardless of how you connect, be mindful of attendees’ willingness to engage: Just because someone has given permission to be contacted, participated in a virtual session, attended a networking event or visited a virtual booth does not mean that they are a buyer. As in the physical world, they should be qualified before they are sold.

Making connections in the virtual world is going to be an issue that producers and exhibitors struggle to overcome in the coming months and years.

Choosing the right virtual event marketing technology: platform or stack?

The debate continues to rage in marketing technology circles whether deploying an all-in-one platform or assembling a “stack” of best-of-breed applications yields the best results.

See examples of martech stacks here.

That’s the choice facing virtual event producers now, and the benefits and pitfalls of each approach apply to virtual event production as well.

Define the objectives and requirements upfront

As with any marketing tech choice, the answer to the question, “To platform or stack?” depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Start by defining your objectives. Are you producing a tradeshow with lots of sponsors, and therefore attendee/sponsor interaction is the goal? Is it a training course, where learning is the key benefit? Or is attendee-to-attendee networking the root of the value that will provide? Answering these questions (and many others) will guide the decisions you make.

If, for example, you are planning for a large event, with thousands of attendees and presentations, being mindful of scale is important because you’ll need a high-performance platform that can handle a large number of participants simultaneously. If, on the other hand, your event will have limited attendance and features pre-recorded content, or it’s a mixed scenario with live and on-demand content, you face a completely different set of challenges.

The implications of your business model or desired event experience can’t be overstated. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll have to dig in to find the right solution. Start with the three “Ds”:

  • Document the required features;
  • Define use cases for key stakeholders;
  • Determine the budget.

In addition to the objectives, you need to define requirements, a list of features you expect to have for attendees, sponsors and your team. Making a detailed list will get you started on the right path and save you a ton of time in the long run. You’ll avoid pointless conversations with the hundreds of vendors now vying for your virtual event business.

Your requirements should start with ideas about what kind of experience your attendees expect, including an easy registration form that is mobile-friendly. Will you be charging for registration? If so, how does the registration system handle payments (and refunds)? Are there multiple ticket types? Will the event be live, pre-recorded, or a mix of both? How will attendees connect? What benefits do sponsors get? How will you measure activity, engagement, and ultimately the success of the event?

Make certain your requirements take into account the business model of your event. For example, if your event is free for attendees, and sponsors will pay the freight, you’ll skew your requirements to sponsor needs such as branding, reporting, and support. Likewise, if your event model relies on matchmaking or 1:1 meetings, you’ll need to flesh out your meeting requirements. Whenever possible, involve key constituents — attendees, sponsors and your team — in decisions. You’ll earn much-needed buy-in during the process, which is vital for the success of any martech project.

All-in-one virtual event platforms provide a standard set of features. You’ll love some of them, loathe some of them, and ignore others.

Depending upon the capabilities of your team, choosing an all-in-one platform may be wise to impose structure, particularly in workflow. You’ll inherit a defined way of doing things and the support of the vendor’s client services team including onboarding and training.

The alternative to an all-in-one platform is an event “stack.” A stack will consist of tools that deliver the same or more functionality as a platform, but with the benefit of allowing you to swap out or add in elements as needed.

An event stack approach gives you the flexibility to integrate cutting-edge technologies and features and is generally less expensive than using an all-in-one platform.

So, what are the drawbacks of a stack? You’ll be sourcing elements from different vendors and will need to connect them all to provide a seamless experience for users and aggregate data for sponsors and your use. You’ll also be on your own; stacks don’t come with client success organizations to support your efforts.

Avengers (er, stack), assemble!

Assembling your own event stack means taking ownership over things such as managing disparate registration and content management systems and landing pages, video hosting, and other widgets and tools. You’ll want to lean heavily on your requirements document and stick to what matters. Do you need surveys and polls, or are those just things that feel good to have but that you don’t use in your event? Do you have a lot of sponsors or no sponsors? That will impact your reporting needs. Is there live Q&A during sessions, or will that happen in a Slack channel, or in a private Facebook group?

Assembling a virtual event stack offers flexibility and is potentially less expensive. But assembly comes with its own set of drawbacks and caveats. For example, if you don’t have a technically capable or curious team, it can be overwhelming to try to connect all the dots between different solutions. A well-designed event stack will have more moving pieces than an all-in-one event platform. You’ll have to manage multiple vendors and won’t have a single source of support.

While the idea of having everything in an all-in-one solution sounds comforting, it can also be extremely limiting. In this virtual, digital environment, where innovation is happening as quickly as customer expectations, locking yourself into a single platform contract could have some significant drawbacks in terms of your ability to be agile and flexible and to create the ideal experience for your customers.

If you intend to explore the event stack route, we recommend you get clear on your core requirements and match them directly to your business model. Identify who on your team can handle integrations and prepare everyone so they understand the benefits of building a stack, and how it changes everything from the front-end user experience to the way they manage events.

So, what’s the better approach: all-in-one or stack? It depends. You can only answer the question by taking the time to understand your requirements, budget, and the experience you want to deliver.

The future of events: “Always on,” physical and virtual

Looking to the future, many analysts and industry participants expect a hybrid future where events include both physical and virtual components, which may include online marketplaces. The trade show industry has long paid lip service to this concept, but few of its leading players have fully embraced the idea.

In their book “Reinventing Live,” Denzil Rankine and Marco Giberti predict marketers expect live events to return, but won’t abandon virtual events. “We’re going to have a mix,” Rankine said. “We’re going to find that some versions of events are working very well online; businesses are having an impact, making money, and so on. And certain models — for example, one-to-one meetings work that way.”

Other predictions and observations Rankine made in Reinventing Live and an interview MarTech conducted with him:

  • In-person events will return, but there will be fewer of them, and attendance is likely to be reduced. Some of the digital-only events are going to continue. All face-to-face events will be supported by digital tools.
  • Some event organizers will only produce in-person events. “Some people only like to read newspapers on paper; they’ve got ink in their blood. And you’ve got that in the events industry too,” he said
  • “In a few years’ time, we won’t even be talking about virtual or hybrid. We’ll just be talking about events; it’s a given that you’ve got all these digital extensions.”
  • In addition to the negative environmental impact associated with unnecessary air travel, the people at brands who hold the purse-strings — and perhaps don’t attend events themselves — will be highly conscious that businesses continued to function last year without the need to expense flights and hotel stays.

Virtual events: a catalyst for always-on events?

Innovative event producers and their customers have long dreamed of creating an “always on” event. Such an “event” would connect buyers and sellers 24-7-365, the way that Amazon and Walmart serve consumers.

“365 is ambitious and tricky,” Rankine conceded. Where there’s a 365-day workflow, however, it may become a realistic goal. B2B customers routinely use ten or more channels to interact with suppliers, according to a recent McKinsey & Company study. The potential for virtual events to participate in that ecosystem is high.

Marketing work management: A snapshot

What it is: Marketing work management platforms help marketing leaders and their teams structure their day-to-day work to meet their goals on deadline and within budget constraints, all while managing resources and facilitating communication and collaboration. Functions may include task assignments, time tracking, budgeting, team communication and file sharing, among others.

Why it’s important today. Work environments have changed drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has heightened the need for work management tools that help marketers navigate these new workflows.

Marketers have been at work developing processes that allow them to work with those outside their own offices since marketing projects—campaigns, websites, white papers, or webinars—frequently involve working with outside sources.

Also, with marketers required to design interfaces, write content, and create engaging visual assets today, more marketers are adopting agile workflow practices, which often have features to support agile practices.

What the tools do. All of these changes have heightened the need for marketing work management software, which optimizes and documents the projects undertaken by digital marketers. They often integrate with other systems like digital asset management platforms and creative suites. But most importantly, these systems improve process clarity, transparency, and accountability, helping marketers keep work on track.

Read next: What is marketing work management and how do these platforms support agile marketing


About The Author

Chris is a founding partner and CEO of Third Door Media, the publisher of MarTech and Search Engine Land, and producer of the MarTech Conference and Search Marketing Expo – SMX. TDM accelerates customer acquisition for its clients by providing trusted content and targeted marketing programs that deliver qualified prospects. You can reach Chris at chris[at]thirddoormedia.com.


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How To Build a Communication and Implementation Plan

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How To Build a Communication and Implementation Plan

You learn about a C-suite decision that will have a transformative impact on your content marketing team. Perhaps, the announcement included one or more of these directives:

  • “We must produce more content and manage multi-platform distribution with greater agility. We plan to add ChatGPT to our editorial capabilities and implement a headless CMS.”
  • “We’re updating our three-year business strategy and need all teams to align their operations around achieving a new set of goals.”
  • “We’ve been acquired. We will be merging many of our business units and will need to relaunch our website so we can tell a more unified story.”

Or maybe it’s another substantive shift in strategy or operations. As a content team leader, whether excited or terrified, you must get your team on board and ensure the initiative succeeds.

Transformational changes are nearly impossible to implement without a clear plan that communicates the desired destination, the motivation to pursue it, and the path to reach it.

Jenny Magic, marketing strategist and professional coach, shares how to do that in a Content Marketing World presentation she co-developed with Melissa Breker.

You can watch the conversation (beginning at 2:30-minute mark) or scroll down to read her recommendations to gather support, clear obstacles, and keep efforts moving in the right direction.

5 sabotages that disrupt transformational changes

Every organization has unique conditions and challenges, but Jenny points out five common barriers that prevent the successful adoption of new priorities and practices:

  • Forced change. When workers don’t understand or agree with the change, they won’t invest in the process, especially if it requires a lot of effort or a long-term investment.
  • Misaligned goals. You can’t sell a change that benefits the company if employees don’t see how it helps them reach their personal or professional goals.
  • Group-speak. Your team may nod in agreement when the CEO says, “We’re all going to do this together, right?” But that enthusiasm might not hold when the boss’ eyes are no longer on them.
  • Rushed process. Team members already overwhelmed with responsibilities don’t give new tasks top priority. Jenny says if you can’t take something off their plate, communicate they won’t be pressured to rush it through.
  • Lack of team alignment. Everyone must be on the same page regarding the direction, intention, and actions required. Without this alignment, tasks fall through the cracks, and all the hard work may not lead to achieving the goal.

Forced change, group-speak, rushed processes can all disrupt transformational changes, says @JennyLMagic via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For your change mission to succeed, your communications plan should account for how you’ll address (or avoid) these obstacles. These details will minimize the friction, lack of participation, and flagging enthusiasm you could have experienced during implementation.


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Plan for the transformation journey

Jenny shares a three-part approach she uses to help her consultancy clients get big ideas off the drawing board, onto team members’ priority lists, and into the marketplace.

1. Establish the destination: What’s changing, why, and what’s involved

To get your team to join the journey of change, they need to know where they’re going. Create a change summary to help with that. The simple map summarizes the relevant details about the change, the phases of implementation, and the benefits gained when the goal is reached.

First, identify the most critical details to communicate. Answer these questions:

  • What’s the nature of the change? What is being done differently, and what does that mean for the business and team? What isn’t changing that might be the stability anchor?
  • Why is it happening? Why does the organization think this change is critical? Why is now the right time to do this?
  • Who’s involved? Who will the change affect? What will they be expected to do? What about their roles, processes, and priorities? Why would they want to participate, and why might they be reluctant?
  • When will it happen? Will the change occur all at once or gradually? What happens at each stage, and which ones will require the content marketing team’s involvement?
  • What are the expected results? What is the organization looking to achieve? What benefits or advantages will it bring? What will the company and team see when the goal is reached?

With these answers, you can build a change summary to share in stakeholder and team member conversations. Any spreadsheet or presentation tool will do, though you can create a template based on the document Jenny uses for her client engagements (below).

The summary of what’s changing appears at the top of the page and details of the most critical elements appear below it. Bulleted notes detail what to expect with each element and the benefits for the business and your team. Lastly, a general timeline outlines each project phase.

2. Load up the crew: Gather support and communicate benefits

To achieve the change goal, all players must agree to travel together and move in the same direction. “If our team is not aligned on where the heck we’re going, there’s literally no chance we’re going to get there,” Jenny says.

Team members who immediately see the value in the initiative might follow your lead without question. But some key players may need a little more convincing. Jenny offers a few ideas to get them on board.

Enlist the support of an active, visible sponsor: Social media shows putting the right influencer behind your pitch can move minds. The same goes for pushing through a big change within an organization. Research from Prosci finds projects with an extremely effective sponsor met or exceeded objectives more than twice as often as those with a very ineffective sponsor.

If you have the support of senior team leaders and high-profile company personnel, ask for their help socializing the change to others. They might seed relevant information in their newsletters and other content they share internally or help shape your change activities and messaging to improve their appeal.

Translate organizational goals into personal motivations: Some team members may reluctantly participate because they perceive an impact on their role. For example, workers may think the added work will strain their already demanding schedules. Others may be skeptical because of negative experiences with similar changes in the past or disbelief that the change might benefit them.

A series of stakeholder conversations can help identify the significant concerns and disconnects that might prevent them from engaging. They also can reveal specific challenges and motivations that you can address with more resonant and appealing messaging.

Translate organizational goals into personal motivations so team members can see how they’ll benefit, says @JennyLMagic via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Some marketing tools you use to influence an audience can help you facilitate those conversations. For example, Jenny says, personas can surface critical insights about who may be impacted by the change and what it might take to nurture them onto the path.

Her personas checklist includes these questions:

  • Who’s leading the change? Do any key sponsors directly relate to the persona’s role?
  • Will this persona be impacted more or less than others?
  • Will they need information more frequently or in greater detail?
  • What reactions will they have?
  • How will you approach training for this persona? What support will be provided?
  • At what phase of the change will they be most affected?

Jenny also recommends using your marketing communication and engagement tools. For example, the simple tracking sheet she developed (below) can help visualize the audience, delivery formats and channels, optimal messages, and approval and final sign-off requirements to mention in your stakeholder discussions.

Choose the right messenger – and a customized message: Sometimes, a disconnect occurs not because of the message but because of the message’s deliverer. For example, employees expect to hear about significant corporate initiatives from executives and senior leaders. But for changes impacting their day-to-day responsibilities, they may prefer to hear from a manager or supervisor who understands their role.

Other times, preventing a disconnect could require tailoring the message to the team’s needs. Jenny suggests focusing on the direct benefits once the initiative is activated. “Consider how it might help them further their career, address something they’re struggling with, or offer an opportunity to explore an area they’re passionate about,” Jenny says.  

Surface hidden issues with confidential interviews: Valid concerns can remain hidden, especially for team members who are reluctant to voice their objections in team meetings. Working one-on-one with a neutral or external moderator – someone with no stake in the decision for change – might help them open up.

Ensure they know the confidential interview results will be aggregated so no individual responses will be identified. “It’s really helpful to get that confessional energy,” Jenny says. “It can help you surface individual reservations, causes of their reluctance, and personal motivations. “

A confidential one-on-one interview with an external moderator can help surface concerns from reluctant team members, says @JennyLMagic via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Jenny shares in her checklist (below) some preliminary questions for a moderator to assess during a confidential interview:

  • How does the individual feel about the change?
  • Is it the right change?
  • Is it the right time?
  • Is it supported enough to succeed?
  • What risks do they predict?
  • Do they have ideas about how we could reduce obstacles and challenges?
  • What lessons from past change efforts can they share with us?
  • Could they become a change champion?

The process can fuel opportunities to shift messaging, positioning, or delivery approach to help the outliers see how the change can benefit them and get them more excited about participating. Jenny says it can also reveal valid concerns that need to be solved so they don’t hinder progress.

3. Hit the road: Position and prepare your team for success

Big changes are always risky. They disrupt the status quo, and if they involve multiple teams and business functions, some changes may feel like a win for some at the expense of others.

Taking a few extra steps before executing your plans can keep those issues from diverting the goal or leaving any team members stranded along the way. “This is where we establish commitment and accountability and think about what could go wrong and how we’re going to deal with it,” Jenny says.

Own up to what you do and don’t know: Ultimately, you can’t plan for every contingency. “You’ll lose trust rapidly if you pretend you do,” Jenny says. She offers a few communication tips to set the right expectations from the start:

  • Be clear and candid: Directly address what you do know, don’t know, and what is and isn’t possible with this change. Outline how you will communicate status updates and new information as they arise.
  • Be receptive: Don’t take resistance personally. Listen to your team’s questions and respond to their feedback with an open mind.
  • Be visible: Socialize progress across your team’s preferred communication channels, and make sure everyone knows how to reach you if they encounter a problem. You can regularly host town hall meetings, road-show presentations, or open forums to ensure everyone stays informed and has a chance to share their thoughts.

Position project requirements as opportunities and advantages: Jenny suggests exercising creative thinking to help concerned team members see the new responsibilities as a chance to benefit personally.

For example, if they need to learn additional skills to accomplish their tasks, provide in-house training or access to third-party educational tools. Position the opportunity as a chance to expand their capabilities to help them be more prepared for this change and to advance their careers in the long run.

You can also use the big change to rethink your org chart and rebalance team member responsibilities. “Every single person has work that they hate on their to-do list. I’ve found folks become more open if they’re offered an opportunity to do a task trade-off,” Jenny says.

Incentivize the journey – not just the destination: A lengthy and gradual implementation process should include incentives at regular intervals to motivate team members to stay the course.

Rewards can be specific and tangible, such as bonuses or loyalty program points. Or they can be intangible, such as shoutouts during monthly meetings or in internal newsletters. Arrange team happy hours or give comp time for extra hours worked. These appreciation efforts can make the added burden feel worthwhile.

Overcome obstacles in predictive planning: An element of science exists in the journey of change. You can’t reach your destination if the forces of resistance are stronger than the forces propelling you forward.

Jenny shares an innovation tool from a company called Gamestorming that can help quantify the balance of those forces at each phase. By working through this force-field analysis, you can take steps to ensure the winds of change will be in your favor.

An example of how it works is shown below. In the center, an illustration represents the change you want to implement – transitioning from hierarchical to more transparent hubs.

On one side, the forces of change – all the elements of the vision that characterize the importance of the change and how it works in your favor – are listed. In this example, those forces are:

  • Improve long-term revenue
  • Help meet market demand
  • Satisfies customer expectations
  • Addresses current unsustainable costs
  • Give a competitive advantage in the marketplace

On the other side, the forces of resistance – conditions and constraints that may prevent realizing the vision – are listed. In the example, these forces include:

  • Company culture
  • Time constraints
  • Viability of new tech
  • Client adoption
  • Current costs

Rank each element’s impact on the project’s success on a scale of one to five.  Then add the rankings on each side and compare the scores to see whether you have a stronger chance of success than failure and identify where efforts should be made to overcome obstacles.

Plan the journey for a smoother arrival

Convincing your team to jump aboard the organizational-change train is rarely easy. But with a clear operational plan, aligned support, and open communication, you’ll help them see the benefits of participating and get them excited to reach their destination.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Alternative Search Engines: Why They Matter and How to Rank on Them

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Alternative Search Engines: Why They Matter and How to Rank on Them

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

12 billion, 3 billion, 1 billion. That’s the number of searches made in some of the top alternative search engines monthly.

While Google still holds more than 80% of the market share, ignoring search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo can make you lose out on relevant traffic. So don’t limit yourself to Google’s algorithm as you plan the next year’s SEO strategy.

In order to grow in the digital economy, we have to diversify our efforts. What better way to do that than by making sure that you rank on all the top search engines relevant for your audience?

Generally, there’s two reasons why your audience would choose an alternative search engine over Google: geopolitical reasons and/or privacy concerns.

As such, I’ve categorized the search engines below by global market share and by data privacy.

Top alternative search engines by global market share

When analyzing the global desktop market share of search engines throughout the last decade, there are a few small but mighty search engines that stand out. These are:

1) Bing

2) Yahoo

3) Yandex

4) DuckDuckGo

5) Baidu

These are the engines you want to give extra consideration if you intend to expand internationally. They all have their own unique search algorithms that are in many ways as complex and developed as Google’s.

Why they matter and how to rank on them

If you’re like me a few years ago, a die-hard Apple fan remarkably repulsed by Microsoft’s products (I’ve now converted to the seamless team of PC), you might think prioritizing resources to optimize content for Bing or other engines is a waste of time. What I failed to consider then, and what you might be overlooking, is geographic segmentation.

Do you want to reach the American audience using voice search? Consider Bing.

Are you expanding into China? Check out Baidu.

Each search engine matters because of its unique user types. Regardless of how small that market share might look on a global scale, if there’s regional search volume from your target audience, it’s worth the optimization.

Let’s go through them one by one.

Bing and Yahoo

Screenshot of bing.com, November 2022

Since 2018, Yahoo is exclusively powered by Bing Search. So as long as you rank in Bing, you’ll rank in Yahoo.

Bing Search, in combination with Yahoo, is without a doubt the strongest player after Google. Together, they have more than 10% of the global market share for desktop.

Now, some say that Bing’s market share will increase due to mergers and acquisitions, while others argue for its decline due to the death of Internet Explorer.

Still, all Microsoft browsers, such as Microsoft Edge Legacy and Chromium-based Microsoft Edge, have Bing as the default search engine, making Bing Search the natural choice for Microsoft product users. Yahoo, which is powered by Bing Search, is the default search engine for Mozilla’s browser Firefox, adding billions of impressions to Bing’s search results each year.

If we look at the United States alone, Microsoft sites own over 18% of the market share.

This is much due to their partnership with Amazon, where all voice-activated searches on Amazon Echo and Alexa are made with Bing Search.

Microsoft also pushes Bing further by offering easy rewards for searches and more advanced image search capabilities than Google.

Although the algorithms differ, optimizing for Bing search results is not much different than optimizing for Google. With a bit of fine tuning, it’s more than possible to come up with a strategy that allows for high rankings on both.

To rank on Bing, and thus Yahoo, make sure to do the following:

Infographic by AS Marketing, December 2022


1. List your business on Bing Places

Bing Places is the equivalent of Google My Business and is the fastest way to get your business ranking for local seo. Many even consider Bing Places to favor small business owners as Bing puts their information more prominently on display.

2. Upload an XML Sitemap using Bing’s Webmaster Tools

While the debate on how much sitemaps really do matter for Google SEO continues, uploading one with Bing’s Webmaster Tool for XML Sitemaps allows the algorithm to better categorize and manage your content, making it more visible and relevant to the search audience.

3. Match keywords in your content

Check that the exact keyword match can be found in your page titles, meta descriptions and overall content. It’s known that the impact of on-page tactics as a ranking factor is much greater in Bing than Google.

4. Keep your social media profiles up to date

Go social! Bing considers your social media presence more than any other search engine. The Webmaster Guidelines specifically states that Bing considers social signals from third-party platforms to rank your content. Bing might even extract certain information directly from your Facebook company page to your Bing Places display.

5. Use high-quality images to enhance your content

Bing’s image search is much more advanced than Google’s. If you want your landing page to rank, add high-quality design assets to showcase your offerings. If you want your blog to rank, attach too-long-to-read infographics to highlight your points. Like the one above.

Yandex

Screenshot of yandex.com, November 2022

Second to Bing is Yandex, having a total of 1.5% of the market share in global desktop search.

While it looks a lot like Google, its algorithm is different in many ways. Most prominent is the way Yandex indexes pages. Unlike Google’s almost continuous indexation, Yandex indexes pages sporadically. That means that you might have to wait around for a while before your site shows up on Yandex.

Despite this, it is still possible to rank on Yandex. You just need to have a bit more patience.

While waiting for your site to be indexed, take a look at the following:

1. Focus on tags over internal site structure

According to The Ultimate Guide to Yandex SEO, your header tag, title tag and slug are way more important than your internal site structure. In fact, it was only recently that Yandex started to support hreflang tags. Before that, Yandex only allowed the <head> hreflang implementation.

2. Consider search intent to rank

Some argue that Yandex meets search intent better than Google. The modern ICS score, which replaced the Thematic Index Citation, is determined by how relevant a site is to the query. Yandex uses its own version of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) test to determine relevance.

3. Eliminate toxic links

Many do not know this, but Yandex was actually the first search engine to roll out a link-based algorithm. Already in 2005, 7 years before Google’s Penguin algorithm, Yandex introduced the Nepot filter, which specifically looked at the impact of toxic link exchanges and spam links.

Baidu

Screenshot of baidu.com, November 2022

With over 3 billion searches daily, Baidu is the Google of China. If you want to do business in China, it’s the place to be.

While the site is available worldwide, the site predominantly favors simplified Chinese. So before taking any other steps, hire a native speaker to help you along the way. To win at global, you have to ditch translations.

Here’s a few steps to get your content ranking.

1. Localize your keywords and content appropriately

As with all multilingual SEO, you need to work with a native language expert to ensure proper keyword localization and content optimization. If your site experiences high bounce rates, Baidu will tank your rankings immediately. As with any search experience, localization matters.

2. Position relevant content and keywords to the top of the page

Baidu favors a completely opposite layout than the Westernized one. The sooner you get to the point the better. Therefore, it is important to position your keywords as early as possible in the text and introduce all relevant content already in the top of the page to rank.

3. Obtain a verification level and get certified

By registering and paying a small fee you can obtain a verification level to improve your domain authority and rankings on Baidu. If you want to secure top ratings, you can get certified and obtain an ICP license, which is much more difficult than getting verified.

Top alternative search engines by data privacy

While most of the search engines mentioned above are tied to big corporations or political forces, global initiatives are setting the stage for more privacy-focused search engines. Among these is DuckDuckGo, the forefront runner with over 130 billion searches processed since launch.

Why they matter and how to rank on them

In many ways, the movement is a response to Google’s invasiveness on privacy. Many are fed up with how they are capitalizing on personal data and controlling the narrative with targeted search.

On a macro scale, the European Union continues to protect data privacy with strict GDPR regulations and the California Consumer Privacy Act indicates similar trends for Americans.

From a micro perspective, documentaries such as The Great Hack shine a light on how global companies monetize on personal data. As a result, privacy-safe search engines continue to rise.

If you’re working for an innovative SaaS startup, there’s a high chance your ideal customer persona is using one of these search engines.

Let’s go through how you rank on DuckDuckGo and two alternative equivalents.

DuckDuckGo

Screenshot of duckduckgo.com, November 2022

Screenshot of duckduckgo.com, November 2022

DuckDuckGo aims to make your search experience as simple and true to its cause as possible, i.e. no tracking for personalized search results and filter bubbles. Instead it uses semantic search to determine search intent for your queries from over 400 sources.

Consequently, this attracts tech-savvy experts with a lower bounce rate. Once they commit to a search, they stay.

Here’s how to optimize for it:

1. Sharpen Your User Experience

UX continues to make an impact on SEO, not to mention for DuckDuckGo. Make your content easily scannable and stay away from intrusive pop ups that harm your users’ experience and ease of navigation.

2. Focus on High-Quality Backlinks

As with any SEO, high-quality backlinks play a huge role for ranking. If you already have a solid backlink profile from your Google strategy, you should be good to go. If your backlink profile has a high level of toxicity, do some cleansing.

3. Rethink Local SEO

Since there’s no location tracking available for searches, location-specific searches such as “services near me” don’t work. If you like to rank for these types of searches, include a specific location in your keyword strategy. Otherwise, you won’t be able to optimize for local seo.

Startpage

Screenshot of startpage.com, November 2022

Startpage could be my personal favorite among the alternative search engines. It basically is Google without the tracking.

And while many consider DuckDuckGo to be the forefront runner of the privacy-focused search movement, many forget how Startpage ‘blazed the trail in 2006’. Offering a search experience without IP recording or tracking back when it was more or less unheard of. Now, it is the common denominator among all privacy-safe search engines.

So, how do you rank in Startpage? Simple. You rank in Google.

SwissCows

Screenshot of swisscows.com, November 2022

There are many more privacy-safe alternatives to search engines than the two mentioned above. Perhaps one without equal is SwissCows – a search engine that prides itself on being the only family-friendly, privacy-safe semantic search engine available on the web.

This means that any intrusive search results, like adult entertainment or offensive content, is naturally censored from the search results. At the same time, they never store any data nor track user specific information.

SwissCows SERPs bring up organic results and paid ads directly from Bing so in order to rank in SwissCows, you need to rank in Bing. Just make sure to omit any content that’s not PG-13.

What do they all have in common?

In the end, none of these alternative search engines can replace Google. As an SEO, I’ll never advise starting out with anything other than a Google strategy.

But when you are ready to branch out and extend your reach, give these alternatives a try. Analyze where your target audience hangs out and optimize thereafter.

Many of the privacy-focused search engines require little optimization as they pull their search results directly from other sources anyways. Simply do a quick check to see how you rank on each one.

And who knows, perhaps Microsoft will continue to steal more of the global search landscape. If that happens, you’ll be there — ranking in first position, ready to reap the rewards of your diversified efforts in an ever-changing search landscape.

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14 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

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14 Best Screen Recorders to Use for Collaboration

For your team, screen recorders can be used for several reasons — from creating tutorials for your website to recording a recurring tech issue to sending your marketing team a quick note instead of an email.

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