Cisco is buying Slido to improve Q&A, polls and engagement in WebEx videoconferencing

While Zoom continues to hold a lot of mindshare (and market share) in the world of videoconferencing, Cisco’s WebEx division today announced an acquisition to underscore its own intention to keep its hat firmly in the game. It is picking up Slido, the company that lets people moderate questions and interactions from a larger group participating both in virtual conferences, as well as in live events.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we are trying to find out. Bratislava, Slovakia-based Slido, according to PitchBook, had only raised about $40,000 in outside funding since being founded in 2013.

But it had a notable profile in the business world, with customers ranging from a plethora of event customers that used it to manage Q&A sessions from the audience (TechCrunch has used it) through to government organizations and many others. In all, it had amassed 7 million users and was profitable.

The deal is expected to close by May of next year.

The key with Slido is that, while all video conference platforms have a place to run text-based chat alongside the video conversation — and correspondingly there have long been ways to simply ask for questions from a live audience, with people darting rooms with microphones and a spotlight ready to highlight whoever is talking — when you are presenting to a very large group, it can be very hard to handle the volume of engagement. And that is especially true in virtual environments where “noise” is all too easy to make.

Slido’s solution is to let people ask questions in a margin to the main event, so to speak, and then people can upvote the questions they like to give them higher priority. Moderators can also set up polls and simply read feedback in real time to get a better sense of the room. This can help cut down on chatter in the main video screen while still letting audiences speak out and respond.

Now, Cisco will be able to integrate Slido’s platform directly into WebEx, making it easier to engage for users of the video platform. But it’s not a walled garden approach. Notably, Slido it will continue to develop it to work with other tools, too:

The deal comes on the same day that Cisco has announced another in what now looks like a mini European acquisition spree for it in the field of engagement. It’s also paying some $720 million to acquire IMImobile, based in the UK, a specialist in omni-channel customer experience engagement.

(And indeed, engagement is the name of the game at the moment: Witness SoftBank’s nearly-$700 million investment into Sinch, another omnichannel engagement specialist; and of course Salesforce acquiring Slack, to help with workforce engagement by way of a chat platform where people come together to talk about what they are working on, or just to chew the fat.)

The company had more recently come into its own as a useful way of engaging and managing engagement during large videoconferences with a number of participants when the “floor” was open to questions from the audience.

Cisco said it will be integrating Slido into its WebEx platform to let people respond to polls, ask questions and provide feedback. “The richness of this audience interaction technology will empower everyone to engage in new ways,” said Abhay Kulkarni, the VP and GM of WebEx, in a blog post announcing the news. “It’s a great mechanism for providing audience engagement in real-time.”

Updated with more detail on Slido and to add in a comment about working with third-party video platforms.