A zillion years ago, when cartoons were only in movie theaters, the phone started to become a link between consumers and businesses. Despite great resistance, often by companies no longer around, e-mail became a major link for consumers to companies. Today, Twitter provides near real-time interaction and allows consumers to cut through red tape by getting answers from a single Twitter handle. When Skype partnered with Facebook, they took the social networking platform that is used by 96 percent of all U.S. consumers under 50 years old and starting today, let them video chat.
E-mail for a growing number of people has been replaced, at least in part, by Facebook messaging and chat. It’s faster and it’s where people “keep” their friends. It’s where they’re engaged in games, conversations and planning events. It’s their “life hub.” While a number of social media professionals celebrated the video chat announcement by rolling their eyes, Facebook puts hundreds of millions of people one click away from potentially making video chat an everyday tool – and eventually bringing it to their mobile devices.
It makes sense that people will want to use this technology as they use e-mail and Twitter today: to reach out to companies to solve their problems. A customer can now SHOW the support rep what is wrong, and not have to try and explain the unexplainable in a series of 20 questions – just point and say “this doesn’t work.” For businesses that are ready, this means shorter calls, potentially happier customers and greater efficiency. However, more training and hardware is needed before most companies will be ready to turn their techs loose on video calls. People interact differently face-to-face than they do voice-to-voice.
From a user point-of-view, the new chat seems designed well. According to a blog post by Facebook engineer Philip Su, “The new chat design includes a sidebar that lists the people you message most. Now it’s easier to find your friends and start a conversation. The sidebar adjusts with the size of your browser window, and it automatically appears when the window is wide enough.” In fact, it was easy. If the person you called didn’t answer, you can leave a private message or a video message. While not part of the release, expect that in the near future you will be able to get and send messages via Facebook from your television.
Facebook/Skype video chat had a slight delay over a wireless network, and didn’t seem – in my trials – as crisp as Google video chat. But this may change based on your equipment.
Speaking of Google, they unleashed their Google+ offering recently as well. More ready for mobile devices than Facebook video chat, Google+ is more of a suite of social products that works nearly seamlessly. These are two interesting products that – at least for me – accomplish different but really useful functions.
The most interesting element for both these social toolsets is what new analytics will be able to be collected based on how we interact with people and companies. Are influencers better able to be measured, and are there some people who are more influential than others? If so, are these people more valuable to win over?