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Is video chat the future of social media?

3 min read

Social Media

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: What’s your first reaction to the new social video-chat service Airtime?

  • I’m mildly curious to see how it compares with other chat services: 29.37%
  • I’m totally indifferent toward video-chat services: 25%
  • I’m a little creeped out by video-chat services: 23.13%
  • I won’t go anywhere near it: 19.37%
  • I can’t wait to use it: 3.12%

Right or wrong, social video chat is often synonymous with Chatroulette, a flavor-of-the-month social network from about two years back that pairs users up randomly for video-chat sessions. Unfortunately, the network was most notable in its early days for users exposing themselves. It’s telling that even the coolest things people did with Chatroulette were meant to be at least a little bit shocking.

So it doesn’t surprise me that most SmartBrief on Social Media readers are indifferent or even downright uncomfortable with the idea of video chatting with strangers online. But I do think that’s a shame. Google+ Hangouts shows that with a little bit of accountability, people can use video chat for all sorts of cool things. But Google+ still lacks the tantalizing promise of discovery that got people talking about Chatroulette in the first place.

Airtime, brought to you by Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, is an interesting beast because it combines the accountability of Google+, via a Facebook connection, with the possibility of meeting people based on shared interests. (Full disclosure: I went to college with one of Airtime’s designers, and I helped beta test the network).

But regardless of how one feels about any given platform, I think it’s fundamentally strange that so many people are willing to have real-time text conversations with strangers in a public forum such as Twitter but draw the line at live video. Video removes the ambiguity that can creep into text-only social media updates. Video captivates in a way text seldom can. And if you want to forge a connection with someone, there’s no substitute for the warmth of a human face.

Does all of that mean you should be jumping on the video-chat bandwagon? No. But it does mean you should be giving live video due consideration. If you’re trying to reach an audience that craves more than text and pictures, it might be worth trying to overcome your hangups and seeing what all of the fuss is about.