The video chat feature that Facebook have announced in partnership with Skype is being rolled out today for millions of users. This is obviously a rolling program as we cannot yet see it yet, nor can we see the group chat facility that has been promised (more on that later).

However, having been using Google+ Hangouts avidly for the last week, we can already see a flaw in the Facebook offering. Hangouts allow, today, up to 10 people to enter a group video chat. One on one video chat in a Hangout is a simple matter by only inviting that one person!

From a business point of view, the Hangout option of up to 10 people is extremely attractive. Live webinars with 9 invitees, live focus groups with attendees from across the planet, online project collaboration between diverse teams and/or experts/consultants, share a Youtube video to highlight a point or to see what your competitors are putting online in video media, feedback from your customers, tech support through video. IN reality, the uses are endless and Facebook does not offer more than a limited spectrum of uses because of the 1 to 1 only choice.

Yes, we understand that for businesses using Facebook already, the closed space that is currently G+ means that many of your customers are not in there. Yet. But the field trial is not going to remain closed for long. And when your customers start moving to Google +, which undoubtedly they will because it is Google, then you need to be ready to make the most of it.

Google has played the canny marketing game it often does – using scarcity and hence DESIRE as a driver for adoption. However, there is a very practical reason why G+ is closed – much of it is definitely not wrinkle free yet, and whilst much is intuitive, there are features which will flummox your average home user. And those home users = customers for the businesses which generate Google’s billions. So it must work for those people before the doors are fully open.

Focusing on the positives of Facebook’s video chat, it has long been believed that video would be the ‘killer app’ on the Net and not just video content from Hollywood etc. The telephone took off when it stopped being used to transmit content in broadcast mode (songs on a Sunday as I recall was the earliest use!). When users were allowed to make their own content by talking to each other, the telephone became a ‘must have’; so the advent of sufficient bandwidth allowing video chat to be possible, (with broadband becoming more affordable and accessible) has meant that the opening of channels to allow that video content to be created have become possible.

Allowing everyone to be able to talk to anyone who they have friended on Facebook opens a huge raft of possibilities. For businesses, the most obvious use is customer services. Here is a direct line to the company you want to talk to, and you can see the person at the other end. This gives a boost in confidence to the consumer, and businesses should be rapid adopters of the opportunities this presents. Although this does mean that any company will need to have customer support staff who are comfortable using this technology and have the time to attend to video chat requests.

Now, on to this improved chat. The actual announcement is a nothingness – it’s just group text chat. This has been in existence for such a very long time outside of FB that the announcement falls flat really. Its use for businesses may allow another level of open, two way communication – which businesses really need to come to terms with in this new era of so-me – but it is no ways a ground breaker as Skype conference calls with the added chat facility have been around for sooo long, as well as a zillion other text chat options. This is no ground breaker and in itself simply re-inforces the feeling of fear that this entire press conference communicated.

Overall Summary – the quality of the video chat seems to be better at this time than Google+ Hangouts, but G+ is a trial and Google have not thrown the resources at it yet whilst in test mode. Multi-person video chats are the killer app, not one to one. The group text chat means nothing.

BUT, businesses need to start thinking how they are going to manage the human resources to back up their presence on social media. There are going to be two major social networks now, and whilst G+ looks like it might be the choice of the more techy audience (for now at least), the reality is that in a few short months, any business will need to be on both, whoever your target audience is.

This means that whilst metrics are important, business behaviour will need to be far more pro-active and imaginative about how to engage. Customers already complain regularly about business failure to engage with them using the tools that the customers are using eg Twitter, FB, etc and being in broadcast rather than dialogue mode has the potential to be a reputation killer. We all know what happened to Ratner and understanding how to communicate in and with the public using social media is going to become a core business skill.

Social media is no longer an ignorable sales, marketing and promotion mechanism. The big players are evolving their partnerships ready for one enormous battle for users – Skype + Microsoft + Facebook vs Google + their constant buy-outs of partner technologies, services and apps to give them an ever-extending portfolio. You cannot as a business pick a side, so you will need to learn to work with and on both of them.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology