I interviewed Will Bunker, CEO and founder of vChatter, about how video chat can increase the length and quality of user engagement on any social platform. Will also explains why he believes video chat “will bring back the human element to online communication,” and how it can result in better business conversation, better customer service, and better marketing.

Video Chat: From Entertainment to the Business Realm

In the beginning, online video chat programs and video chat networks were built primarily for entertainment and personal use – including popular dating and voyeur sites. For a long time, video chat platforms were besieged by poor technical quality, relatively high pricing for service, and few means for recording video chats. Today, with major advances in technology and lower pricing points, video chat has become really accessible, affordable, and feature-rich; and better-suited for business-to-business and business-to-consumer correspondence.

Video Chat’s Advantage: Creating Relationships

There is one important thing that video chat has done for both personal and business endeavors: It’s helped to foster relationships. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Video chat feels more personal. That’s because video chat involves having a real-time conversation with someone else, where at least one party gives audio and visual signals that make the other party more responsive in their own communication. It’s these multi-sensory elements that give video chat a much more personal feel than just text chat. Video chat content comes across as authentic, unscripted, and unpredictable – all things which can be very effective with building an participatory audience.
  • Video chat is versatile. With desktop video chat clients as well as web-based video chat services/networks, you can have one-on-one conversations or collaborations, or get involved in a video chat group. Video chat software is already finding its way out to mobile applications, such as on the iPhone; and more recently, the announcement of Skype’s video chat software for Verizon 4G Android phones and Skype for Business Group Video Calling.

Screenshot of Skype for Business Group Video Calling

  • Video chat is motivational. Having a live, multi-sensory conversation with someone via video chat has proven to inspire people to not only to just be a passive observer, but to actively participate. This includes turning texting into the conversation while also on video chat, or sending links, as well as file-sharing and screen-sharing.
  • Video chat is recordable. This is a big one for web marketers, which I can speak to from my own experience doing recordings of live video chats I’ve done with guests.Today there’s very affordable software for anyone to record their own live video chat. My own Skype eCamm recorder for my Mac lets me record either with single remote or desktop video, split-screen video, or separate the video streams of each person online. I can edit the recorded video chat in just about any movie-editing tool. This allows me to publish and distribute business-related video content from these live conversations, which can be optimized for the search engines and social media networks.

How Video Chat Works for Doing Business – A 4-Step Process:

  1. Video chat connects you with other people. (In the B2C and B2B world, this is focused on the known-to-known, either between people or a shared brand or conversation.)
  2. Those connections bring about conversations, which;
  3. In turn, bring about new relationships (which can maintain and grow via video chat), and;
  4. Video chat software allows for the video to be recorded and archived, in a common file format you can edit, optimize, and distribute online. From that video, additional (and enhanced) connections, conversations, and relationships are built; and it fosters feedback and shared content from others.

How Video Chat is Being Used for Business

  • Connecting with fans – such as if you’re a celebrity, media personality, acknowledged expert, or other type of key influencer.
  • Connecting with customers – such as exclusive company announcements, product demos and how-to’s, answering common questions, and dealing with any complaints. With recording video chat, you can incorporate these videos into your online help section. As Will says, with video chat, “You don’t have pay someone in customer service to sit there and do it one-on-one every time.”
  • Connecting with colleagues – for public viewing and later video archiving, this can include webinars, topical discussions, and inclusion of audience questions and comments.
  • Connecting with employees. Group video chat with employees and other staff can be used for live meetings, announcements, presentations, and training;  and saved as an archive for later reference.

My Interview with Video Chat Technologist, Will Bunker

Will, how can video chat increase the length and quality of user engagement on any social platform?

You remember the 1993 New Yorker cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog?” Well, we’re coming full circle back to where everyone will be able to see that you’re a dog.

There’s so many communication signals that human beings send out that aren’t just typed out words; there’s different levels.  Even with just audio, there’s a lot of intonation that you and I exchange.  Video reaches us on an unconscious level that helps us communicate better. With video, you get to see expressions; which allows you to engage with your audience or customers on a much deeper level.

What you appears to be saying is that video chat can bring a certain degree of persuasiveness (and transparency) in business.

Online video (and especially with video chat) is your shot at convincing someone that they should do business with you. I don’t think any great sales person would want to make a large sale by typing something up on a piece of paper, sliding it under someone’s door, running away, and hoping someone reads it and buys their product.

Are there certain business models that are better suited to video chat than others?

I think video chat makes sense for those who have a decent margin on whatever it is they’re selling. I don’t think it makes sense to do it just around a product that say, has a nickel margin on it.

But I think anyone who’s selling something that in a physical location, you would have someone out on the sales floor to help people, and get them to the buying decision. I think using video chat to engage those kind of consumers, or other business owners, face-to-face and going through a real sales process – now that’s a huge part of what’s been missing on the Internet.  With video chat today, you almost have a physical presence everywhere for that kind of interaction. It really opens up the door for true salesmanship to happen.

As for using video chat with a fan base, there are a huge number of media companies that have people with star power; and they’re using some of those people with personalities that translate well online to engage with the fan base via video chat. But as for regular business people, I don’t see it doing live video chat with “fans” really a long-term value if you’re only getting 10 or 20 different people to see it; unless you capture it and promote it elsewhere. It’s that recorded video chat becomes another form of entertainment and marketing, in and of itself.

Video chat is all about being social. What are your final thoughts on how video chat is going to help business succeed with “social video marketing?”

I just think video is going to continue to be one of the more interesting trends. There are three really large trends now: one is social media, one is mobile, and one is video. I mean, everything has got a camera now, and it’s attached to the network. So if you’re looking at ways to get an edge on how to sell your product or engage with your customers, I think it’s definitely worth experimenting with and seeing, you know, does it increase your margins?  Does it decrease returns?  Does it increase lead generation?  Video chat really gives a fundamental shift in how you might interact with your customers.

About Will Bunker

Will Bunker, vChatterWill Bunker is theCEO and founder of vChatter, a privately-held San Mateo California-based social video chat service that matches people to other like-minded users in a safe and friendly environment. Launched in May 2010, vChatter has over 3.3 million registered members worldwide. Their video chat program, bChat, is used by the popular youth-oriented social network site Bebo; and on Facebook.

Will also previously founded one-and-only.com, which was acquired by Ticketmaster and later became Match.com, the largest dating site in the 1990’s. Since then, Will has stayed in the high-tech industry, and has been building startup companies over the last 10 years.

Photos courtesy of iStockphoto, © Andres Rodriguez, Image #2248379”; and © Sellingpix, Image #13244209.