Author and Streaming Media Allstar Steve Garfield, talks about how to choose the best video chat solution for your online marketing efforts. Steve explains his belief that the simple video chat solutions tend to work best, provides an overview of interactive features, talks about how to get good production quality in video chat, and tells us what he sees as the “next big thing” in web video chat technology and online marketing.

The following is a transcript from my interview with Steve Garfield (with some liberties taken on piecing text parts together to make it a more cohesive read.) Or, click the play button above to listen to the podcast in its full, unedited form.

Grant (me): You dedicated one of the chapters in your book to video chat as a solution for online marketing. In your opinion, what should professional online marketers look for in a video chat solution for them?

Steve: There’s a whole list of things to really think about. But if you stop to think about what my book is about, it’s really all about how to put video online easily. What the book says, and what I go around promoting, is this: Don’t worry about all of these technical things! So when we start talking about doing a video chat, where I have my video up on the screen, and I have one (or more) viewer’s video up on the screen – people all with video on the screen at the same time – well, now it sounds kind of confusing.

The Simple Video Chat Solution: Wetoku

There’s this one site that I really like, called Wetoku is really easy to use for a very short video chat. They have a free version of it. How it works is you bring up the webpage, and you give the person you want to interview the same URL, you click “record,” and then you record your interview; and it’s side-by-side video. When you’re done recording your interview on Wetoku, you hit “save” and it gives you embed code, and you can stick it in your blog. That is what I’ve found to be one of the easiest ways to do a quick video interview online.

Video Chat With A Text Chat Audience: Tiny Chat

There are other sites that let people jump in and watch it, and chat… some of them are moderated… They have a little button where the viewers click, and they can join in the chat. Other ones look like free-for-alls where everybody is chatting at the same-time.

If you want to have people watching (and commenting) as you’re video recording (and allow for other moderators for your room), Tiny Chat is a good program to look into.

Tiny Chat's live web video chat with many webcams at once. (Can you see ME in there?)

Live Video Broadcasting vs. Interactive Video Chat

Grant: It’s clear that no one video chat service isn’t going to be the best solution for every online marketing need. You brought up a good point, and that is, what’s the business reason for doing this? What DO you want to do? Do you want to have a broadcast? Or do you want (audience) interaction?

Steve: If you want to do a live broadcast, at a very basic level, you can record a video and put it online, and have people watch it.

If you want interaction, you have to stop and think: What kind of interaction do I want? If you’re doing the broadcast yourself and you don’t want to get all kinds of technical things to have to think about, then you might just want to do the broadcast and have a text chat. So you can do your broadcast, and as you’re talking you can do the text chat, and people can contribute with text.

For example, Ustream – they have their own chat rooms on their website, and they’ve now introduced a new thing called “social chat.” As people chat, they can have their posts go out to popular social media networks like: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or AIM.

Participating in a Ustream social stream with live video webchat

Multiple Webcams and Group Video Chat

Now the next thing to think about is a group video chat. Say you’re going to have a panel (and you want to feature a webcam on every panelist). I know when I was interviewed by Mashable, they used tinychat. Pete Cashmore interviewed me one time, and then there was another panelist. So there was 3 of us on there, all chatting at the same time on video, and people who were viewing were in a text chat, so we could watch what they were saying in text. However, this was controlled situation that the chat room was locked, so no one else could join the chat.

The next version of this is where you let people join in, and you can have that be moderated. For example, when a person raises their hand and you can bring in their video, and you are now chatting via video with say, 4, 12, or more people.

Getting Good Production Quality in Video Chat

Grant: What I think is especially important to think about is the production quality. Is it overkill to be using high-end equipment, if the video chat software or service is going to need to compress the quality down so much?

Steve: That’s a great question, and there are many different answers to that. When I did my webinar with Brightcove – How to Be a Video Blogging Powerhouse – we used a Logitech webcam,; and we used my favorite USB Mic, the Audio Technica AT2020, and sat that on the table in front of us. We we had this Logitech webcam hooked up on the back of a chair, pointing at us, and we had a USB mic on a table in front of us, and I brought in some lighting. The quality of this broadcast looked really great. Brightcoe did it with their own streaming product, combined with a site called KnowledgeVision, which allowed us to have Powerpoint slides go along with the video.. The other thing I would have loved to do (with the KnowledgeVision service) is be able to show other videos at the same time – like, my own videos.

I’ve also worked with the guys from Wirecast, which is a front-end video streaming solution; and what they suggest is if you’re going to use a higher-end DV camera with a Firewire connection (which will get you better image quality your video that what a USB webcam can provide), then you’re probably going to want to use an external microphone hooked into the camera, versus using the DV camera and a stand-alone USB mic. That’s because sometimes a USB mic can suffer from some latency (delayed audio), and so your video and audio won’t match up. So the folks at Wirecast say that if you’re going to use a higher-end camera, then you should also use a higher-end mic hooked up to the camera.

Steve Garfield’s “Next Big Thing” For Video Chat

The next thing I really want to do, that I’m working on and researching right now, is – I would like to have viewers watching (my video chat show), and then have a user submit a video (like, they give me the URL) that they could have me look at in real time. We all watch that video together, and I comment on it, so we can critique videos and make them better. Now that’s like a killer feature that some of the sites have and some don’t. So that’s another great thing to look for.