Facebook held a media event Wednesday morning to unveil 'something awesome'. That something awesome is that Facebook is adding a group chat feature, and the ability--in partnership with Skype--to conduct video calls from within Facebook.
Awesome is in the eye of the beholder. Personally I would have been much more impressed if the 'something awesome' was the rumored Facebook iPad app. Awesome is also relative. These features may be awesome for Facebook users compared with not having them, but compared with rival platforms the Facebook features just play catch up, and don't even quite get there in some respects.
While the level of awesome can be debated, the addition of video chat within Facebook is welcome. Here are some of the immediate benefits for businesses to get on board with Facebook video chat.
1. You are already there. People spend more time on Facebook than on any other online destination--I assume that includes you. Your company has invested time and effort establishing a presence on the social network, and you have reached out and formed connections with coworkers, customers, vendors, and partners. If you are already staying connected and keeping in touch via Facebook, it is only natural to just click on a contact to video chat when the need arises.
2. They are already there. Facebook has more than 750 million members. With a pool of contacts that deep, you can be almost certain that whoever you want to speak to is out there--and because people spend more time on Facebook than any other online destination, odds are fair they're online and waiting for your video chat. It would almost be more difficult to find contacts who aren't available.
3. Saves time and money. Some things are just done better face to face. Some people are more productive when they can engage eye to eye. But, you don't have to be physically in the same room to accomplish that--you can use Facebook video chat. Traveling to meet someone face to face takes time--whether it is down the hall to visit a co-worker, across town to meet with a customer, or around the world to negotiate with a supplier. Trips beyond the office building also incur additional costs such as airfare, lodging, meals, etc. Facebook video chat is a click away.
4. The price is right. It is free. That is a hard price to beat. Companies of all sizes have invested vast sums of money over the years implementing video conferencing infrastructures. Now, Facebook is handing it to you for free--use it.
Facebook video chat is limited to one-on-one calls, unlike Google+ Hangouts which allow for group video chat, or even group simultaneous watching of YouTube videos. There are certainly some practical business applications for the group aspects of Google+. Hopefully, Facebook will continue to expand on the video chat concept and include a group video chat function at some point. What would really be cool is if Facebook, Google+, Skype, Apple FaceTime, and any other competing video chat platform could all get on the same page so they could all work together, but I won't hold my breath.
The initial implementation of Facebook video chat may be a little rough around the edges, but it is still good news, and it is a valuable tool that businesses can start taking advantage of immediately with the other 750 million Facebook users.