My dad was a kind and gentle man. The only time I saw him flustered was when the phone rang during dinnertime. He’d snatch up the receiver and lecture the telemarketer on the other end of the line: “Do you realize I’m eating dinner with my family?!”
For many people, that’s pretty much what getting any random business call feels like in 2017. The phone, quietly and quickly, has gone from a business communication tool to an annoyance and anachronism. The average cell phone user in 2011 made or received 12 calls on their phone a day, writer Cari Romm recently reported at Science of Us; a 2015 study saw individual call volumes drop to six. I suspect the last two years have seen that total plunge even further.
Meanwhile, more than 400 million “snaps” are sent each day via Snapchat; other personal video-sharing tools like Instagram and Facebook Stories are gaining popularity, too. It might sound unconventional, but these quick video clips that are filling our social feeds might just be the ideal replacement for voice calls at work. But are businesses ready to embrace social video?
My company decided to find out.
Why We Built Our Own Mini-Snapchat
As a B2B company, we were constantly reaching out to customers to fill our sales funnel—by phone. And that just wasn’t cutting it. The more we thought about it, the less sense this made. What if instead of sending emails and making phone calls, we could send short videos back and forth? Given that we’re a video company, we thought this might be a good solution, but would our prospective customers agree?
We put together a browser tool for recording and sending quick-hit, low-production-value business videos via email: Record on your computer. Click to send. Done. These videos give you the human element and the visual cues of a direct conversation, but they’re non-interruptive and asynchronous. And since they’re fired out via email, there’s no need for tech-wary businesses to embrace a totally new platform (á la Slack) just to communicate with us. Plus, there’s a permanent record of communications (unlike the ephemeral videos exchanged via Snapchat).
Data from our own usage and early adopters suggests that short video might have a future in business communications. So far, adding video to a prospect email makes a response eight times more likely. Seventy-five percent of late-stage pitches that included personalized videos turn into closed deals. Our field sales teams now turns to video, and so does our customer support.
But the internal applications of short video are just as compelling. We’re seeing employees use the tool to deliver messages to one another that might be too complex or time-consuming for traditional email. Remote workers use video messages in lieu of text to feel more connected. On a personal note, I dash off weekly updates to the whole company by recording a quick video on my desktop. Plus, because the videos can also capture your screen, designers and engineers have been able to quickly record demos to suggest new features and share feedback.
The team didn’t start using videos like this overnight, of course. Even though we’re a video marketing company, it took time for some people to normalize the presence of personal video in a work setting and for others to get comfortable being filmed. But, as with Snapchat, everyone gradually realized the goal of these video clips isn’t to achieve filmmaking perfection—it’s to make a human connection. Our VP of customer experience, once camera-shy, became a convert after seeing how effective video can be at on-boarding users and sharing step-by-step instructions.
Upsides, Downsides, And Face-Time
To be clear, while I think this format is promising, I don’t think all phone calls are dead. It’s just that the idea of calling people out of the blue as a communication tactic has had its day. These kinds of calls are inherently disruptive—not exactly great for productivity, considering it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to your pre-interruption task.
That’s why asynchronous tools emerged in the first place—first email, then AIM and MSN Messenger, followed by Slack, HipChat, and the like. Not only are these platforms less disruptive, they also let recipients be more strategic in their responses. The drawback, of course, is that text communications are notoriously easy to misinterpret. (One study even found that participants were only able to differentiate seriousness from sarcasm 56% of the time—basically a coin-toss.)
Meanwhile, automation and the rise of bots makes your Twitter feed and your Slack channel equally easy to ignore. We’re reaching more people than ever, but we’re not necessarily moving them—no matter how good the AI on the other end may be.
That’s why short video has so much potential (and a big reason why Snapchat reportedly logs 10 billion video views a day). It’s human, it’s efficient, and it doesn’t interrupt you in the middle of dinner. Now, it’s almost like my emails feel naked without that added personal touch. I’ll append videos to our pitches for speaking engagements or throw them into conversations with brand influencers. I can even add one to my email signature. Now that technology has caught up, video might just give text a run for its money.