Most people will agree that communicating face to face is ideal. Psychologists and communication researchers postulate that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, and up to 60 percent is purely visual. Tone, gestures, facial expressions, vocal inflections and environment moderate the denotative meanings of our words so much that to compensate for their absence within emails and texts, we’ve become accustomed to using emoticons ;-), superfluous punctuation!!!! and other types of WRITTEN EMPHASIS to make our meanings clear.
However, sometimes face-to-face communication between far-flung members, clients, employees or colleagues isn’t possible. Having a national or global organization means your colleagues may live on the other side of the country, or world. Your association may be short the funds to send everyone to the annual conference. Or you may be at the annual conference, wanting to share a message with friends and colleagues back home.
Thankfully, there are several applications and programs available that can help you communicate without losing 93 percent of your connotation in the process. Here are some of the more popular applications:
FaceTime: Apple’s device-to-device video call app makes this list because it’s easy to use, adds no additional charges to your plan (barring data overages) and comes ready-to-use with every iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone (v. 4.0 and up). FaceTime operates the same way a regular phone call does: dial a number, wait for the other person to pick up, and you are quickly connected in sight and sound via the built-in cameras and VoIP in your devices.
Using FaceTime just is like having a conversation face to face, besides the fact that you are holding your device up to your face. The drawbacks are that both parties must own the appropriate Apple products and in most cases, must be connected to a Wi-Fi network, but with both becoming more ubiquitous, FaceTime is a convenient way to stay in sight and in touch.
If you prefer Android to Apple, or do not own a FaceTime-compatible device, an app called Tango allows nearly anyone to talk face-to-phone. Tango’s features include video calls, video voicemails, games with a built-in competitor, “Penny the Puppy,” and group video messaging. Users can also incorporate themed animations into their messages or calls. The app is free.
Skype: Launched in 2003 as a free alternative to long-distance telephone carriers, this VoIP now offers short messaging services (SMS, or instant messaging), file sharing, and low-cost computer-to-landline (or mobile line) services, in addition to the still-gratis computer-to-computer call service. Sign up for an account, set up your webcam and microphone, and you’re ready to connect by voice and video with this service. You don’t need a webcam to be able to hear another person; however, as noted above, the 60 percent of your meaning that is communicated visually is much easier to convey with a camera. Businesses and nonprofits especially enjoy the group conferencing and file sharing aspect of Skype.
Google Talk: The search engine behemoth offers two versions of its instant communication software: a Web-based plugin that operates through your browser any time you are logged into Gmail, iGoogle or orkut (another Google-owned social network, popular outside the U.S.). It also offers a PC-only software program that operates from your hard drive. Both programs offer instant messaging, video streams of the people you chat with (BYOW: Bring Your Own Webcam), and VoIP phone service (BYOM: Bring Your Own Microphone.)
In addition, you can transfer files through the software version of Google Talk. If you already use Gmail, Google conveniently loads your Gmail contacts into Google Talk, making it easy to instantly connect with friends and colleagues. Both are free.
Adobe Connect: More than a simple video chat program, this comprehensive software suite allows your team to set up virtual meeting rooms, share and update files in real time, watch streaming video and speak over VoIP. You can use Adobe Connect for team meetings, webinars, training sessions, client presentations and project brainstorming sessions.
A handy feature for associations with more than one office or chapter is to allow hosts in multiple separate locations to lead a video meeting simultaneously. SSL encryption is available to ensure third parties cannot hack into private meetings or presentations. There is a somewhat significant cost for Adobe Connect that depends on usage type, volume and payment plan; however, the tech support, attendee tracking options and mobile capabilities may make the price tag well worth the expense.
Facebook: Automatically included with every Facebook account is the Chat feature, an instant messaging app that allows you to talk with your Facebook friends in a chat window within your browser. While using the desktop version of Facebook, your list of available friends with whom to chat will appear on the right side of your screen. Those with a green dot next to their name are logged in and active; those with a gray dot are logged in but idle; and those with a phone icon are logged in via their mobile device.
For now, Facebook chat is text-based only, but with Facebook introducing new features regularly, video and voice-based chat may be possible soon.
Facebook’s mobile app also includes instant chat messaging (through the app, not via your phone’s text function), either through the main Facebook app or through their Messenger app. Both apps are free.
Windows Messenger: This software program from Microsoft features instant messaging, drag-and-drop photo sharing, and gaming within the program. It only operates on the Windows 7, Vista, and Server 2008 operating systems, but Microsoft offers a separate “Messenger for Mac” version for Apple users. In addition to the text messaging, photo sharing and gaming capabilities of the Windows version, the Mac version includes audio and video communication capabilities.
For those wanting to use a single messaging application across all social networks, Windows Messenger offers integration of many popular social networks and email clients, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Outlook, and Hotmail.
Yahoo! Messenger: In addition to instant text messaging, video/audio chat and file transfer capacity, Yahoo’s messaging program offers a slew of features designed to keep busy professionals and social butterflies alike on top of their conversations, such as IM forwarding, Buzz Alerts, and Yahoo! Network updates.
This program includes PC-to-PC (free) and PC-to-phone (small fee) calls and forwarding to voicemail if you are not logged in. You can also customize ringtones and alerts for different message senders as well as your availability status to prioritize who is able to reach you.
Which is the best?
There are plenty of other video and chat applications available in addition to the ones listed here. There is no “right” or “perfect” program; the right program for your association is the one whose features and price fit your needs and budget. Test a couple out and see what works for you and your team. If you have a favorite Web-based communication program not mentioned here, send us a note about it and we’ll feature it in a future issue.
Disclaimer: Neither Association Adviser nor Naylor, LLC has commercial interests in the products or services mentioned within this article.