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WebRTC and the Social Media Continuum

March 30, 2015

Figuring out where WebRTC ends and social media begins is going to become increasingly complicated.  Social media is a form of real time communications (RTC) and companies are starting to incorporate video into their apps.  Some argue WebRTC is the next social media conduit, providing a customizable way for companies to directly interact with their customers.  I don't think there's an easy answer or winner at this point in time.

If we are going to discuss social media and social media, it's important to start with the "Big 4" of social: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.  YouTube enables anyone to distribute video to the world, but its social aspect revolves around short-form clips and movies ranging from under a minute up to 10 or so minutes.  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have the characteristics of being able to network with family, friends and colleagues, sharing thoughts, pictures, and short video.   Twitter and Facebook enable instant messaging, while Facebook also wants to be the go-to app that also handles presence, voice communication, and even video chat.

WebRTC provides the tools for companies to incorporate voice, video, presence, IM, and multimedia multiparty conferencing directly into the browser.  Developers can build a customized interface for customers and partners that goes far beyond the structural barriers imposed by the Social Media Big 4 apps, even rolling in feeds from those apps onto a web site.

via Shutterstock

Where social media goes above and beyond a roll-your-own WebRTC application is with a pre-built public audience reach and history.  Twitter and public Facebook and Instagram posts are available for anyone to see and stick around forever -- even if quickly deleted due to public embarrassment.  In a more selective setting, such as a Facebook private group, discussions can be more carefully moderated and people invited on an opt-in basis. 

Clearly WebRTC can provide a more controlled and customized environment for business to consumer and business to business interaction, as well as inter-office interaction.  The key words are "business" and "real time."

Businesses will always have the need to interact with the rest of the world in real time, be it providing more information to a prospective customer, closing a sale, or solving a billing problem.  A detailed voice conversation and/or a videoconference to work out a deal or solve a problem is not something you get via the hit-and-run nature of social media.  The 128 characters of Twitter are good to identify problems and issue quick updates and information releases, but don't provide the depth and immediacy that a two minute "phone" call or five minute video troubleshooting session can provide, especially when an issue or problem requires more than a couple of "Yes" and/or "No" responses.

WebRTC, as cliché as it sounds, provides a deeper platform for engagement, especially when the issues involved can most efficiently worked via real time communications.  Facebook and Twitter may both offer business services, but can't provide customization.  While Facebook is deploying RTC tools, it isn't clear if they will have the ubiquity or flexibility that can be delivered through a tailored web page.

I don't think WebRTC poses a threat to social media at this time.  Instead, social media -- Facebook in particular -- will subsume WebRTC for real time communications, providing a further extension of a one-stop-shop for people to interact with friends and family.  Twitter and YouTube will continue to be relatively unique, since both services don't need RTC in order to be effective. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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