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Whither Voice in the Social World?

I recently attended's annual customer gala, Dreamforce, and was both impressed and discouraged about some of the things I heard--or didn't hear. The focus of the keynotes and sessions was "social," and Salesforce is certainly becoming a leader in this area. I was pleased to see so much emphasis placed on social software for business, of which I've long been a big advocate.

However, I was disappointed in the lack of attention paid to voice communications. In the keynotes, breakout sessions, and my discussions with many of the exhibitors at the show, voice and unified communications were hardly mentioned. I saw only two UC/voice vendors in the exhibit hall--Avaya and Interactive Intelligence. There was one mention of phone calls during the keynote sessions, but that was in relation to escalating a call center call to a Facetime call.

I know that is not a voice or telephony vendor, but they interoperate with most, if not all, of the leading UC players. So why the lack of discussion about voice? Is this a sign of things to come? Does it mean that business application and social software vendors don't see the value of voice?

I don't mean to pick on At the Enterprise 2.0 conference I attended last year, I noticed the same phenomenon--the social software vendors hardly acknowledged the role of voice communications. There was only a handful vendors that I spoke with that truly embraced voice communications and saw the value in integrating their technologies with voice. Many of them downplayed the role of voice, and claimed that their solutions are superior for letting groups of people work together.

Social software, text, IM, chat, and so on, are all extremely useful means of helping workers collaborate and interact with colleagues, partners, customers, etc. But voice is still the de facto gold standard for real-time communications and will remain so for some time to come. When you want to reach someone to discuss an important topic, you may send an IM first, but it will generally say, "R U there--can we talk?" While the use of voice communications in business has decreased sharply as people increasingly turn to text-based communications, voice still plays an important role in business communications, and should not be dismissed or ignored.

According to a Unified Communications End-User Productivity study Nancy Jamison and I conducted, 84% of the respondents indicated that IM interactions turn into or are escalated to voice or telephone interactions at least once or twice a week, with 17% of the respondents saying that this happens at least three-to-four times a day, and 13% saying that this happens even more frequently. Textual communications are invaluable for short interactions and getting quick responses, but for lengthy interactions, voice communications is still the most effective. Voice communications can also take much less time than text interactions--why send multiple text messages back and forth rather than speaking live? With unified communications, being able to click on someone’s name and initiate a live voice call can be much less time consuming, yielding faster results.

Being able to click-to-connect and have a real-time voice interaction from within social applications will add tremendous value, enabling users to have a richer communication experience. The power of voice coupled with the power of social software will let workgroups be more efficient, reducing the time it takes to do their jobs effectively, whether that's developing products, creating marketing campaigns, solving customers’ issues, etc.

When used together, voice communications and social software can be extremely powerful. Most of the UC and voice vendors realize this and are working to integrate social software with their offerings. But I would like to see a similar effort from the social vendors.

My call to action is directed at the social vendors--work with voice/telephony/UC vendors to better integrate your solutions so that your customers will be able to seamlessly use the media and mode that makes the most sense at the time and lets them be as productive as possible. This will add tremendous value to your product offerings and to your customers. And isn't that what it’s all about?