Chatroulette has made headlines in recent months for its unsavory side, but also for the many ways individuals and organizations have used the site to try new and creative things, from musicians serenading audiences to artists painting for onlookers, and even brands connecting with potential customers. But it's not exactly business-friendly in the same ways that Twitter, Facebook and even Foursquare have proven to be. Or is it?
One company, Travelocity, has proven the business case for brand potential on Chatroulette. Their story serves as an important lesson on the importance of taking risks on the web. If anything, small businesses owners can use their success as inspiration for their own risk-taking endeavors.
In today's social climate, the business that takes smart risks will be the one that people remember.
Travelocity Takes Risk, Finds Rewards
Online travel brand Travelocity took a big risk when they set out to discover if there could be a business purpose to Chatroulette. They embarked on the trial run with no formulated plan in place and just an experimental attitude. 40 days later, Travelocity found that their adventurous scheme resulted in 350,000 impressions and 400 conversations with potential customers.
The company took their iconic gnome, outfitted him with various travel-encouraging signs, and sat him down in front of a nearly always-on web cam. The signs would fluctuate throughout the day (one reads, "This would be more fun if we were in Rio"), and during work hours a team member at the company's agency would man the Chatroulette station and "Next" inappropriate users as well as chat up the regular guys and girls with gnome-appropriate messaging.
The gnome's signs were quite kitschy, but all pointed to the fun that video chatters could be having if they were to take a trip.
Tips for Smart Risks
Travelocity's strategy on Chatroulette is smart, and thankfully, there's no rocket science behind what they're doing. The company initially recognized the significance of human encounters with strangers as a means to connect with potential customers and found a way to add their brand name into the mix.
In applying similar logic, the same type of success can be emulated by small businesses that aren't afraid to take risks. If you're thinking about testing out Chatroulette as a small business utility, here are a few tips to help make the endeavor less risky.
- Prepare for the unsavory: If you're always going to be uncomfortable with nudity, then you should pass on the Chatroulette fad. If you have a thicker skin, just accept that you'll encounter unpleasant sights at time and get quick about hitting the next button.
- Create visual entertainment: You could opt for a semi-passive engagement strategy and set up an always-on web cam that gives video chatters on the other side of the camera a glimpse at your workplace. This won't engage new customers with interaction, but you have the opportunity to get clever and place your products in the spotlight (instead of you). For example, if you operate a bakery, you could feed in a video stream of your pastry case (but make sure there's signage somewhere in sight). Plus, if you're able to participate in the chat room and talk to onlookers, then even better.
- Try custom roulettes: Your small business may not have worldwide appeal, so you could target more niche audiences with Chatroulette's custom roulette. If your business is based in a particular city, enter cityname.chatroulette.com as the URL for a more focused experience. You can apply the same subdomain technique for anything – think books, cars or sports – and zero in on people looking for similar subject-matter discussions.
- Conduct random market research: Everyone you encounter may not be a potential customer, but if you make an attempt to connect with each person opposite you, you could find out about what they do, what interests them, and why they would or wouldn't buy your product or use your service. Think of it as a more human approach to market research, one that could potentially help you better understand customers.
Find the Right Risk
Incorporating Chatroulette in to your small business routine may sound radical – and it is. Even the most crafty and adventurous small business owners may not fit the right purpose for the random video site.
Still it is extremely important for small businesses to find and take the right risks, especially now that so many have become social media savvy. There's always opportunity to be found – newer services like Blippy and Swipely, which are social sites centered around automatic purchase-sharing, have yet to be tapped in this capacity for instance – and you can do so with some simple ingenuity.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Wakila