Communication Tech for the Holidays

Connect with Everyone

There are many options for connecting with family, friends and colleagues abroad this holiday season. We’ll discuss which ones are best for you based on your situation.

Understand Different Communication Apps

With over 100 video and message chat options to choose from, it can be overwhelming. We’ll narrow it down for you quickly and concisely, so you can get back to your eggnog. Let’s start with video chat apps, and then we’ll discuss text message apps and social media.

Video Chat

Chatting over video apps is the closest thing to meeting people in person. You can see and hear them in real time. To get the most out of it, there are some tech aspects you need to get right. 

Proper Internet Speed

First, both parties to the chat need access to an internet plan that can handle a video chat. You need a minimum of 5 megabits per second (MBPS) download speed, and a minimum of 1 MBPS upload speed to your device to participate in a video chat. Ideally, you should have 15 MBPS download and 5 MBPS upload or more for a smooth experience.

Technical Abilities of Participants

The second aspect is technical ability. If one of the users needs to be more competent with their device to use the chat app, it will only be frustrating. The good news is most apps worth considering come with video tutorials. If you’re stuck on a video call with someone who can’t get the app to work, email them some training videos to watch so they can learn how to use it. If they can’t even get the training videos to play, we suggest calling it a spade and calling them on their landline phone to talk to them that way.

How to Choose the App

The third aspect is compatibility, which brings us to choosing an app. If both parties have Microsoft Windows (Windows) or Android devices, FaceTime won’t work because it’s designed for Apple devices. Skype works on Windows and Android, but if you have an iPhone you can’t use Skype.

Apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams (MS Teams) work across all types of devices. That’s the upside. The downside is they’re a little overwhelming for some users. Using the training videos above will help users learn how to navigate Zoom specifically. Other apps likely have training videos as well. The friendliest of these apps to the non-corporate user is probably Zoom. MS Teams does have a very corporate huddle feel, but will work for family video chat gatherings.

Communicate Before the Meeting

We recommend talking or emailing with the people you want to meet before the video chat. Discuss what devices people have, their technical abilities, and troubleshooting steps when (not if) tech issues arise in the meeting.

Text Chat

If video is not an option, text chat is a low-bandwidth option wherein you can still converse with people in real time. The possibilities are endless. But the two best ones on the market are Google Chat and Slack. Download the app for your phone or laptop, whichever you prefer to use to text chat with people. Just like text messaging, message away 24/7, but be sure to review and follow their guidelines. And be aware that you may not get an immediate reply the way that you would in person or over the phone.

Ideal Text Chat Users

Text chat is ideal for less technical users, people with low-bandwidth internet speed plans (people who live in rural or remote areas), and those who don’t want their face on the internet (yes, they still exist). If you’re doing a Zoom video chat, people who prefer text chat can still join the meeting via their phone, or they can simply turn off their video feed and participate in the chat section of the Zoom meeting. MS Teams, Skype, and other apps have similar features, but always check if the app has everything you need before buying it.

Social Media

The upside of social media is it’s interactive, and there’s always someone online. The downside, of course, is it’s a very public place. Treat it like you’re talking to the whole world if you’re on social media. If you want to have a private or intimate conversation with someone, social media is not the place. But if you want to have an open, inclusive meeting with potentially many people at once, social media offers a lot of possibilities.

Choosing a Social App

There are many social media platforms today, and new ones come out frequently. The most popular ones are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. But be careful, not all are created equal, and not all are designed for your needs.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is ideal for communicating with colleagues over the holidays. Although the platform can be used to chat with family and friends, it’s very career-driven, and you may be distracted by work stuff if you use it for family.

Facebook

Facebook is very all-encompassing, and although not everyone uses it, most people do. Facebook comes with a lot of advertising and politics nowadays. Use Facebook wisely. It does have video and direct text messaging built in and will handle all your needs; you just need to be mindful of all the noise.

Twitter

Twitter can be very political too. It has public and direct messages. It’s important to note that direct messages (DMs) and replies may not be private. That said, it’s suitable for exchanging short messages in a public space, like saying Happy Holidays to everyone you know in one fell swoop. Just don’t end up like the chef who didn’t know his nasty reply to a harsh food critic was public.

Instagram

Instagram is purely for photos–if you want to share pictures in portrait orientation, it’s a great app. Consider everything you share on this app public. Remember, if you’re sharing, those images become public and searchable on engines like Google, so only post pictures you’re ok with everyone having access to. It’s also meant for portrait orientation pictures (vertical). If you post a horizontal picture (the width is much wider than the height) it will be cropped and will look terrible.

Snapchat

This is a text message app that is popular with particular niches. With Snapchat, your messages disappear after 24 hours. It’s meant for short, fleeting conversations. Although the messages disappear, there’s probably still a record of what you said somewhere, so it’s not a good place to drop your extreme thoughts on the world with no consequences.

Pinterest

Pinterest use is thought to be dominated by mothers looking for baby products, but generally is similar to Instagram. It’s meant to share images publicly. Remember, if you’re sharing, images become public and searchable outside of Pinterest, so only post pictures you’re ok with the whole world potentially having access to. It’s also meant for portrait orientation (vertical) pictures. If you post a horizontal picture (the width is much wider than the height) it will be cropped and will look terrible.

Be Prepared for Ads and Politics

Most companies, non-profits, and political organizations advertise in one way or another on social media. Be prepared for craziness. Learn how to ignore the advertising and political messages to focus on why you came to the app in the first place–to connect with your people.

Social Media is not for Private Messaging

If you just want to send private messages to someone, Slack or Google Chat is more private and has fewer outside messages to distract you. Social media is for socializing in large groups over the internet and is a very public place.

See Everyone This Holiday Season

There are many reasons why you may not be able to meet with everyone this holiday season physically. Some people are too busy. Others may be sick. While a few might still need more time to be ready to travel. And let’s not forget your hermit uncle, who hasn’t left his house since 2004. Using communication technology to your advantage means you can still see and connect with these people when meeting in person isn’t an option.

Mental Health Communication Tip

Although most people have returned to life as usual, only some are ready to gather in person. The main reason is fear. Fear is a compelling emotion. So is anger, and it’s becoming common for people to get angry at each other over gatherings. Getting mad at someone triggers their natural flight-or-fight response (we all have one built-in to our brains) and increases the distance between you. Is that your goal?

For Those Ready to Gather

If your genuine desire is simply to see someone, use communication apps to connect with everyone in the meantime. In time everybody will be ready to get back to it with you. Your hermit uncle will probably never leave his house again, so it might be best just to accept that and teach him how to use Zoom.

There’s no reason you can’t still have a relationship with people who aren’t physically present. Only some people are ready. Some people are downright introverted–it doesn’t mean they don’t want to see you. Harassing people for making different choices drives them farther away from you.

For Those Not Ready to Gather

On the other side, for all you introverts out there, ignoring someone who wants to meet with you will likely result in them bothering you more, not less. Be fair. Understand that they just want to see you; how could that be so bad? Explain yourself calmly and carefully.

Understanding never hurts anyone. While it may not make a difference to you whether you meet over Zoom or in person, social people don’t have as good an experience over video chat as in person. You’re kinda ruining their experience by not going.

Accept Differences

Accepting our differences and communicating in a way that suits us both will save an otherwise complex relationship and make life easier. Understand each other and try to compromise. When it comes to communicating, chat apps can be a great compromise.

What App Do You Use?

With so many apps out there, it can be overwhelming. What apps do you like? Share your answer on social media, and tag us. We want to know what you think.

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