Live streaming video content is a great way to engage with your customers, promote your business, and make money online—especially if you’ve had to pause doing business in-person temporarily.
Today, live streaming tools are so good and there are so many available that many entrepreneurs run their entire business remotely, using online collaboration tools and video streaming platforms to do business online.
In this post, we’ll do a quick comparison of video streaming services to help you choose the right one for your business.
What is online video streaming and how does it work?
As a small business owner, there are two types of video communication you need to know about:
- Live streaming: The host broadcasts their voice and audio in real-time for others to watch online. Just like TV!
- Video calling: Like a traditional phone call but participants can also see each other on their computer or phone screen.
7 video streaming options for small businesses
The video conference or streaming software you choose will depend on a few factors:
- What kind of business do you run?
- Do you need an interactive video call or a one-way live stream? In other words, do you need to see your audience or is it enough for them to see you?
- How many participants will you have?
- Do you want to record your stream so people can watch it later?
- Will you share your video on other platforms?
- How much can you afford to pay for video streaming software?
Here’s our comparison of seven video streaming services and how to choose the right one for your business.
Tools for live streaming
1. Facebook Live
Facebook Live is Facebook’s built-in live streaming tool. You can record yourself via your laptop or smartphone and your friends and followers can watch in real-time. It’s a one-way stream, so your followers can see you but you can’t see them. Videos can last up to 1.5 hours.
- It’s free!
- Integrates with Facebook’s commenting feature so your audience can interact and leave comments during your live stream.
- Video stays on your Facebook profile afterwards, so you can reshare it to get more views, let people watch later, and pay to promote it to more viewers. You can also delete your video if you don’t want it to stay on Facebook.
- You can stream from your Facebook Business page to keep things separate from your personal profile.
- You need a Facebook Business page or a personal account. Depending on your industry, this might not be a suitable platform for your business.
- It can be hard to grow a following if you’re new to the platform. Like a lot of social media platforms, Facebook wants businesses to pay to promote their content and it can be difficult to get organic reach.
Local businesses and those with an existing Facebook following. It’s ideal if you want to try live streaming without spending a lot of money.
2. Instagram Live
Similar to Facebook, you can also live stream on Instagram. You can go live from your smartphone and videos can last for up to 1 hour. It’s a one-way stream, so your followers can see you but you can’t see them, but they can write to you in the comments.
- It’s free!
- Followers can engage with you and react to your video in the comments.
- Option to turn off comments or filter comments that contain certain keywords.
- You need an Instagram account. If you’re new to Instagram and don’t have many followers, your audience will be small to start with.
- It only works from Instagram’s mobile app, so there’s no option to film from your desktop.
- Live videos disappear after 1 hour (or 24 hours if you share it to your Instagram story).
Businesses with an existing Instagram following and whose customers are active on Instagram. Great for aspirational brands in the health, fitness and lifestyle sector—like yoga teachers and fitness instructors—as well as those who sell clothes and fashion accessories. Learn more about how to use Instagram for your business.
Tip: Go where your customers are. Instagram tends to be better for consumer and lifestyle brands, and companies who sell products, whereas Facebook is often the first choice for local businesses. But all the big social platforms have their own live streaming options, eg. you can also create live videos on Twitter.
Perhaps the most famous on our list—YouTube is synonymous with video. YouTube Live is a one-way stream that lets viewers tune in to your videos like they would watch TV. Live stream videos can last up to 8 hours—perfect for streaming conferences and events.
- YouTube is owned by Google but it’s actually a search engine in its own right. When you post content on YouTube and link it to your company or website it can boost your SEO and help customers find you online.
- There’s an option to monetize your content once you have 1000+ followers.
- Viewers don’t need an account to watch your videos (unlike on Facebook or Instagram). You can also upload videos to ‘private’ and share them with a select group via a private link.
- You need a Google account and to set up your own YouTube channel before you can stream.
- If you’re new to YouTube, your audience size will be small at first and until you grow a following.
Sharing videos with a wide audience—its 8-hour time limit makes it ideal for streaming events and conferences. It works best if you already have a following on YouTube or have a specific group you want to share with, like a school class or group of colleagues. But it’s just as handy if you want to upload a video and share it on your social media profiles or add a video to your Jimdo website.
Tools for video calls
4. WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business
WhatsApp (and WhatsApp Business) is a messaging service that lets you send text and voice messages, share images, and make video calls straight from your phone. It’s popular because it works on all types of smartphones, unlike iMessage, for example, which only works on Apple phones. You can also run video calls with up to eight participants.
To use WhatsApp, you need a smartphone with a phone number. Your WhatsApp account can only be tied to one cellphone at a time.
- It’s free!
- Easy to make calls on the go.
- You can hold video calls with up to eight participants.
- Only works on your phone making it less suitable for things like conference calls from your home office.
- Can look a bit unprofessional. Lots of people use WhatsApp in their personal lives so it can blur the lines between clients and friends.
People with a separate business phone or those who don’t mind having a slightly less formal relationship with customers. Good if you need to keep in touch on-the-go (as long as you have an internet connection).
Tools for both live streaming and video calls
5. Google Meet
Google Meet used to be the paid version of Google Hangouts, but they recently made Google Meet available for free for anyone with a Google account. It integrates with the rest of Google’s apps and includes features like screen sharing, captions, and recording.
- Free for up to 100 participants with an hour time limit on calls (the paid version allows more time and participants).
- Syncs automatically with Google calendar to make scheduling easy.
- Easy to use straight in your browser (app is optional) or on your smartphone.
- Not everyone has a Google account, although it’s free to create one.
- You can’t call in via phone, so attendees have to have an internet connection.
Individuals and businesses who are already using Gmail or Google Drive and want a free, reliable video streaming software to hold meetings, classes, or coaching sessions remotely. If you need to have company-wide calls or meetings with more people, you can upgrade to a paid Google Workspace account to access the premium features of Google Meet. Here’s more on the differences between Meet and Hangouts.
Zoom is a video conferencing tool that’s been specifically designed for group video calling. It lets you make 2-way video calls on your smartphone or desktop, and also includes features like screen sharing and text chat.
With the paid version, you can also livestream Zoom meetings and webinars on YouTube.
- Unlimited free one-to-one calls.
- You can upgrade to include up to 1000 participants on a call.
- Handy call recording feature so you can record meetings to watch later or share with other colleagues.
- You need the app but it’s quick and easy to set up.
- There’s a limit on group video conference calls with the free version. But they have affordable paid plans for small teams up to large enterprises.
Small businesses who need to have one-to-one video calls or short group meetings under 40 minutes, and teams who want to record important project meetings. If you’re willing to invest in the paid plan, it makes a good option for fitness coaches who want to run group classes and check attendees’ form, for example. With so many conferences and live events being cancelled this year, lots of organizations are using Zoom to broadcast their event.
Discord is our wildcard platform—and the app you’re least likely to have heard of (unless you’re an avid gamer). It’s a community chat platform that was originally designed for the video gaming community and shares a lot of similarities with Slack. You can create your own server with separate channels and user groups, send direct messages, and make audio and video calls. Up to 25 people on a video call and up to 50 participants can watch a live stream.
While gamers still make up most of its users, Discord is now being used by a range of communities. In March 2020, they increased the number of people who can view a Discord Go Live online stream from 10 for 50, to make the platform more accessible to schools, coaches and other organizations who have switched to online learning.
- Free video calls and live streaming.
- It’s easy to create a ‘server’ (a private group for your organisation), invite users, and create separate chats for different topics.
- Discord was designed to run seamlessly in the background (video calling isn’t much use if it slows down your computer while you’re playing a game) so the call quality is often better than on other video calling platforms.
- It’s first and foremost a social platform so less suitable for businesses and larger corporations.
- You need a Discord account. It’s also less well known, which means there will be a learning curve for your clients and customers too.
Education groups, non-profits, and community organizations who need to stay in touch and share resources on a budget. It’s also a great option for anyone who wants to stream a live event to up to 50 people, whether that’s streaming a class once a week or taking your conference online.
What about Skype and Microsoft Teams for video calling?
When you think about video calling Skype is often one of the first names that come to mind—especially for those of us who were trying it for the first time back in 2003. While lots of people still use Skype today, it’s most commonly used for keeping in touch with family and friends. Although Microsoft has continued to improve the app, it has received various criticisms over the years around its security and privacy features, clunky user experience, and connection quality. With so many Skype alternatives out there, it’s still an option but there’s likely a better tool out there for you.
In 2015, Microsoft launched Skype for Business (originally called Lync) but in 2017 announced that it would be replaced by the video function in Microsoft Teams. Similar to Google Drive, Teams is Microsoft’s online collaboration platform.
Is Microsoft Teams good for small businesses?
Although Teams offers a range of features that are useful for any business, it tends to be more popular with larger organizations. But any individual or small business can try Teams for free and get access to online chat and meetings, video conference calls, file sharing, and the ability to edit, access, and share Powerpoints, Word docs, and Excel spreadsheets.