While Google+ hasn’t yet inspired a social media mass migration from Facebook, it offers compelling features that have won it praise. Chief among them is Google+ Hangouts, live video chats for multiple participants.
While families and friends are sure to appreciate the ease with which they can set up a Hangout for a virtual coffee klatch or reunion, the availability of such a powerful communications tool is catching the eye of marketers, as well. How can brands use Hangouts, as well its live and/or play-later broadcast cousin (known as Hangouts on Air), to engage effectively with customers? With 400 million registered users and over 100 million monthly active users (as of September 2012), Google+ certainly provides an audience worth addressing.
Get Started with Google+ Hangouts
The only things you and your audience need to make a Hangout happen are a Google+ account and a camera with a microphone. Setting up a Hangout is simply a matter of testing the camera and mic, and then inviting up to nine people (who must be similarly equipped) to join. Even with that ease of use, however, it’s smart to take steps to make sure you end up with a professional-looking event. That could mean upgrading your webcam, mic, and lighting until you’re convinced that you’re coming across in the best possible light, literally.
The Trevor Project, an advocacy group for LGBT teens, hosted a high-profile Hangout in September with actor Daniel Radcliffe. Digital marketing manager Ryan Lombardini took no chances with his A-list guest.
“With any new technology platform, the more familiar you can make yourself in advance and the more testing you do, the better. We went through the checklist of requirements carefully because the last thing we wanted was to go live and have a technical problem,” Lombardini says. “We practiced ahead of time and made sure our moderator was someone who had done it before.”
Turn a Google+ Hangout into a Broadcast
A Hangout’s nine-person limit may hinder your imagination if you’re a marketer more accustomed to speaking to millions, but the good news is that every Hangout can also become a live broadcast (called a Hangout on Air) that gets recorded as a YouTube video by default. That means you can show it to as many people as you can attract, either in the moment or much later. You can even embed the YouTube link of the live broadcast or archived recording into the company website so you can show off this new piece of content on your home turf. Users as diverse as the White House, Tyra Banks, and the Dalai Lama have all given it a try.
“We didn’t want too many people in our live discussion group, because we thought the session would be too disjointed,” says The Trevor Project’s Lombardini. “We made it a Hangout on Air and got a steady rate of about 1,200 viewers through the hour-long broadcast. When we put the video up on YouTube, we got about 50,000 views in the next four days.”
Lombardini adds that advance promotion is critical and that he used all of The Trevor Project’s official social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) to drum up interest.
Make a Google+ Hangout Interactive
When designing a Google Hangout for a brand, keep in mind that you can augment it with any of several Google+ apps that encourage interactivity and collaboration. These apps include Google Docs; Cacoo, which lets users collaborate on diagrams; and SlideShare, which lets users show slide-based presentations.
With accessories like these, it’s easy to see how a Hangout could turn into a useful training session or webinar for customers or clients. Companies can also use Google+ Hangouts for workshops, live demos of new products, or press conferences. Solicit questions from attendees on-the-fly or ask for them in advance.
Provide Insights with a Google+ Hangout
Marketers have found that opening a window to the company with social networking is one way to build consumer interest and brand loyalty. A Google Hangout can open that window wider, giving customers a chance to connect face-to-face with the people behind the scenes and behind the brand. Create Hangouts for your celebrity endorsers or brand ambassadors, your engineers or R&D people, or your executives — whoever you believe will best connect with customers and provide interesting insights.
Cadbury posted a Hangout on Air with Olympic swimmer and Cadbury brand ambassador Rebecca Adlington. The event featured questions Adlington selected from Google+ Hangout participants, plus a quick round of a simple card game, says Jerry Daykin, Cadbury’s social media and community manager.
Taylor Guitars did something similar, collaborating with popular online musician Daria Musk to create a series of concerts and promotions designed to broaden its customer base quickly.
Addressing customers’ curiosity pulls them in; giving them sneak previews and behind-the-scenes peeks makes them feel important and valued. That’s what Cadbury was trying with its Triple Chocolate Tasting on Air Hangout hosted by one of the company’s official chocolate tasters. Today, Cadbury has more than 500,000 Google+ followers and has fully embraced Hangouts on Air, according to Daykin. It plans to continue hosting them regularly for its followers.
Generate Leads with a Google+ Hangout
Wherever there’s an audience, there are potential leads. All brands need to do is collect that information. Embed a Google+ Hangout into the company website and you can accompany it with forms or contests designed to collect contact information.
“We collected questions in advance via Facebook and Twitter,” says The Trevor Project’s Lombardini. “If we’re more concerned with capturing user data in the future, we can set up a form and ask people for some information before they ask their questions.”
Whether Hangouts are for leads, for messaging, or just for brand awareness, most marketers who’ve tried them want to continue. “We’ve seen a lot of success, and we’ll certainly do it again,” says Lombardini.