A little over a year ago, OnlineVideo.net first reported on the use of Google+ Hangouts as social media marketing tools . Twelve months later it’s back into the trenches to see what lessons marketers have learned as they take advantage of this unique face-to-face marketing opportunity.
With 602 million registered users and over 359 million monthly active users as of July, according to GlobalWebIndex, Google+’s worldwide audience continues to grow, up 33 percent from June 2012 through March 2013. Those numbers make Google+ the number three global social network behind Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, even though it has gotten limited attention on American shores as other services — Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest — enjoy more buzz and mindshare.
Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, which deliver free worldwide videoconferencing, are two powerful Google+ differentiators. With nothing more than a webcam, mic, and some decent lighting, marketers can launch a live conversation with up to nine participants via desktops or mobile devices. Hangouts on Air, which are streamed live to an audience of unlimited size via YouTube and then automatically saved there for posterity, are potentially powerful marketing tools, with HD capability to show off people or products in their best light.
Noted Google+ Hangout consultant Brandee Sweesy  finds that Hangouts and Hangouts on Air have been slow to find acceptance among marketers, especially among big companies with big brands.
“You see many more Internet marketers and entrepreneurs using them,” Sweesy says. “It’s still kind of new, and the theory behind it isn’t necessarily intuitive. More people need to understand the value of Hangouts, but it’s just a matter of time before the bigger companies say, ‘Oh, now I get it. It’s about engagement. It’s real, it’s live. It’s interaction with customers.’ I’ve only started to see it explode in the past three months as more marketers understand the value proposition.”
Use Hangouts on Air to Build Product Loyalty
One value proposition is simple brand building. Last year we talked to Jerry Daykin, the London-based social media marketing manager at Mondelez International, whose brands include Cadbury and Kraft. At the time, he said Cadbury had fully embraced Hangouts on Air, with such events as a Cadbury Kitchen Hangout  hosted by one of the company’s official chocolate tasters and Chef Eric Lanlard. Since then, by promoting its Hangouts energetically, Cadbury has grown its Google+ follower base by 150,000 people and has racked up three million video views for six Hangouts in the past year, making it one of Google+’s biggest success stories in terms of product branding.
Interational access for an international brand is a big benefit as well. “We’ve come to realize how global our audience is, so we’re changing our content to be less about local U.K activities. Our launch of Cadbury ‘Communities’ has massively increased our baking focus, and we have 70,000 members in our Cadbury Kitchen baking community,” Daykin says.
Use Hangouts on Air to Humanize Your Brand
Because Hangouts are a face-to-face medium, they can work exceptionally well as tools for humanizing a brand.
“Big companies don’t usually have a face,” says Sweesy, so when they do, a Hangout on Air can be a good way to put the company stars out front. Sweesy points to an entertaining August Hangout on Air featuring Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk , two good examples of faces who are closely associated with their brands.
Of course, politicians often need to be humanized as well, which is perhaps why the President, the First Lady, and the Vice President have all appeared in Hangouts on Air. During the recent Syrian strife, The New York Times, which has produced many Hangouts, hosted a Hangout on Air featuring Secretary of State John Kerry , an event that gave both the Times and the administration a chance to polish their brands.
Another example: Dell, which hosts customer-centric Hangouts that offer help, advice, and troubleshooting from friendly Dell experts who do put a helpful face on what would otherwise be a faceless company.
It’s also possible to connect person-to-person and make money at the same time. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who has a close working relationship with Google, leveraged Google technology during Fall Fashion Week with a shoppable Google Hangout . Visitors could actually buy DVF merchandise while watching a chat with von Furstenberg herself. As she spoke, clickable products appeared on the right side of the screen thanks to a connection with Google Shopping.
Create Several Pieces of Content from a Single Event
With a little imagination, a successful Hangout on Air that has been automatically saved to YouTube can become the source of many pieces of content that marketers can create at almost no incremental cost. Marketers can:
- Link it to a website or blog
- Drop it into a Facebook fan page
- Have it transcribed, and use the text as a blog post
- Use the YouTube Video Editor to create two-minute highlight clips, with optional annotations, that make viewers eager to view the entire Hangout
- Strip out the audio and use it to create a podcast
“You’d be amazed how much content you can create out of a single event,” says Sweesy. “It’s your opportunity find a way to make your story go viral.”
Daykin agrees. “It’s difficult for people to tune in live to a Hangout, but that doesn’t matter. They’ll engage in the build-up and discuss it after, so its life continues on. A Hangout is much more than the video chat itself. It’s a launching pad for your talking points, and you can really spread your message around.”
Focus on SEO
The Hangouts on Air brands store on YouTube benefit from priority search result placement within Google, an invaluable asset.
“Hangouts on Air get ranked even higher than YouTube videos at this point,” says Sweesy. “I watch them jump to the top.”
Google says that Google+ content positively impacts SEO rankings because Google indexes the content created within it the same way it indexes web pages. Sweesy’s advice is to be strategic about loading up Hangouts on Air with keywords — including saying keywords during the course of the conversation — adding text and descriptions and including a call to action alongside the video.
“Use every possible keyword,” Sweesy says. “It really helps.”