Google Hangouts enable improved features in real-time, online collaborations.
By Tyler Olson and Janet Preus
Editor’s note: With the unprecedented success of Facebook as both a social networking site and a business tool, additional interactive sites were sure to follow. Google launched Google+ (also called Google Plus or G+) mid-year 2011 and is already retiring some features and introducing new ones. It has been described as an amalgamation of services we already use; the idea, according to Google, is to use them better, with the ability to collaborate in real time as its primary focus. One of Google+’s services is “Hangouts.”
Although unprofessional sounding at first glance, Google Hangouts are the next best thing for social media, businesses and individuals, with multiple ways that the new feature of Google Plus can be used. For meetings, promotions or customer service, Google Hangouts offers a kind of one-stop online networking shop.
Collaborating is now more accessible and versatile with the ability to work in several popular file formats and programs—and, of course, to choose who can access the files and participate. With constant improvements in Google Docs (another Google Plus feature), and the newer Hangouts feature, working as a team can be done in real time without the hassle of waiting for each person to email the others—and less time spent on coordinating projects can translate into higher productivity.
Google Docs, specifically, revolutionized group work and teamwork. Once shared, each of the members can view or edit the document at the same time. This seems basic now, but consider the added convenience of multiple people not only editing the same page or document at the same time from multiple places, but sharing it using live chat, video and audio capabilities. This means it’s possible to collect the ideas of others involved in the meeting or project in one place with real-time interaction and interface. With chat, video and audio capabilities, this technology can make file and video sharing as simple as copying and pasting, and with the YouTube search bar placed into the chat screen of Google Hangouts, there is no need to leave the video screen to share examples of inspiring videos or how-to tutorials. Simply stated, Google Hangouts are made for collaboration, with multiple outlets and utilities for businesses to implement on the same site. Businesses large or small can benefit from these capabilities.
The advent of webinars saved interested business people time and money by being accessible online. Professionals at many levels have benefited from the development of the ingenious idea of bringing the lecture, seminar or conference directly to the participants. No matter where you are (provided there is WiFi), there is the potential to share in important events—and most of the time, it’s even free.
Webinars made meetings and presentations simpler; Hangouts are going one step further. From presenting proposals to discussing projects that are in process with customers, Google Hangouts provide a platform to accomplish it all in one place.
Staff who are out of the office never need to miss an all-staff meeting. In fact, the meeting can be conducted almost anywhere that WiFi is available, with nothing, in terms of visual elements or personal interaction, lost in the transition. Hangouts can potentially save companies thousands of dollars in gas and travel expenses by using this tool for meetings of all kinds.
Marketing and managing
Google Plus business pages now allow you to chat as a business with any individual or company. Showing your fans how to add videos or giving them VIP access to your office could have a more profound impact on their brand opinion and recall. The future may very well hold Promoted Hangouts, similar to Promoted Tweets, where Google Plus users can “hang out” with a popular or influential personality and encourage others to do so by sharing it on Google Plus in a sort of “trending” section.
In addition, Google Plus records and posts the attendees of the Hangout. Because of this, tracking and circling potential clients and leads is as simple as one or two clicks after the Hangout ends. From a marketing standpoint, this is a huge plus, too.
There are other ways that Hangouts can help manage regular business needs. Customer service, for example, is important, but waiting on the phone for hours on end or sending numerous emails became obsolete with companies monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social network complaints. When handled efficiently, using Hangouts could save a lot of hours or time on the road by working with a customer live online, walking together through the issue in question.
A customer community
Rather than having someone just “like” your page, or offer a comment, participants can truly interact with you and your brand. Creating a community and involving fans by holding a Hangout where fans and followers can ask questions—and interact with each other, too—is a new and innovative way to further their engagement.
Since there is a limit to how many Google Plus users can hang out, this could have a bearing on use. Having only 10 members able to join at a time is a hindrance for big companies, and major brands, but for small businesses and startup companies, 10 might be just the right number, and it keeps the conversation and interaction manageable, too.
Google Plus users have made ingenious use of the new video chat feature. In only a few months since the introduction of the Google social video application to the world, there has been a Hangout on ice, several hours of Hangout concerts, and one person even used it for home security purposes. With these tools and a little imagination, more novel uses of the technology are inevitable. This could be the right time to engage your employees, too, in thinking creatively about how to make use of this service to benefit your customers. What will your business use Google Hangouts for next?