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This chapter is from the book

How to Get Started

Hangout technology within Google+ is constantly evolving. To make sure you have the most up-to-date information, I have included resource pages links throughout this book and in the section at the back. Deciding to participate in a Hangout is always a nerve-wracking experience. Whether we like it or not, it is a very public stage, and we’re in full view of the web. This thought alone has the tendency to bring out our inner critics in full force.

There are a couple things I can share here that will help. First, things go “tragically” wrong in Hangouts only if you try to be something you are not. An over-polished, perfect image and rigidly controlled promotional overtones (the things we always hated about TV) are likely to cause a reflexive negative response in your viewers. Embrace the possibility that things will go wrong regardless of how much you plan. Your audience will only care if what you have to say is of value.

This is a very human response. We live in a world where creating content is cheap, which makes attention expensive. No matter how good or bad your Hangout was, it will be of no use to you if you do not get seen. If your audience does not engage. If it does not have an impact in their world.

So focus on the content. Be as real as you can be. I was going to say be relaxed, but that is never quite possible, particularly if you’re hosting a Hangout and you have to do everything yourself. However, try and have as much fun as you can. At the end of the day you’re using a screen to talk to people who may not even be in the same time zone as yourself. That is pretty futuristic if you think about it.

Knowing some of the basics also helps of course.

You could use a Hangout without having a Google+ account just through your Gmail. This is called “Hangout Lite,” and it is a feature available to Gmail users who want to have a video call with someone they’re exchanging emails with. It is also available for Apple devices users, so it is not limited to a PC or Android environment. For more information on both these options, you should go to this link: http://goo.gl/xbknT and scroll down to about the middle of the page.

I would advise, however, creating a Google+ account in order to use Hangouts. Beyond the fact that this makes the connection a lot more robust, there are additional benefits in the way the connection being made can be enhanced.

Strictly speaking, there are three types of Hangouts available to you:

  1. A Hangout that does not automatically include video to start. Instead, it loads a chat box in the G+ environment as shown in Figure 1.1. The best way to think about this option is as a chat room of old with some very modern capabilities. You can create as many of these as you want, either one-to-one or with a group, and archive them for reference.

    Figure 1.1

    Figure 1.1 A Hangout chat box in the Google+ environment. You can choose to make a video chat by clicking the video icon.

    The Hangout chat window that opens up within Google+ allows you to carry out and archive a chat conversation with another person. You could even add several other people to that chat and share pictures and links as necessary. You can also choose to go to video by clicking on the video icon. This will make a video call available to everyone who is on that Hangout chat.

  2. A plain-vanilla Hangout (usually abbreviated to HO or HVC for Hangout Video Call) that allows you to videoconference with any number of participants between 1 and 10. The type of connection should be familiar to anyone who has used Skype on a one-to-one basis before, or has done any kind of videoconferencing in the past. Some suggestions on how to best prepare for this are given by Google: http://goo.gl/jadB2d.
  3. The more familiar and versatile Hangout-On-Air (frequently abbreviated as HOA). The difference between this and the HVC is that it allows you to automatically record the Hangout and broadcast it. There are pros and cons to using each, and, as you probably have guessed already, each type has its own set of rules and requires its own technical setup.

Hangouts are used widely enough, at the moment, for us to be able to look at their uses in a broader spectrum. This serves both as a basis for suggested areas where they could be applied and as a springboard for further innovation.

Hangouts are frequently used in the following areas:

  • Customer Management
  • Company Sales
  • Staff Training

Each of these sections has its own subset of applications that depend on the exact nature of your business, the internal setup of your company, and your current requirements. Broadly speaking, however, this is where Hangouts can really prove useful:

In Customer Management

  • Develop better customer relations by providing the opportunity of a real-time connection to answer complicated questions in a more personable way than an email. This is particularly useful when potential customers require reassurance in remote-buying situations or when large-ticket items are involved and the questions bring answers that themselves might raise more questions.
  • Improve customer service. Customers with concerns are always ready to imagine the worst and frequently overreact. The ability to selectively take customers into a Hangout and provide a face-to-face experience can be key in diffusing situations before they deteriorate to the point beyond recovery.
  • Humanize your business. There is a lot of talk in marketing circles about putting a “human” face to your business. Behind the logo and behind the brand pull, customers want to know that there are real people who really care. The ability to occasionally pull customers into a face-to-face meeting can create a real sense of caring. The buzz that comes from being able to talk to someone about a problem and get a solution can go a long way toward the creation of the much-needed evangelism without which no modern business can long survive.

In Company Sales

  • Pilot products and services. Hangouts enable you to pilot projects and get direct feedback. At the very least, they become a great way to gather intelligence on customer requirements regarding products and services.
  • Announce new products and services. Sales relies on buzz and buzz requires interaction. Hangouts provide a low-cost, deep-reach means of actually engaging with customers and potential customers, convincingly showcasing new products and services.
  • Offer after-sales services or consultations. Depending on the product or service you are promoting, you might want to add the “cherry” of a personalized approach to those who might need a little hand-holding after making a purchase. A plain vanilla Hangout is completely confidential: no recording takes place and you need to be invited in order to join it. This makes it a great way to provide a sense of exclusivity to customers and clients who trust you with their business, particularly with high-end purchases or complex services.

In Staff Training

  • Hold webinars. Bringing staff up-to-date is always difficult. Space, time, and even location requirements make it hard to organize any kind of training or coordination with your staff. Hangouts offer the opportunity to coordinate in real time without needing to get to a specific location or even be in the same building.
  • Conduct team meetings. With teams being spread thin these days, or even working from home, having a team meeting that only needs an agreement on time is a great boon to any business manager or owner.
  • Collaborate on projects. Hangouts offer the ability to collaborate on projects without having to have every member of a team in the same location. This can become even more useful when it is used in combination with other Google properties like Google Docs (GDocs), for instance. The ability to remotely connect staff this way unleashes the knowledge capital that frequently lies dormant in a business and increases participation and engagement in your business.

Hangouts on Air (HOA) also have a host of uses:

  • Hold a Press Conference. The obvious use of a HOA for marketing purposes is to use its public broadcast nature to spread news about your products or services that will be viewed by many more than just the participants of the Hangout on Air. This will bring your YouTube channel into play and leverage the traffic that YouTube, the web’s second most popular search engine, receives to further increase the visibility of what you’re promoting.
  • Announce events. A HOA is a great way to announce a product or service by holding an event. The welcome addition of recording it for a YouTube channel amplifies the impact and increases the audience reach. In addition, YouTube provides an embed URL for embedding videos in other websites and blogs, which further amplifies the potential for reach and increases the possibility of a product or service announcement going viral after the HOA is over. Additionally the embed code provided can be used while the HOA is live. This can help integrate a corporate or even a brand website that is relatively static into the marketing campaign, bringing loyal customers to the site in order for them to see a live-streamed event.
  • Create an online presentation that combines video, slideshare, online apps like Google Docs, and chat. Orchestrated correctly, all this helps increase the impact of the online contact, creating a multidimensional effect that wows audiences and wins their loyalty.

With all this functionality and potential at our fingertips, the question that usually gets asked first is, does it require any special equipment?

Well, at its most basic level a Hangout needs nothing more than an Internet connection, a laptop, and a webcam. You can have Hangouts using your cellphone or mobile device (Tablet computer or iPad).

Google recommends downloading the latest version of their free Talk Plugin: http://www.google.com/talk/.

These are the supported operating systems:

  • Mac OS X 10.5+
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Vista with SP1 or later
  • Windows XP
  • Chrome
  • Ubuntu and other Debian-based Linux distributions

As Hangout requirements change in the future, you can find updates here: https://support.google.com/plus/answer/1216376?hl=en.

And the supported browsers necessary for a better experience are as shown here:

  • Google Chrome 10+
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 8+
  • Mozilla Firefox 3+
  • Safari 4+

The list may seem technical but the chances are that you already have a combination of one of these operating systems and browsers and use it often, so there should be nothing to worry about here.

If you’re serious about using Hangouts for business and better communication, however, you need to think about investing in some equipment. Why? Because the medium should not be the message. By that, I mean that you should not let a Hangout experience that’s poor in technical quality affect the way your content is received. Yes, in today’s hyper-connected, social media savvy world, we make judgments based on the quality of the content rather than the packaging, but in the first instance, before any other contact is made, you should not be putting up any additional perception barriers between you and your audience. A Hangout that is not technically as good as possible, unfortunately, can do just that at a time when you’re trying to achieve the exact opposite.

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