I think Google Hangouts are the most interesting aspect of Google+. To date, however, I don’t see them being used in very creative ways.
A Google Hangout is little more than a glorified video chat and could be accomplished using a variety of technology, but they are unique for two important reasons.
First, the technology exists inside of Google+ so you have a simple interface to involve your connections inside of the platform.
More importantly, Hangouts are connected with YouTube giving you the capability of publicly broadcasting your Hangouts to a broader audience of viewers. In addition, you can record, edit and archive the session right on YouTube for even greater exposure or start a hangout to specifically view and discuss an existing YouTube video.
Below are five ways any business could use Google+ Hangouts to facilitate some powerful customer, internal and market engagement.
Virtual customer meet ups
Something I don’t think we can do enough is bring small groups of customers together just to meet each other, network and swap stories. I’ve long advocated doing this over informal lunches, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do this as a Hangout. Give each person a couple minutes to introduce their business and maybe talk about their greatest current challenge and then let everyone jump in and discuss.
Live expert interviews
You could easily use this technology to conduct live video interviews as a way of creating high level content. You could do this with known experts and authors and such or you could focus on strategic partners or industry leaders. When you combine this with the ability to live broadcast and archive on YouTube, you’ve really got some nice potential. (You might want to employ a Hangouts scheduling tool so you can promote these live events on a regular basis.)
I’ve been to in person conferences that feature some robust small group roundtables and I find them to be some of the most effective sessions I attend. The idea is to gather a group of customers and prospects and come up with a topic or challenge that is shared by the group. No one leads the discussion, you simply facilitate so it stays on track. You could do this using Hangouts and might find that some of discussion offered by your customers could center around solutions you’ve provided for them, but let that happen naturally.
Preview an event
Imagine if you were holding an all day event with educational sessions provided by a group of industry experts or strategic partners. You could use Hangouts to preview the content or let each speaker give a five minute overview of what participants can expect to gain from their session. You could do this as presale kind of thing for an event or as a way to get people already enrolled even more excited.
Virtual focus group
Getting customer feedback is a great way to find out if you are on track with some aspect of your marketing. You can use Hangouts to test ideas, messages, colors, even user interfaces as one way test and get immediate feedback. I think the ability to see faces is important when conducting research. You’ll probably also want to enable the screen sharing function as part this exercise. (You can share your screen, show specific files, access Google Docs and even add your Slideshare account once you start your Hangout.)
I think the only limit here is one of imagination. Think about any possible way that you and your customers, partners, vendor, and mentors could benefit from face to face engagement and think Hangouts as an option to make it happen in a variety of settings.