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Hanging out on Google+: the opportunities for brands

Posted by Tamara Littleton on February 28th, 2012 at 9:10 am

David Beckham’s doing it. The Muppets are doing it. Even Barack Obama’s doing it. Hanging out on Google+ is becoming the way to talk to your followers.

What are the opportunities for brands to use Google+ hangouts?

Customer service is probably the most talked about application for Google+ hangouts. Dell has publicly said it will use hangouts for customer service, and it’s not hard to see how the ability to switch from broadcast to face-to-face conversation with a customer who needs specific help with an issue will be useful for customer support services.

But there are some really interesting, new and different uses (and potential uses) of hangouts that we’ve seen since launch.

Sharing or presenting information. Screensharing was part of the bundle of ‘extras’ that Google+ launched earlier this year, and lets everyone in a hangout see what’s on your computer screen. This could be great for international presentations, or for sharing information with a remote working team.

Market research. Google+ integration with YouTube lets G+ users watch YouTube videos together. Mashable reported recently on the post-Super Bowl hangout hosted by NBC and Google that let fans watch the Super Bowl ads together and then ‘dissect’ them. This could be a great way for qualitative research to be conducted, letting customers discuss and choose new product lines, logos, or marketing campaigns.

Mentoring, training or leadership initiatives. Agency BCM launched an ‘Agency Hangout’ where its staff could take questions from advertising students on anything relating to advertising or agency life. Ghetto Film School is using hangouts to host monthly masterclasses for aspiring and established film makers to talk to acclaimed film makers. According to the company’s press release, each episode features a top director leading a discussion about a specific topic, and: ‘participants for each episode are given creative assignments to complete and then share on Google+ and YouTube’. I’m sure we’ll see more companies using hangouts for training and mentoring schemes in the future.

Broadcast: ESPN used a combination of Google+ hangout, Facebook and Twitter to host a live webcast of the Winter X Games Selection Show, where host Brandon Graham was joined by athletes to review highlights from the previous year and answer questions from fans. Note that with a limit of 10 participants per hangout, hangouts are designed for conversation and chat, rather than wide-reaching broadcast (though of course there’s nothing to stop you recording the hangout and broadcasting it more widely).

Music promotion: Musician Daria Musk is using Google+ to connect with fans and promote her music, using videos to host concerts, and hangouts to include fans in after show parties. In an interview with Google, reported on the Next Web (and well worth watching), Musk talks about Google+ in general as being a ‘new broadcast ability’ to a global community, where ‘everyone’s invited to the party’. A game-changer for the music industry? Musk’s experience suggests so.

But beware: hosting a hangout is not without its issues. You can’t stop people you’ve invited to join from inviting their own friends, so you may not end up hanging out with the people you want. A lack of moderator controls (at the time of writing) has seen a number of Google+ hangouts being disrupted by trolls, and this lack of control will put many brands off holding public hangouts (you can’t throw people out of a hangout once they’re in). I would expect Google to introduce moderator controls to avoid this issue in the future. Moderation ability will be even more important now Google+ is open to everyone aged 13 and upwards (there are some limited controls in place to prevent young teens inadvertently ‘hanging out’ with a stranger outside their circles).

In the meantime, choose carefully who you invite in.

And if you want to find somewhere good to hangout on Google+ in the weeks ahead, just check the listings.

Tamara Littleton is CEO of social media management agency, eModeration.

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