6 ways to use a Google+ Hangout


Google+ is not yet a Facebook killer, but it has posted some impressive growth numbers and is slowly emerging as a formidable social network alternative. One Google+ feature that definitely has utility for publishers is Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts lets as many as 10 people gather virtually for a video chat. Participating in a Hangout requires an Internet connection, webcam, microphone and a Google account. Google automates all the basic production tasks, including switching among subjects as they talk.

Hangouts can be held privately or broadcast “on air” for public viewing. On-air Hangouts are streamed on the editor’s or brand’s Google+ profile page, automatically recorded and then uploaded to YouTube for on-demand viewing.

“Hangouts are the best function that Google+ has to offer,” said Marc Zarefsky, communications and social media manager at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications. Zarefsky has hosted a handful of internal Hangouts for Medill staff and alumni and, more recently, two on-air panel discussions.

“They’re a great way to showcase the expertise of our faculty and alumni and provide analysis on hot topics,” Zarefsky said.

Media companies can use Hangouts in a variety of ways. Here are six that you should consider experimenting with for your audience and/or your staff.

Interviews: Reporters can use Hangouts to conduct one-on-one interviews – they’re an easy (and free) way to capture video that can be repurposed in multiple ways across your digital properties. Any subjects who are promoting themselves, their business, a product, a book or anything else are good candidates for Hangout interviews.

Breaking news: Because Google Hangouts are easy to set up, they are a good platform for discussing breaking news. Medill’s two on-air Hangouts were organized quickly in response to major events: the Sandy Hook shootings and the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax.

“One of the benefits of doing a Hangout is its immediacy,” said Zarefsky. “The Manti Te’o discussion came together quickly – the story broke on a Wednesday afternoon, and we did the Hangout at 9:30 Thursday morning.”

Here’s the archived Hangout discussing the media’s coverage of Sandy Hook:

How-to’s: Enthusiast or B2B editors can use Hangouts to host product demonstrations or other educational programming. Hangouts include a screen-share function, enabling screencasts for example, or hosts can download a SlideShare app for presentations.

Internal training/collaboration: Editors and writers in multiple offices or bureaus can use a Hangout to collaborate on story development. The screen-sharing feature and integration with Google Drive documents enable real-time editing.

In this manner, Hangouts can be used for all kinds of internal training with small groups of employees. Medill’s internal Hangouts, for example, have included a virtual “meet and greet” between incoming graduate students and faculty members. Another brought together alumni from across the globe to talk about the school’s international residency program.

“Insider” access:  Offering exclusive perks is one of the ways publishers are experimenting with paid content offerings. Inviting subscribers to chat with a writer, editor or special guest can be a great incentive to purchase a premium membership.

Focus groups: Hangouts are an easy way to get feedback from small groups of subscribers or online visitors. They are more personal than a conference call and easier to organize than an in-person focus group. These could be done weekly or monthly to ensure a steady stream of feedback, building loyalty as you go.  

Zarefsky offers a few additional tips:

  • Set up guest Google+ accounts for panelists. This is a simple step that removes one barrier to participating.
  • Limit on-air Hangouts to an hour or less. The sweet spot for panel discussions is probably 30-45 minutes. If you have a large panel of participants, you may be able to go a little longer.
  • Promote on-air events through your regular social media and email channels to maximize viewership.
  • Incorporate social media into the broadcast itself – for example, create a Twitter hashtag that allows viewers to ask questions that panelists can answer during the Hangout.
  • Have some fun with the format. “You want to be social, a place where people can come and enjoy themselves,” Zarefsky said.

Have you tried a Hangout yet? Let me know about the experience and what you’ve learned.

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