Why You Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Google Hangouts

Whether it's a virtual lesson in baking or a virtual meet-and-greet with your new team, Google Hangouts is the place to be for small businesses.
April 30, 2013

We've all been conditioned to accept video calls as just another one of the many communication tools in our arsenal. Yet many small-business owners wonder about exactly how they should use it. That question becomes especially topical with the rise of Google+. While there are lots of reasons to use Google+, for many people, Google Hangouts is the biggest reason.

Google Hangouts offers a clear advantage over Facebook. Facebook currently offers video chat via a partnership with Skype, but only for one-on-one calls. In comparison, Google Hangouts allows up to 15 people to converse at once and opens up the viewing for as many people as you want. After that, you can save the chat on YouTube.

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Not surprisingly, Google is citing Hangouts in its small-business pitches for Google+. "Lots of different businesses and consumers use Hangouts," says Gretchen Howard, global director of social solutions at Google. "It's technology, but it's not scary." On its Hangouts for Business page, Google presents Hangouts as a way to conduct meetings with far-flung staffers and forge a deeper connection with consumers.

Are You Hanging Out?

BakeSpace, a Los Angeles-based digital publishing platform for cooking enthusiasts, has been a Google+ success story. More than 360,000 people have BakeSpace in their Google+ Circles. Comparatively, BakeSpace has just around 14,000 Facebook likes. Babette Pepaj, founder of BakeSpace, says the brand had the luck to be featured as a suggestion in the Google+ Food and Drink section. She also says she got tired of trying to figure out the algorithm for News Feed and of paying to advertise on Facebook.

BakeSpace has hosted about 40 Hangouts. A recent Hangout was a tutorial on cupcake decorating tips. Another featured Steven and OJ Williams, the founders of Chamelon Cold Brew Coffee. The Hangouts, which are easily found on the brand's YouTube channel or its Google+ page, manage to humanize the brand as well. Another benefit, Pepaj says, is that since the video is shown live, users are not expecting a polished execution. "Creating video content for YouTube takes forever," she says. BakeSpace's Hangouts have drawn about 100 live attendees on average. Pepaj says that may not sound like much, but "it's really hard to get people to tune in unless you're President Obama."

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OtterBox, a company that makes smartphone cases, meanwhile, has only done one Hangout so far, but is planning at least six more. "We do a lot of videos and a lot of tech content because we play so much in the mobile space," says Storm Tussey, social media lead for OtterBox.

Different Ways to Hangout

Anita Campbell, CEO and editor-in-chief of Small Business Trends and an OPEN Forum contributor, recently wrote a column suggesting that businesses use Hangouts to conduct meetings, hold webinars, offer consulting services and even hold press conferences. Despite her advocacy, Campbell says she believes relatively few small businesses are using Hangouts. "It tends to be used more by tech insiders and online marketers," she says.

One of the key features of Hangouts is the ability to view the proceedings even if your audience doesn't catch it live. "You can send out an email newsletter to say you're going to have a Google Hangout, and if [people] can't make it, you'll have this video," Campbell says.

Another intangible benefit is just seeing your co-workers' faces. Marc A. Pitman, a.k.a "The Fundraising Coach," used a Hangout to meet with a product team behind a CD set called "100 Donors in 100 Days." Pitman says, "I still haven't met everyone on the team, but after the Hangouts, it feels like we have met."

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