As people’s comfort levels with accessing and creating online video increase, it’s likely that your customers and prospects will be more and more willing to interact with your brand through live, interactive video.

Here’s how you can create a Google+ Hangout for your customers, and how you can use this tool to position your business as a market innovator.

Google Hangouts is the group video chat feature available on Google+. There are a number of potential business uses for Google Hangouts including product demos and launches, customer support, brand building, and more.

Getting Started

Getting Started With Google+ Hangouts

Before you can create a Google+ Hangout, you’ll first need to create a Google+ Account (you don’t need a Google+ Business Page, just a basic Google+ account). Of course, you’ll also need a webcam and a microphone connected to your computer. After you’ve logged in to your Google+ account, launch a Hangout by clicking the “Start a hangout” button, next to the yellow video camera icon, in the right hand column of your Google+ stream.

You’ll see a new pop-up window that looks like the image above. Nobody can see or hear you at the this point. This is what Google+ refers to as the “green room” where you can get your camera setup and decide who to invite to your Hangout. At the very bottom of this popup window, you’ll see buttons entitled Mute Video, Mute Mic, Settings, and Exit. Click the Settings button to test, troubleshoot, or make changes to your camera, microphone, and speakers. The other three buttons are self-explanatory.

Inviting People to Your Hangout

Send Invitations

You can send an invitation to “hangout” to as many of your Google+ connections as you’d like, but only 10 people (including yourself) can actually take part in any given Hangout. If more than 10 people try to enter the Hangout, they’ll get a message telling them that the Hangout is currently full.

By default Google+ includes the “Your circles” button, but you can invite additional contacts by clicking the “+ Add more people” link. Here, you can select specific Circles or find individuals you’re connected with by typing their names and selecting them from the picklist. When you’ve finished your invitation list, click the green “Hang out” button to send your invitations.

A post will appear in all your invitees’ streams letting them know that there’s a Hangout going on, along with a list of all the other people currently in the Hangout. If individuals happen to be signed in to Google+ chat, they’ll receive their invitations through an instant message, with a link to join the Hangout. Note that the Hangout you’re in is visible to everyone in the circles of the other Hangout participants, so people that you don’t know may know that you’re hanging out. If none of your invitees are online, you’ll see a splash screen with the message: “Nobody is here right now.”

The Hangout Experience

The Experience

When people accept your invitation, you’ll get a notification that they’ve joined your Hangout. You’ll also see them appear in your Hangout popup window, either as live feeds from their webcams, or profile pictures from their Google+ accounts if they’ve chosen to disable their cameras.

The promotional video from Google+, below, provides a great example of what you can expect to see in your Hangout.

 

Basically, if you’re familiar with any video chat application such as Skype, you’ll be very comfortable using Google+ Hangouts. Google appears to have applied its “minimalist” design to make it very intuitive and easy to use Google Hangouts.

Recommendations for Using Hangouts

Experiment

Since Google+ and Hangouts is still very new, it’s probably a good idea to try it out with a group of trusted and willing Google+ friends first. Like any new marketing tool, it can be a great way to brand your business as forward thinking and innovative, but make sure that you’re comfortable with the technology first.

Once you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with how the application works, then you can invite your customers to take part in a Hangout. Let them know this is your brand’s way of engaging some of its key customers. Choose a strategic group of brand advocates and introduce a new product in a Hangout, or use Hangouts as an alternative way to delivery product demos. It will only be a matter of time before your competitors are using this tool; beat them to the punch and create a Google+ Hangout for your customers sooner rather than later!

Have you used Google+ Hangouts to engage with your customers? Share your experiences in the comments below.

[Image Credits: Google+, Treesiepopsicles, Stanford EdTech]