If you’re considering adding Google+ to your social repertoire, one of the service’s most compelling features is “Hangouts on Air.” Hangouts (as the feature is more commonly known) lets you broadcast live video that can include multiple participants, to an audience of your choosing.

Hangouts can be public or private and you can use them to host meetings, do presentations and roundtable discussions, have interactive Q&A sessions with your customers, or just about anything your imagination can come up with. Once your Hangout is over, it’s easy to post to your YouTube Channel for more exposure. And with Hangout creation being extremely simple, the primary difficulty with integrating Hangouts in your social strategy is not learning how to create them but rather deciding just what to do with them once you do!

So what are other companies doing with Hangouts? Plenty of big brands are making an investment in Hangouts on Air: National Geographic celebrated its 125th anniversary with a Hangout featuring panel participants on all seven continents. The White House used a Hangout for an interview with First Lady Michelle Obama about her “Let’s Move” initiative, Clinique has done expert Q&A sessions on Hangouts, and Cadbury has used Hangouts for taste testing.

We’ve already talked to some insiders about the basics of how Google+ Hangouts work and how you can use them for promotions, so it’s time for some deeper cuts. If there’s one vertical that’s full of possibilities for Google+ Hangouts, it’s education. We spoke with three different educators about how they’re using Google+ Hangouts to further their organizations on this innovative platform. Here are some practical examples and expert advice on how Hangouts work for them — and how they might just work for your organization too.

Hangouts for Roundtables and Lectures

Rasmussen College primarily uses Hangouts to offer career advice to its students. “Our team wanted to be able to bring informative video content to our audience in a new way that engages with them,” explains Grant Tilus, Inbound Marketing Specialist for the college. “Through these Hangouts, we are able to quickly highlight a variety of different subjects — which helps us positively impact our viewer’s abilities to develop into well-rounded career professionals. They’re doing a great job helping our audience within their own areas of professional development, and we plan to continue to use Hangouts in our content strategy.”

Rasmussen hadn’t previously done any live video work, but now it produces two regular Hangouts: Subject Matter Expert Showcase and Career Chat. “The Subject Matter Expert Showcase is typically a single staff member that presents on a subject with professional expertise that can help our viewers develop their knowledge and skills within the areas being covered,” Tilus tells us. “The Career Chat features several of our in-house career experts, as well as an industry expert that works within the career field that we’re covering. We take live questions from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube throughout the chat from our viewers.”

Hangouts for Interactive Learning

Hangouts aren’t limited to the presentations and roundtable-style discussions Rasmussen uses. At the Conversational Koine Institute, founder Michael Halcomb uses Hangouts for live language classes. Using modern technology to teach ancient Greek may seem like an odd choice, but Halcomb says the strategy has been a key component of the Institute’s success. “Hangouts are at the heart of the Institute,” Halcomb explains. “They allowed me to broaden the scope and reach of the Conversational Koine Institute, which, today, has worked with students in Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, South India, Mongolia, Canada, all across the U.S. and more.”

Halcomb had done videos on YouTube before, but the static format — which offered no way for viewers to participate — didn’t work as well as Hangouts. Now Halcomb hosts regular classes which range from hour-long sessions to eight-hour weekend workshops using Hangouts with students around the world. “I’ve created an immersion-style atmosphere where students can begin to internalize the language. There is a wide range of diversity among my students and some of them do not have English as their mother-tongue. Thus, Koine becomes our common language,” Halcomb tells us. “I have found that to keep students interested in learning a language, you have to interact and be engaging. I do lots of dialogue and ask lots of questions.”

Hangouts for Workshop Presentations

ArtistWorks provides online music lessons with a lot of social interaction. Instead of static lessons, students can ask questions of their teachers and submit videos of their work to get expert feedback. But interaction on ArtistWorks isn’t live, which might suggest it’s a poor candidate for using Hangouts. Nevertheless, ArtistWorks has had a lot of Hangout success. “For marketing, the benefits of having a solid platform for live events that can be streamed on any site is compelling,” says Ian Alexander, Vice President of Marketing for ArtistWorks.

The company has done enough Hangouts that it has a solid strategy for their creation; it partners with musical communities that have an audience likely to be interested in ArtistWorks. The partner site helps to host and moderate the panel while ArtistWorks brings musicians to provide demos and students to ask questions. “The idea is to be casual and interactive,” Alexander explains. “We want to give our partner community members special access to the artist that they admire, learn some tips, and get a feel for what it must be like to be a part of the school. It’s mostly entertainment, with some learning mixed in.” Sometimes there are even surprise guests, which generates an enthusiastic response from its audience.

What ArtistWorks doesn’t do is static lectures; the brand is based on interactive learning and its Hangout strategy is designed to make interactivity stand out. “A straight lecture with fielded questions from the internet is a dramatically less impressive and effective method,” Alexander tells us. “So we entertain, teach a little and ultimately, market. The presentation takes on a life of its own and we find when we let them organically evolve, they are supremely more entertaining.”

Hangouts Aren’t a One-Size-Fits All Social Solution

Google+ logo screen

Even with these examples of successful Hangout strategies, the perfect way to add Hangouts to your social media presence isn’t necessarily clear-cut. “If you’re just starting out, simply try to make the video as professional as possible,” Tilus recommends. “But don’t get hung up on every little production detail; Hangouts are meant to be transparent and personal. Create a structured process so that you can keep the conversation within the video moving forward in order to keep viewers interested. After you have completed a few videos, check out your YouTube analytics to see where viewers may be exiting the videos and determine if something within the format needs to change.”

And Hangouts aren’t perfect; video quality can be an issue and managing a live broadcast can be a real challenge. “This is not a medium for those looking for perfectly scripted presentations. But if you are interested in having an organic experience for your viewers, it is definitely a valuable tool,” says Alexander. “Because we have access to great artists and musicians, and because the cost is low and the value to the partners and markets is high, you just can’t match it.”

How Hangouts might work best for your brand is something you’ll have to determine with a little trial-and-error. Fortunately, Hangouts are quick and easy to produce, which gives you some freedom to experiment with format without burning a lot of time (or money).

Are you using Google+ Hangouts to promote your business? Share your thoughts in the comments!

[Image credit: West McGowan]