Google+ Hangouts for Business

There is a revolution happening across the web and it has gone largely unnoticed. Traditionally a disruptive technology comes across our field of view like the Titanic cutting across our bow. The horizon is totally obscured and all we can see is what we missed before.

Keyless cell phones (first brought out by Apple) case in point. Google search is another example. But there are some disruptive technologies that happen so ahead of their time that hardly anyone notices. No one really thinks they’re valuable. The projected use for them is really nothing like what they will eventually be used.

The telephone is a classic example. When it was invented it was laughed at by those who thought that they already had sufficient means of communication and absolutely could not visualize why anyone would want to call a place to speak to a person. SMS is another. Originally a service that allowed telephony engineers to talk to each other between cell towers, when carrying out repairs, it was bundled as a service because early cell phones had so very few features to offer. Yet by 2001 in the UK more SMS traffic was sent than calls and the same thing happened in the US just six years later.

SMS changed the nature of communication between people, across telephone networks and the English language. It made communication both instant and asynchronous and made sure that we never quite felt totally alone, again. Which brings us to Google+ Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts On Air

The Google+ Hangouts app was one of those quiet developments. In its first iteration it enabled people who had never met before to connect on-screen, across the web. Daria Musk, Google+’s first entertainment star saw another possibility as she thought that it might allow her to travel to venues and play to audiences without lugging her heavy musical equipment around, everywhere. That was 2011.

Since then Daria Musk has played remotely to audiences across the globe. She has become a music artist with her own global audience and she has done it, mostly, without moving from home.

Why is this relevant? The reason we travel across countries and timezones is because we feel the human connection is important. We have, traditionally, used technology to make just that happen by transporting a person as quickly as possible across the globe. Before air travel we used ships and trains, enduring gruelling journeys because the human connection was irreplaceable.

The reason it was irreplaceable is because we needed it in order to take the measure of another person and establish a sense of trust.

Agreements, vows, letters, messages, telegrams, faxes and even emails were OK. But without another person standing there, in front of you, it was hard to tell if you really liked them or not. If you did not like them there was no chemistry between you. Without chemistry there could be little trust. Without trust no relationship, be it business or personal could take place. So, travel was on the cards.

Google+ Hangouts Are a Shortcut to Relationship Building

Google+ Hangouts, as a concept, were no more new than the cell phone (which started as an experiment in 1918) was, as an idea. Yet, the impact they have had on relationship building across G+ has been undeniable. The visual element not only makes it easier to connect with people but it also provides an easy medium for creating content and then repurposing it.
One classic example of this is my recent HOA with Stephan Hovnanian and Ben Fisher, both veteran marketers, who asked me some of the most deep, nuanced questions I have been asked of late.

Scott Scowcroft picked up on one of them and gave his The Scott Treatment of it, providing a targeted, focused look at just one point of the entire HOA which, however, restarted the conversation.

On an entirely different, but related, point at the very beginning of last month I had to give a HO talk to a business group in Singapore. They were new to G+ which meant that within a day I had to get them to open up a G+ account and explain how Hangouts worked and how we could connect. On the day, as it happened, for some reason, they could not get the laptop they were using to recognise the camera and for technical reasons which had to do with how the AV equipment in the room were set up, they could not switch it so I ended up giving a talk without being able to see the room (they could see me) and taking their questions, at the end, blind.

So the HO was like this:

• No visual feed for me to connect with the audience
• Imperfect acoustics in a room not really wired for me to clearly hear every question asked (we got round it by repetition)
• The audience was new to remote presentations
• My remote presentation was sandwiched between two real-life ones

Just a week later I had a very similar presentation, with a very similar audience in RL. So I had:

• Flown there especially
• Prepared a presentation backed up by slides and videos
• Required them to be there especially
• Created specific team exercises and games

When talking to corporate audiences I always provide a questionnaire and solicit feedback to gauge how effective was the process for them and what outcomes they took away. What surprised me the most, in this case, was that the imperfectly executed, remote presentation delivered a couple of percentage points higher in audience satisfaction than the way more elaborate, live one.

This is a single example and it’s difficult to draw to many conclusions from it. But it did have me thinking that maybe the reason for the difference, small as it was, lay in the fact that in my HO performance the audience felt more in control. Stripped of the extra layers of metrics that RL presentations are judged by (the clothes of the presenter, the time of the day, the chemistry with some of the audience members, etc) the real value of the HO lay in the content that was being delivered and the way the adversarial conditions were being overcome.

The Semantic Search Question

Hangouts on Air, of course, really come into their own when you also consider the impact they have on search. Semantic search looks at the relationship between individuals on the web in order to calculate the relevance of each one and the importance of the content they interact with.

A HOA provides an easy means of generating engagement, creating interaction and citations (for a brand) and generating the kind of footprint that impacts, positively, on search. And that’s before we take into account the benefits that are derived from the speech-to-text interpretation that happens automatically on YouTube and the content mining that Google’s increasingly better understanding of spoken speech, allows.

Remote Presentations

I have, of late, being working remotely on an increasing basis with corporate clients. It is easier on my sanity, much more cost-effective for the client as they do not need to pay my expenses and they lose less working time from their stuff who access the HOA either individually, at their desks or in a room, together (when their location allows it). I am keeping a close eye on the results. As data accumulates I will know if the learning outcomes are the same as with live events.

In the meantime, Hangouts On Air, should feature prominently in your marketing horizon and should start to be factored in your plans for building brand equity and finding an audience.