In April 2013, Gmail celebrated its 9th birthday. With well over 400 million active users, many of which work in small businesses, it’s easy to see how many important interactions are taking place every day from within the application. Although email is a very important form of communicating with employees, partners and customers, there are other channels that can help us collaborate more effectively in order to build stronger relationships.
Iska Hain, a member of Google’s Unified Communications Team, joins us to share how you can extend your Gmail interactions into group video calls using Google Hangouts, whether you’re in the office, on your laptop or on your mobile device (Android or iOS). She fills us in on what you need to do a live broadcast with Google Hangouts On Air… all for free.
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Small Business Trends: Can tell us what are Hangouts and how do they help small businesses, or any kind of businesses, in communicating with customers?
Iska Hain: This May we actually launched a new Hangouts app, which is available on desktop, Android and Apple devices. It basically allows you to connect with anyone at any time for free. It is all about unifying your communications across all your devices and your platforms, so that you can talk to people that you care about.
Small Business Trends: Can talk about how Hangouts go hand in hand with Gmail?
Iska Hain: Previously in Gmail, you were able to chat using Google Talk. We have now made it possible for you to upgrade the chat experience to use Hangouts. If you’re having a conversation with someone in your Gmail account on your desktop, you are able to message someone else in their Gmail account on their desktop or on their device, whether it is an Android or an Apple device.
It really allows you to talk to any of your friends or your family members no matter what device they have, for free.
Small Business Trends: What are some other things that Hangouts offers that small businesses might not know about?
Iska Hain: One of our primary goals with Hangouts was unifying communications across device platforms and people. Google is all about making you insanely productive and trying to take away the cumbersome effort you have to put into thinking about how you are going to communicate with someone – via text, or SMS or email.
You can use Hangouts for free in Gmail. If you are a Google Apps customer, you can also use Hangouts. It makes things like group communication better so you can easily toggle between a one-on-one conversation with someone, to a group conversation by adding someone’s name or email address. You can also easily toggle from having an instant messaging conversation or text conversation, to a live video call by clicking on a video button. It automatically invites anyone that is in that conversation to Hangout.
Your Hangout conversations are synched across devices. So if I am having a conversation with you in Gmail and I decide to switch to my Tablet or to my Android device, that conversation follows me from each device. I can pick up right where I left off and I can see all of the history right in front of me. This is really convenient and it is a great solution.
Small Business Trends: I live in Gmail at this point. Anything I can do that is integrated with Gmail helps me further my collaboration in communications with customers and prospects.
I know you are in the millennial generation and your style of communication may be a little different. Are able to foster communications for both the old guy, like me, but also with young folks?
Iska Hain: Absolutely. I grew up with a smartphone, SMS and instant messaging. Staying connected to my friends and family has always been really important to me. Even when I came to work at Google, l wanted to find a solution that allows me to communicate with my colleagues, just like I will with my friends or with my family.
Google runs on Hangout so it was built into our culture from the very beginning.
Small Business Trends: Let’s talk about some of the video aspects that you mentioned.
Iska Hain: What’s great about Hangouts is I can message someone in a Hangout and say, ‘Hey are you still free, do you want to chat?’ And they can say, ‘yes or no.’ If they say ‘yes,’ I can easily click the video icon and it will invite them to a video call. That style of communication, being able to seamlessly jump from a text communication to a face-to-face communication, feels very real and very genuine.
Those conversations that happen in Hangouts, the ability for the screen to flip to which ever person is talking and the ability to use Apps and doc sharing, YouTube sharing or screen sharing, makes that interaction very productive, very efficient. The fact that it is all free and it works across all devices makes it a really great solution. Both in your personal life and your professional life.
Small Business Trends: So you can actually start a Hangout session on one device and carry it over to another device? Say a lot of people maybe start out on a conference call on the phone or in front of the computer, but they have to run. You can use Hangouts to do that right?
Iska Hain: That’s right. Hangouts are actually the only free, stable and multi-wave video-calling product on the market. Google really just wants to make it easy for anyone to have the same conversation that they would in the hallway at work or at home at the dinner table – online.
Small Business Trends: Are you able to see these online interactions that you have later?
Iska Hain: Yes, if you decide to save your Hangout history, you are able to go back and open up a Hangout conversation with anybody and see that conversation. It goes pretty far back. You can see how your relationship has evolved over time.
Small Business Trends: I have hit hard on the Gmail angle when it comes to Hangouts, but can you do a lot from Google Plus as well?
Iska Hain: That’s right. In order to have group video calls, if you are not a Google Apps customer and you are using Hangouts within Gmail, you need to have a Google Plus profile. We recommend having a Google Plus profile in order to get the most out of the Hangouts experience. If you are an Apps customer, you can have a Hangout with up to 15 people versus 10 people, which comes standard with having a Google Plus profile.
Small Business Trends: If you are doing a Hangout On Air, do you also have to have a YouTube account?
Iska Hain: If you have a YouTube account setup and you decide to do a Hangout On Air, which allows you to broadcast that conversation on your Google Plus profile or your Google Plus page, you do need to have a YouTube account.
The video of the broadcast of that Hangout will be automatically sent to your YouTube account. You are able to go back and edit the Hangout or share the Hangout using that YouTube URL and embed it on a third party site if you like. So yes, YouTube and Hangouts On Air there are integrated.
Small Business Trends: Hangouts is a way you can communicate across a number of platforms and across a number of devices. In certain instances, you can do video conversation for up to 10 or 15 people at a time. The bottom line is, you can use this one platform to do all of these different styles of communications across any number of those devices?
Iska Hain: You got it, that is right.
Small Business Trends: Iska, where can people learn more of about Hangouts?
Iska Hain: You can download the Hangouts app in the app store or from Google Play. You can also download Hangouts as an extension from Chrome, or you can upgrade to Hangouts in your Gmail by clicking on your name in the GChat roster and clicking the upgrade to Hangouts option.
Small Business Trends: You can download the Hangouts app from the Apple store and get it on your iPhone as well, right?
Iska Hain: That’s right. Folks that are on iPhones and folks that are on Android can now talk to each other via video chat for free, which is the first time this has happened. So we are very excited.
This interview on how to use Google Hangouts is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.