Google Hangouts provide a powerful communications tool for business or personal use. But outside of simple texting or video chatting with one of your colleagues or friends, are you getting the most out of this free and potentially invaluable tool?
Google Hangouts can be confusing, because the term really refers to two different types of tools: Hangouts and Hangouts On Air. Add to that the fact that Google seems to be in a continuous state of evolving when it comes to Google Hangouts. The use of the name has changed since it was first introduced, and product features have changed.
Let’s break them down into some key features and differences:
Hangouts give you the capability to instantly communicate with other Hangout users. One aspect of Hangouts is like instant messenger on steroids. You can do text chats, voice calls, or video calls using the webcam on your computer. Chats can be private one-on-one communications with people on your contacts list.
Hangouts also refer to the ability to do group video calls with up to 9 participants, plus the organizer.
Hangouts work on mobile devices, especially Android phones and tablets (Android of course being the Google mobile operating system). See image below.
Hangouts are particularly useful for those who use GMail or Google Apps, because you can have the Hangouts capability sit alongside your inbox. Starting a chat there is easy and fast.
For Apps users, for instance, it replaces what was known as Google Chat and Google Talk . And if you use the Chrome browser, as of last week it got even easier. You no longer need a special plugin to conduct video chats, as announced  by Google developer Victoria Kirst. Video chat capability now works seamlessly in Chrome by clicking on the little video camera icon in your little Google Hangouts window.
Hangouts On Air
Hangouts On Air is a live streaming video service that allows you to broadcast directly to YouTube, Google Plus or your own website. Hangouts On Air can be broadcast from an event you’re hosting or even a live chat with your customers or the general public. You can have an unlimited number of viewers of your Hangout on Air, although you are still limited to the speaking participants.
To sum up the description of these two tools, Hangouts and Hangouts on Air are varied enough and feature-rich enough to be used for:
- Private internal communications with team members.
- One on one communications, or group communications.
- Public-facing communications for marketing and sales purposes.
We’ve asked some experts for their top tips and tactics for how to use Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts on Air for business purposes. Here’s what they had to say.
Pro Tips for How to Use Google Hangouts
1. ALWAYS Do a Test Run
Before you decide to conduct any sort of public event via Google Hangouts, you will want to get the technology down.
Once a meeting or public event gets underway, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Ron Cates, Director of Digital Marketing Education at online marketing company Constant Contact  says, “To familiarize yourself, and ensure everything goes smoothly (especially for a Hangout on Air), I recommend doing a test hangout before you run your first one.”
Allow 30 minutes for pre-start testing, emphasizes Ivana Taylor of DIYMarketers  (pictured above in a live Hangout), even if you’ve done them before. She adds, “Go through all the buttons, links, and chat features to make sure you can operate the controls when it’s time for the real deal. Treat that 30 minutes like being in the “greenroom.” That simply means opening the Hangout window privately before the appointed time, inviting any panelists and making sure that everyone looks and sounds the way they want to. Then when it’s time for the event to start — click on BROADCAST — and you are out of the greenroom and into the live Hangout.”
2. Use With Your Google+ Business Page
Hangouts On Air are good ways to promote your small business. So, assuming you have a business page on Google Plus, be sure you host it from there. “This ensures that you’re getting extra exposure for your business during your Hangout, rather than your personal account. You wouldn’t use your personal Facebook profile to promote your business — the same logic applies here,” Cates says.
3. Promote Before the Event
With Hangouts On Air, it’s important to promote your event well in advance so that you will have people actually watching your broadcast when it happens. Hangouts expert and author at Start Up Gap Andy Nathan has several pointers for getting your Hangouts On Air noticed.
The most important step in promoting your upcoming Hangouts On Air broadcast is to share it among your social media networks, he says. This includes people in your Google Plus Circles, those you are friended with on Facebook and your connections on LinkedIn. You can even invite up to 50 of your contacts via LinkedIn especially for the event. You’ll also want to encourage your guests on an upcoming Hangout to promote it with their social media contacts, too.
4. Collaborate Better With Your Team
Instead of seeing Google Hangouts as an event or broadcast, you can simply use it as part of your regular communications or collaboration with clients or partners. As Iska Hain, a member of Google’s Unified Communications Team, explained to Small Business Trends  last year:
“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.”
5. Monetize Your Business By Offering Coaching
Business coaches and consultants can take further advantage of Hangouts On Air by putting a premium on their services.
Small business coach Sarah Santacroce, of SimplicitySmallBiz.com , told Small Business Trends that Google has recently allowed content providers to charge a fee in order to allow only select viewers of their content, both live and recorded. This opens huge monetization options, Santacroce says. For example, a coach with a training program can charge subscribers to get access to their exclusive content.
Check out Helpouts  (image below), a monetization opportunity that is yet another variation of Google Hangouts on Air. We wrote about this new monetization opportunity for small businesses  not long ago.
6. Do Product Demonstrations
Almost any business could benefit from hosting a product demo via Google Hangouts On Air. Some companies have addressed customer service issues via Hangouts while others have utilized the service to better inform their customers on proper use of their products. Santacroce says, “This personal approach takes customer service to a whole new level. A company that sells beauty products launched a new product by holding beauty classes prior to the launch.”
7. Use That Video After the Event
Cates and Nathan say that once a Hangout is finished, it lives on in many forms.
For one thing, your Hangout On Air has now become a YouTube video. So now you can embed the code found on YouTube to include the recorded video on your website. Share it via email. And promote the video across all of your social channels.
For those who actually find you through your YouTube video channel, you’ll maximize the visibility by optimizing your YouTube channel and video description and presentation. For instance, be sure to include a link back to your business’ website as a call-to-action in the caption below the video on YouTube, Cates says. And add links to social channels, as well.
Nathan adds that clips from finished Hangouts can be used to promote future events. Now you can show people what to expect in future events. If, for instance, you do interviews, you now have something to show others when you invite them, or show others to entice them to attend.
8. Increase the “Know, Like and Trust” Factor
Hosting a Hangout On Air could allow your customers to get to know you, and thereby sell your company and your products and services more effectively. People who watch the video get a better idea what your business is all about. When potential customers see your business live in action – even if they’re online – it helps increase their trust in you.
Santacroce says, “We all know by now that people do business with people they know, like and trust. And for us, as small business owners, this means they need to know us. What better way is there than seeing us on video, during a live event?”
9. Increase Engagement Factor of Your Website
If anyone has ever suggested to you to “increase engagement on your website” but you didn’t have a clue how, then this point is for you.
Simplicity Admin’s Sarah Santacroce says another way to use videoed Hangouts on Air is to increase the engagement element of your website. “Essentially what we’re doing is creating content. And probably the most engaging type of content!”
Today, content has become more visual, spontaneous and “real.” One of the best ways to create a lively, engaging website and blog is with video that has been recorded live.
Nathan notes that video generated from your Google Hangouts and Hangouts On Air can be used as future content for your blog. Simply create an article that gives some background about the live event you videoed, and summarize some of the points. Embed the YouTube video, and now you have a blog post.
Or embed the video in your homepage or side column where it is front and center for all to see. Swap the videos out regularly, too, so that you have something fresh for repeat visitors.
Adding a recorded Hangout video may just increase the engagement signals to your website. People who visit your site and view videos are likely to stay longer and explore other parts of your site, if they like what they see. They are less likely to leave immediately as they might with a static text-only website.
10. Increase Web Traffic
Nathan reminds us that your Google Hangouts activity bodes well for generating more traffic to your website and social media channels. When you create video content, it can be shared easily among friends — and friends of friends — across social media.
To get the most out of that recorded Hangout video, however, don’t just forget it on YouTube. Take the time to write a full description of the video, using appropriate keywords. Include links to your website, blog and social channels. Respond to any comments you get on YouTube, also. Also, be sure your YouTube display is on your Google+ Business Page and/or individual profile.
Provided you describe the video on YouTube well, and include links back to your website, this will inevitably lead to a boost in Web traffic for your business, Nathan says. And quality videos will generate their own traffic, both through Google Search and on YouTube searches.
For more tips, see How to Use Google+ Hangouts for Business . While the technology has evolved since that article, the basic advice still applies.