Burton Hohman / Marketing / May 13th, 2014

The Biggest Reason to Stop Ignoring Google+

Google+, the red-headed stepchild of social media. People make fun of Google+ even more than Bing (OK, maybe not that much). While Google+ may seem like a pale copy of other social media platforms, we recently centered an entire campaign around it and suggest you do the same.

Not a Black Sheep

Let’s be clear, Google+ is more than just a Facebook clone. Tucked in its framework is a powerful live video broadcasting tool that is free for anyone with a Google+ account. It’s called Hangouts on Air – a beefed up version of the normal video chat app Hangouts that allows for live broadcast and interaction with fans.

Hangouts on Air has been used by professional sports teams, the cast of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even President Obama to talk with core audiences and create reusable content. Earlier this year, we hosted a Hangout with one of our clients to conduct a live Q&A session.

The client: Florida Polytechnic University

The challenge: Engage with prospective students and parents for a university whose campus is still under construction

google event photo - 1 (1)

Up in the Air

For an educational client, Florida Polytechnic University presented a unique challenge. In 2012, the Florida state legislature approved the founding of a 12th official state university, focused on computer science and engineering curriculum. Construction of the main campus began as did efforts to enroll the first class of students.

Unlike most schools, potential students did not have an opportunity to drive out and walk the campus, unless they had a hard hat handy. So we needed a way to interact with students and parents that would build the brand of this cutting-edge university. A live online Q&A session with Florida Polytechnic staff and faculty fit both criteria.

On Air

After Florida Polytechnic agreed to host the Hangout on Air, we got to work on the logistics. The basics of running a Hangout on Air are quite simple, but a successful Hangout requires careful planning. We had to set a date, finalize which faculty members would be on camera and determine which topics students and parents would most want to hear. And if you’ve ever tried to broadcast anything live, you know we had to consider technical issues like internet connection, lighting and audio concerns.

Next, we had to promote the event to prospective students and their parents.. The first thing we did was create the event page on Google+, the Hangout with Florida Poly. This page would served as the hub for our marketing efforts (more on this in a moment). Leveraging existing marketing efforts and exploring new opportunities, we spread the word, including:

  •         RSVP calls-to-action on existing marketing material
  •         Social media reminders to students and parents to prepare questions
  •         Emails to interested students
  •         Pay-per-click campaigns with new extensions pointing to a dedicated Hangout landing page
  •         Reminders to prospective students through recruiters

After previous overtures to traditional media earned no attention, I tried a more direct strategy to reach journalists. Through Follwerwonk, I found the email addresses of education reporters in the area. As a result, two local news outlets ran stories before the event. After the Hangout, one of the outlets ran an in-depth interview with the moderator.

Armed with more than 50 unique questions for our panelists and more than 165 RSVPs from prospective students and parents, we launched the Hangout. During the broadcast I controlled camera views and played video questions recorded by students. All in all, more than 160 viewers tuned in live to watch with dozens of questions asked in the chat.

My detailed sketches for Hangout Best Practices.
My detailed sketches for Hangout Best Practices.

Hangout Off Air

One of the most powerful tools of the Hangout on Air is the event page, which continues to live on after the Hangout has ended. In our case, the full Q&A video is embedded via YouTube, and visitors can see a full record of the questions submitted and the answers provided by Florida Polytechnic admissions officers. If you looked at the Spider-Man link above, you probably saw useful calls to action including ways to buy tickets online as well as other content to buy. The platform offers an incredibly customizable experience that can provide value for months or years after the event.

We used the Hangout as a marquee event in their marketing efforts, but the simplicity of the platform allows you to have a Hangout up and running in five minutes. It’s a simple, flexible tool that can deliver powerful results. With Google continuing to invest in streaming video platforms, I foresee a bright future for Hangouts on Air, even if marketing folks are still largely ignoring Google+.

Still not sure how you could utilize a Hangout on Air? Comment below and we can help you brainstorm.


  • Peter VanRysdam

    Alright, alright…maybe it’s finally time to give g+ more than a casual glance. I can’t see myself using it personally, but certainly for work.
    Oh, and I love that you suggest we use an old film camera, per your sketch. Great post!

  • Joshua Burke

    I am not much of a socialite when it comes to interwebs, but I have really come to enjoy g+. What I really like ARE the hangouts… there is massive potential there for teams to communicate much more effectively by using the hangout apps. I just wish there were more, does anyone know how to make web thingies?

  • http://brandmitchell.com Brandon Mitchell

    Feels like a slightly misleading title. Hangouts is definitely a great app (I use it for every staff meeting or any call I need to make while working), but it isn’t Google+. Sure, it is integrated into G+, but so is every other Google app right now. That doesn’t mean “Gmail is the #1 reason to use Google+”. It means “Gmail is a great product. You do need Google+ to use it though.” I think the same idea applies with Hangouts. Hopefully as Google (reportedly) starts to remove the deep Google+ integration into all its other apps we will see a separation in products. Either way, Hangouts is a great product, but it isn’t Google+.

    • BurtonHohman

      Hey Brandon, thanks for the comment. I think there might a bit of confusion on the wording, and this is in part some poor naming choices from Google.

      So “Hangouts” are the the 10 person video chats that any G+ user can do privately within their circles, and “Hangouts on Air” which is what was specifically referenced in the post is the live video broadcasting tool. I would argue that Hangouts on Air are very much tied to Google+.

      Despite sharing the same name, there is a significant difference between Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts on Air.

  • Ali Al-Zand

    Burton, you say you played video questions asked by students. I assume those video questions were not being asked live during the event, but were pre-recorded. What platform did you use to allow your students to record these video questions?

    I’m thinking that it would be cool if one could invite someone from the audience who has a question during a HOA event to temporarily appear “on stage” and ask his question live on video. But apparently that’s not a feature HOA currently supports. And besides, there’s that 30 second delay between the presenter and the audience — so even if it was a feature, if probably would be unusable.

    What do you think?

    • BurtonHohman

      Hey Ali, that was one of the issues we had talked about. In order to keep things as smooth as possible we did pre-record the video. While there isn’t a dedicated tool to have video questions recorded, you can invite someone into the Hangout. As the moderator you have control over all invited persons’ audio and video. While yes there is a delay for the audience, I think if you planned it right you could work out a way to have viewers join the video live.

      However, I would highly suggest planning out that before the video. Taking video questions on the fly would be very difficult to coordinate. If you wanted to do this I would suggest reaching out to people before hand and then planning at what points you would bring them into the hangout.

      If you really wanted to do a true video audience question. My suggestion would be to have the hangout organizer not be on camera. The organizer could then monitor the chat and invite a person into the video with muted audio until it was time for them to ask a question.

      But I agree an “On Stage” feature would be pretty great!

      • Ali Al-Zand

        Thank you, Burton