Between Gmail, Search, Maps, Android and the up-and-coming Chrome browser, it's almost assured that Google is part of your daily business life in some way. But if you're like most business owners, you haven't considered Google+ as a serious business tool.
You're not alone. Since its public debut in late 2011, Google+ has been building a following as a collection of social apps and services -- a social site where people can post updates about themselves, share photos and videos, and more.
Figure 1: The Google+ home page.
ut while most of the Google+ offerings are clearly aimed at the Facebook set, the video-chat feature, called Google Hangouts, begs to be exploited by business owners as an easy—and free—way to pull together ad hoc online meetings with remote employees and clients.
Meet and Collaborate with Google Hangouts
As with the big-name online meeting services, Hangouts lets you invite a group of people to a virtual conference. Using the webcam and microphone on supported devices—desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet—participants can, of course, share their voice and video streams. But, and here's where it gets interesting, they can also share what's on an individual's screen, collaborate on a shared document stored in Google Docs, view a presentation, watch a YouTube video together and more.
If a team member can't join the video meeting, you can opt to dial-in the person by clicking on the "Invite" button and then the "+telephone" link. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free, and international calling rates are surprisingly low.
The second best thing about Hangouts, after the fact that it's free, is that it's easy for you and your team members to use. There's nothing to install. With the typical online meeting services, participants have to be reminded to click on the link in the invite 10 minutes in advance of the meeting, since inevitably the service wants to download an applet or check that the PC has the latest version of this audio player or that video player.
Hangouts operates more seamlessly. As long as all participants have a Google+ login, you can launch and enter a session with just a few clicks. In addition, meetings in Hangouts can be impromptu, since there is no need to log into a service to schedule a meeting. Simply select which of your "circles" (Google+-speak for the groups of contacts you create in the service) you want to invite, and invitees receive a notification (via Gmail, Google Chat, or Google+) for the hangout.
You can also use Hangouts for public events for your customers and potential customers. For example, LateRooms.com, an online travel site specializing in last-minute hotel deals, scheduled a hangout to share travel tips on Venice and promoted it via a Google+ event. The company now runs regular hangouts covering all its different destinations. On a larger scale, app developer Rovio launched the "Angry Birds Star Wars" edition of its wildly popular game franchise via a hangout, counting down to the midnight game debut.