If you’re looking for ways to engage audiences, clearly there will be times you’ll have to leverage technology to do it.  One of the things social technology does well is break down barriers to people convening around lifestyles and interests, be they personal or professional.  One of the (relatively) new technologies on the scene is Google Hangouts/Hangout On Air, which enables online video meetings either privately or publicly.  It’s the latter that you’ll most likely use if you’re in the business of building thought leadership around particular areas of expertise.

Before we go any further, let’s assume life is infinitely simpler if you’re doing a Google Hangout on your own computer and with a few friends.  That’s certainly the impression you get from the above video.  It’s when you try to replicate that situation in a professional setting that things can get a bit trickier.  Yes, you can still do a Google Hangout.  Many already have and many more will do so.  However, having run the Brand Activation Association’s first GH this past Tuesday, there are things I’d wish I’d known.

My assumption is that the problems we faced (panelist invites not arriving, the inability of certain panelists to connect, etc.) were the result of restricted permissions and protocols on the part of their respective companies.  That said, here’s are things I’ll keep in mind for next time:

  1. To participate in a Hangout On Air (the ones that are publicly broadcast), everyone needs a Google+ account.  Not a small thing.  Yes, you can use your personal account, but you must have a G+ profile setup.  Make sure your participants set this up in advance.  If people plan to participate via a personal G+ account, then make sure they give you their personal email address.  Send the email invite to that address, not their corporate address.
  2. Do a video run-through with all of your participants.  I made the mistake of just doing a call on the day before.  Yes, we covered discussion flow, whether or not we should make direct invites to the media (corporate sensitivities!), etc..  But the critical mistake was not having the meeting inside a Hangout.  After all, that’s what the service is for!  Had we done that prior to the actual session, we would’ve found out about tech issues at that point, not when we were about to start.
  3. Corporate firewalls and protocols are not inconsequential.  It’s really important to get your IT departments involved early.  I suspect that one of the things that happened was that corporate firewalls prevented some people from participating other than as viewers.  I know there were several steps BAA had to go through in order to make it so our company—via the Gmail for Businesss setup—could actually run Hangouts.  Probably true for other folks as well.
  4. Browser versions matter.  Note this important line: “Hangouts supports the current version and the 2 previous major releases of the browsers listed below on a rolling basis.”  In all the promo for Google Hangouts, Google presents the product as a great leap forward in terms of ease of use.  The reality is that if you don’t have a relatively recent version of one of the major browsers, it’s no haps.  In our case, one person was able to get in only after she switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox, which was presumably was a version in the acceptable range.

For more info on how to schedule and setup a Google Hangout, I found Google Community Manager Natalie Villalobos’s short list helpful, as was this video by David Jackson of the School of Podcasting.

The Hangout ended up being about 30 minutes long and some good conversation came out of it. We’ll do better next time.  Here goes:

 

 

Posted by Rob Fields