Google’s social network, Google Plus (or G), has been met with both cheers and jeers. But there’s one thing users seem to agree on: G Hangouts are awesome. Hangouts, a group video chat function built into the G platform, are reason enough to join. I hosted a Hangout recently and was delighted to see the connections and possibilities it opened up! A relatively random group of folks in the Jewish world got together and ended up talking about the bridges between experiential education and new technology, and it was fascinating. Here’s a quote that says it all from Peter Eckstein, one of the participants, from his blog "The Fifth Child":
If you haven’t yet experienced a GHangout, you should. All it requires is a Google account, a quick and painless browser plug-in download, a webcam and yalla…you’re in. Video conferencing is old news, I know, but what G seems to have done is created a free and seamless environment for folks (up to 10 at one time, according to Google!) to come together to explore and learn together. What was exciting about this hangout experience was that it expanded my PLN that has, up to this point been, in a large way twitter based. Now, these tweeting encounters are being enhanced by virtual f2f encounters that deepen the educational experience. And it’s always fun to see the face and hear the voice behind the tweet.
With a little forethought and an openness to serendipity, Hangouts will revolutionize your networking efforts, expanding your core and engaging new hubs. Why, you ask? Well, because Hangouts are:
- Totally informal. It’s all in the name! Everyone can let down their guard in a "hangout" in a way they never could on a "conference call."
- Personal. Video is a powerful connective medium. For more, check out this awesome TED Talk from Chris Anderson.
- Spontaneous. Or planned. Plan in advance, or start one on a whim. Add folks intentionally, or just see who shows up.
- Small-ish. Ever tried to "network" at an event with 300 people? How many did you really get to know? Probably about ten, which, it just so happens, is how many folks can join a Hangout.
- Built into a follow-up system. If you’ve hung out, you’ve got their contact info. Send a message via G or Gmail and continue the conversation.
- Equipped with a back-channel. Software giant IBM always uses a live chat feature as a "back channel" to supplement its internal conference calls, for lots of reasons (check out the book "Now You See It" for more). It can be a great way to collect resources, moderate or enrich conversations, or just clarify mis-heard words.
- Flexible. Spend twenty minutes, or two hours. There’s no commute, and any bit of connection can help you reap bigger rewards.
- Low-commitment. "Should I stay or should I go?" Whatever you want! If a Hangout isn’t working for you, say thank-you and peace out.
- High-reward. There’s nothing like in-person contact. When that’s not an option, video chat is a worthy alternative. Meet people as they are, where they are.
I highly recommend trying out a G Hangout with a couple of friends to get the hang of it. If it’s your first time using video chat through Google, you’ll need to download their video feature before jumping in (if you’re doing this at work, you may need to check with an IT person to get this going). It’s a cozy platform, not terribly demanding once you’re there, but any new technology takes some getting used to.
Once you’re comfortable, here are some suggestions for setting up your first G Hangout networking chat:
Find a cool tweet or Facebook post (or heck, G post) from someone whose work interests you. Reply or RT with a comment – begin a one-on-one conversation. If they’re responsive, and it seems fruitful, ask them if they’d like to hangout on G sometime, and pick a time. Shoot a couple messages out to your friends and followers – let them know you’ll be hanging out with X cool person at Y time, and would they like to join? You may be surprised as to who replies – go with it! If you’re feeling super-motivated, you can also list your Hangout here. Let the topic of conversation flow based on the people who come, don’t try to force a topic. As to structure, it might be useful to try out the three questions community organizers use for engagement:
- What do you want to do, but haven’t?
- What’s stopping you, what are your roadblocks?
- What do you need (resources, ideas, connections) in order to make it happen?
After every conversation, always follow up with everyone who came, connecting them to you AND one another. Offer some piece of added value – a link to a resource, an additional thought on the conversation, etc. – and see how things grow asynchronously. Remember: Networking sessions like this may not always reap great benefits for you personally, but they could be serendipitous for the others attending! Your reward in "closing triangles," connecting two other people, will be intangible and under-recognized, but deeply valuable to building your network for the future. It’s unavoidable. There are drawbacks to G Hangouts: You have to be on Google Plus. Such is life. But if you already have a Google account, half the work is done for you. Signing up for Google Plus solely for the sake of the Hangouts is completely acceptable and, in my opinion, highly recommended. Technical difficulties. Ugh. It can, and does, happen with anything technological. It will happen to you. But, keep in mind that this is a grand experiment, that we’re all learning together, and that there are always creative ways around technical issues if you can stay positive. The technology is also changing and improving every day. It will get better, and easier. To wrap up, I’ll be hosting at least two informal networking Hangouts a month, and would love for you to join! Find me on G, Twitter (@miriamjayne), or shoot me an email ([email protected]) and let me know if you’re interested in trying out this experiment. So go forth and Hangout! Have fun, and let us know how it goes! How are you using G, and Hangouts in particular? What have you tried, and what connections have you made?