The term “hanging out” is often associated with friends, perhaps some cold beers, and just kicking back while talking about whatever. These conversations are informal, yet often have a profound impact on those who engage in them. In fact, the informality of it can actually contribute to the importance. The conversations are real, unscripted, and give direct insight into the mindset of the participants.
As a business, it can be incredibly valuable to both gain and offer this kind of insight for marketing and customer service purposes as well as to humanize your corporate brand.
Fortunately, Google has enabled just such an opportunity through their “Hangouts” service on the Google+ social media platform, and many high-profile individuals have already utilized it to their advantage. Foremost amongst them, Barack Obama recently held a hangout on January 30th to have a discussion with several Americans, and to answer questions submitted earlier in the week. It was a brilliant idea, and Obama, who has built a reputation as a savvy social media user, was wise to adapt this new platform to his political strategy.
Whether you are a CEO or some other executive in your company, if you would like to host a hangout to put a human face on your company, here are some quick tips that will help maximize the value of your hangout:
1. Keep it secure. You don’t want the conversation to spiral out of control. Either set some ground rules for the hangout regarding who can talk when, who can block others from talking and who can respond to prepared questions, or only allow a few participants at a time to stimulate a more fluid conversation.
2. Invite interesting participants. It is a good idea to have several interesting participants that can either host a round-table style Q&A or just banter with each other. If you do this, again, try to establish roles before going in so as not to step on anyone’s toes.
3. Record. This one is pretty simple. It’s a good idea to record sessions so you and your customers/community can go back and revisit the information presented in the hangout whenever needed.
4. Establish regularity. If you are just going to hold a one-off discussion on a popular topic, that’s fine, but consider the benefit of holding more regular sessions in the style of a “fireside chat.” If you hold a hangout once a week at the same time, you could potentially build a solid community that will grow and provide consistent, honest feedback.
These tips will get you started, but consider that this is a new method of communicating as a business. You can provide a forum where ideas are transmitted freely, honestly and directly in a way that has not been seen before.