Elements of Google Plus – Part Five: Hangouts

The Hangout feature is possibly the most useful and underrated elements of Google’s social platform. Its versatility and ease of use make it ideal for both professional and personal work.

For use on computers, tablets or mobiles (through the Google Plus app), there are two functions in the Hangout section to serve your needs: Hangouts and Hangouts On Air (HOA). Both options serve distinct groups, and allow you to choose which style will best suit your needs. There are certain elements within the Hangout feature that make it both useable and fun.

How to Start a Hangout

On your Google Plus page, choose the Hangout icon from the left menu. It will lead you to a menu of current Hangout On Air that you can choose from, or you can start your own by clicking the red button in the top right corner of your screen. From there, you will be brought to a list of people in your circles, with the left hand side of the pop up screen resembling this:

elements of google pt 5 - start a hangout

Attendees are not limited to computers: You can dial people in via the telephone – calls to USA and Canada are free, other countries are very affordable (see below for some examples) if they can’t patch in with a computer.

elements of google pt 5 - hangouts

 Simply follow the prompts for friends via computer, telephone, and Enable Hangouts on Air (if desired, more on that below), and start your Hangout. You can even name them to make it easier for your friends (ie. ‘Computer Talk’, ‘Bronies United!’, ‘I (heart) the OHL’).


What’s the Difference between a Hangout and a Hangout On Air?



With the ability to host up to ten people (1host, 9 guests), Standard Hangouts are a great place for personal, corporate or private calls. You can collaborate in documents with screenshare, use the effects and dial in attendees via the phone. This style of hangout is NOT indexed and saved to YouTube – lots more privacy than the Hangouts On Air (HOA) version.

Hangouts On Air (HOA)

The HOA function offers benefits that the regular Hangouts can’t. It can have an unlimited members; it allows for bigger groups to congregate and share. Unlike the Hangout, it is public; Indexed and saved in the host’s YouTube account for future reference, you can upload as many videos as you’d like. Unlike most uploads you’re not capped at 15 minutes; videos can be up to three hours long. The ability to upload immediately is bonus, as it will allow you to push your new content as soon as it’s online.


What are some of the useful tools in Hangouts?



The ability to screenshare is perfect for remote meetings; having a visual aid can bring clarity to both the user and members of the Hangout, increasing efficiency and improving your results. Note one of the few drawbacks of the Screenshare option is that it is not available on phone-based hangouts. In my tests with both tablets and mobile Hangouts, only the tablet was successful with the screenshare feature.

When choosing the Screenshare option, the source documents are not limited to Google Drive. Choose the Share option in your window: you are presented with a selection of sources to share – including your desktop and open windows. The quality depends on several factor, like screen size and resolution, but in the tests I did with tablets, it was fine. This feature would be ideal for a private presentation or sales call when an in-person presentation is impossible.


A Bit of Fun with Google Effects

Effects – sounds, hats, eyewear, facial hair – adds fun element to an on-air call. Similar to the Effects offered in the Photo element of Google Plus, you can make some seriously comical combinations. Self respect might be optional.

elements of google pt 5 - hangouts effects3

One of the interesting aspects is how the facial recognition software comes into play with the Effects feature in Hangouts. There is a number of combinations to use in Effects, and the additions gleefully follow the movements of your head as you talk and interact. The interesting feature is that they will only attach to a human face.  While testing this, I tried several mediums to see the extent of the technology. Portraits, paintings, and comics, as long as they held to the traditional ratios of a human face, all worked wonderfully, regardless of size or angle.

elements of google pt 5 - hangouts effects mal reynolds

elements of google pt 5 - hangouts effects portrait








The Far Side comics or Modigliani paintings, due to their elongated features, were not recognied, nor were figurines, or felines. My cat Tycho was kind enough to help me experiment – you’ll see what I mean.

elements of google pt 5 - hangouts effects cat test

Why Use Hangout?

There are many benefits of the Google Hangout feature. Unlike other screensharing softwares, this is both free and clear; the delays are minimal and the screen clarity is far superior to even paid services. The ability to be indexed into YouTube creates an easily accessed history that requires almost no effort on your part. This also makes it easier to share and promote through social media and websites, while allowing you control of its content and production. Unlike Yahoo’s On the Air service, you can’t share on Facebook and Twitter in real time, but its ability to index immediately, and have unlimited members far outweigh its lack of social sharing.

Google has also shown its ability to accept feedback and make the changes that customers want, particularly in regards to screen size. Originally, the screen size in HOA was a¾ sized screen with another smaller screen underneath. This previous incarnation was deemed too unprofessional, and was criticized for being so. Google wisely fixed this late last year and switched to a defaulted full screen; it’s only served to make Hangouts superior in usability to their competition.


Why Google Hangouts Matter To Your Business

There are many elements of the Google Hangout feature that are beneficial to your business. First off, it’s FREE – great for small business and entrepreneurs. Secondly (and more importantly), it’s a comprehensive, easy to use tool that can readily grow your business presence online. Regular use of the Hangout tool for remote meetings allows you to expand your hiring field, regardless of geographic location. Screensharing capabilities that are this clear and easy to use make remote training a breeze.

Regular additions to your YouTube page are easily promoted through a comprehensive marketing and communications plan, allowing you to grow your fans or customer base. Perfect for discussions or demonstrations, the HOA service is useful to anyone regardless of interest or profession. The HOA function can be used many different ways:

  • A product demonstration for a sales pitch
  • Professional workshops and presentations
  • Language lessons
  • Educational lectures
  • Giving a cooking lesson
  • Concerts or performances

All these things are possible with Google Hangouts On Air. Increased production values via apps increase professionalism and quality of these videos, for those requiring more polish but lacking editing skills.

Whether it’s through the use of Hangouts as a conference and screensharing tool, or by using the Hangouts On Air videos on YouTube to educate current and prospective customers, the Hangout feature is one that should be an integral part of your professional development and success.


Bria Jordan

Bria Jordan is a Toronto-based Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Consultant. A published writer for the last 14 years, she began her career as a music journalist before moving into marketing and communications. She has recently written a series about Google Plus. Follow Bria on twitter @InfiniteSass.

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