True confession — I’m a social media junkie.  Kred, an organization that measures social media influence, recently placed me in the top one percent of influencers on the Internet.

I’m happy to see the majority of small businesses owners like me are enthusiastically embracing social media as a smart, cost-effective way to market their businesses. But even for a social media junkie, trying to stay on top of the latest and greatest is challenging.  The social media market changes rapidly, and there is no sign of that trend slowing. If you’re a newbie or a novice user, the task of successfully understanding and using these techie tools to grow your small business can be daunting.

Just recently, new statistics showed that Google +, the new kid on the block, is now number two behind Facebook, overtaking Twitter. Many companies with their ear to the social media ground have already found themselves on the positive side of the learning curve with Google+. One aspect that these small businesses are taking advantage of is called Google + Hangouts – a new approach to virtual meetings and video chat.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a few small business owners to find out how Google + Hangouts has worked for them, where it may fall short, and how to avoid common pitfalls for first time users. These few tips can help you navigate your way through understanding how Hangouts works, and whether or not it would be an asset for your small business.

1. Get the most bang for your buck. 

Small businesses with a strong online presence have found Hangouts to be user friendly when integrating it with existing social networks and YouTube channels. Babette Pepaj, founder and CEO of BakeSpace, Inc., the Web’s first food-focused social network, has successfully integrated Google + Hangouts into their online marketing program with great results.

“We love Google Hangouts! The technology allows us to have a vibrant conversation with guests from around the world while streaming the video live for all to see,” Pepaj says. “We tried previously to produce videos for YouTube without using the G+ Hangout platform. We found the process of transferring, formatting, and uploading video to be a major hassle. Thanks to Hangouts, we now login, click broadcast, and our show is posted to YouTube a few minutes after the episode wraps up.”

2. Make sure your team is familiar with the unfamiliar in advance.

With any new technology, the learning curve can cost you more than time if it interferes with a productive meeting. Stephan Hovnanian of Shovi Websites knows this all too well. “Not everybody is aware of this new video chat technology,” he says. “Despite its 500 million plus users, far fewer are familiar with how to use it.  Unfortunately this, coupled with sub-par equipment, can really derail a potentially great business meeting.”

Hovnanian recommends investing in a quality camera and microphone with noise canceling capabilities for the best quality video hangout. “My advice: Make sure all users are clear on the set-up, and how-to of Hangouts a few days prior to any scheduled meetings. Pre-preparation with new technology is always a best practice to avoid real-time hang-ups,” he explained.

3. Distance is no longer a disadvantage. 

Google+ Hangouts helps small companies stay connected with their teams regardless of where they’re located, and currently, there’s no cost for multiple party participation.  ONA Bags, a company that produces premium, handcrafted camera bags, has team members located in several cities around the country.  “Most of the time, it’s possible to work anywhere with an Internet connection, however, we rely on Google [+ Hangouts] to make that flexibility work,” explains Christine Amarose, the company’s brand and social media manager.  “Features like document sharing, real-time collaboration, and integration with Google Events makes Hangouts a powerful tool for those with long distance team members.”

Have you tried Google+ Hangouts for virtual conferencing and chats?  What was your experience? If you haven’t tried it, what’s holding you back?

 

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.