“I know an old woman who lived in a shoe … ” goes the rhyme, but it was a digital shoe equipped with a mobile hotspot, so she was as connected as one could ever be. She could have watched the Inaugural Address of President Obama livestreamed to her smartphone, had she wanted to.
Which underscores how you never know whom you might pull in, when creating an online community.
Online communities are a phenomenon you cannot ignore
Have you heard of a website called Backyardchickens.com?
Probably not, but thanks to Richard Millington, I joined that online community to see what was happening, and OMG, hundreds of thousands of folks cover all angles of raising chickens in a backyard NOT just for goofs! There are more than 100,000 chicken enthusiasts who together have posted more than 7 million questions and comments about this topic.
If you didn’t know me, you might think this is a joke from Jay Leno. It’s not.
Why should you care? Because online communities are a growing phenomenon, and regardless of whether your work involves:
- cultivating new business opportunities
- validating ideas for extensions to an existing product line
- turning up Influencers to pump up their network, or
- improving collaboration in a company of remote employees
doing it online makes eminent sense.
About a year ago, Catherine Morgan and I used Google+ Hangouts to host a regular hangout for folks in mid-career transition. Beyond the fact that the experience was a hoot-and-a-half, we discovered this is a superb platform for creating an online community and making closer connections than is possible simply using conference calls or webinars.
When you can see each other in real-time, your connection feels more personal and dare I say — more trusting.
I urge you to explore Google+ Hangouts because there are so many ways it fits the bill. It has been used by politicians to hold town hall meetings with constituents or donors, it is well-suited for conversations between virtual teams of your vendors or customers, and it can help you connect to other professionals to share best practices.
For example, there is a regular Google+ Hangout for Community Managers that you can calendar and join every Friday at 2pm. Run by Tim McDonald (@MYCMGR), a Community Manager at the Huffington Post, this side gig makes Tim a Host of Community Managers. If you join this week, I’ll see you there!
Features of Google+ Hangout that help you succeed like a pro
Google+ Hangout lets you host a videoconference with up to 9 participants, where everyone can see and hear each other in real time. For free. Further, the videoconference is automatically recorded so you can save it and embed it into your website, upload to the cloud, or share it in any way you choose.
Moreover, you can livestream the Google+ Hangout to YouTube so that anyone who is not on Google+ can see it anyway.
It is super easy to host a Google+ Hangout, but if you are too sheepish to jump into the hot seat of being a “Host” at the moment, consider joining a Google+ Hangout as a participant first, so you get the feel of it.
How to know where and when Google+ Hangouts take place
I recommend a tool called Hangout Canopy because it gives a broad overview of what public hangouts are happening at the moment. Similar to what the ancient TV Guide used to do, for those old enough to remember it!
One caveat: you need to be using Chrome as your browser in order to use the Hangout Canopy extension.
1. While you are in Chrome (also free to download), go to http://www.hangoutcanopy.com, press the Google Chrome button, and the following pop-up appears. Make the ‘Add’ selection (as shown below).
3. At any time you wish to find people to chat with, tap that icon and view the burst showing real-time hangouts, illustrated below.
4. To join the hangout, click on the face of the host.
5. The pane switches, informing how many are on the hangout. Click the blue box that says “Hang out.”
6. Your webcam turns on (goes green). Click the blue box that says “Join.”
7. You’re in!
Be part of the online communities taking part at that moment. Get your mojo on. And get cozy comfy with your constituents, your virtual teammates, or your prospects.
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