The next big thing
'.$comments.' '.$comment_label.'

Are Google+ Hangouts successful in helping magazines engage with readers?

While Google+ is not as popular as Facebook and Twitter with brands who are building a social presence, it has become a network that cannot be ignored. Everyone from President Obama and Conan to the New York Times and even The Economist, are using Google+ Hangouts to connect with their audience. In fact, Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were hanging out yesterday with fans to exclusively premier the trailer for their upcoming movie Lincoln.

It’s no surprise that so many magazines are using Hangouts because they already have the right ingredients for the makings of a good Hangout. Magazines have an existing audience base, and many have cultivated a large online following. They have a wealth of available content to discuss as well as access to experts and influencers who can share their insights.

But have these Hangouts been successful? How is success defined?

Alexis Mainland, social media editor for the New York Times, likes the conversational, authentic, unpolished aspect of Hangouts. In her interview with Beet.TV last month, Mainland expands on the Times’ strategy in using Hangouts, and the success the newspaper has had so far. The Times first experimented with Hangouts with stories from its news desk, and then moved on to Hangouts with its op-ed columnists.

“It’s sort of a lightweight way to access people in further reaches of the country or the world, which I think adds an enormous value. If you think of the globalization of the social conversation, or the conversation about issues, there are people everywhere who have great things to say, and this is a great way to reach them”, Mainland says in the interview.

The Economist just hosted its first Hangout last month on the Olympics. I sat down with Jason Penchoff, director of traffic generation for The Economist online to get his perspective.

The Economist is a publication that is rooted in discussion and debate. Our ‘Ask the Economist’ and ‘Where do you stand’ polls on the website engages readers and asks visitors to share their insights. Google+ Hangouts are an extension of the engagement”, Penchoff told me.

For Penchoff, success is not defined so much by the number of attendees to the Hangout as it is by attracting readers and encouraging their enthusiasm, participation and debate. Interactions like “Ask the Economist” and Google+ Hangouts strengthen and enrich The Economist community by deepening intelligent discussion. Because The Economist does not have bylines, unlike other publications, Hangouts also help its audience put a face to the editorial team.

As print readership declines, and more readers turn to digital, Google+ Hangouts allow magazines to promote their brands while developing a more personal relationship with readers. They also allow magazines to connect with their most avid readers.

For other publishers who have used Hangouts, I’d love to hear your feedback on how they benefitted your publication.