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By B.L. Ochman

While pro and con opinions about Google+ are rampant, many smart companies – large and small – are ignoring the debate and concentrating on using Hangouts on Air for everything from college recruiting to Chinese language classes.

Hangouts are Google’s video platform, which allows interactive, HD live streaming of public and private, paid and free video calls, meetings and events. These are automatically integrated with YouTube, and can be embedded in websites and blogs. The YouTube videos can be edited, branded, search optimized, time-stamped and shared privately or publicly. The cost? None.

I won’t kid you: there’s a learning curve and it’s fairly steep. But you don’t need to be a geek to learn.

And no, I don’t work for Google and they don’t pay me. (Although, really, they should)

One thing is certain: platforms like WebEx and GoToWebinar should be shaking in their boots as they watch entrepreneurs and big brands learning how to use Hangouts on Air. The technology is free, the tools are robust, and audiences are growing.

Here’s a look at the ways some companies are using the new Hangout technology.

Career HOAs1. Rasmussen College in Minneapolis, MN, is using Hangouts on Air for online events for team members and students.

Inbound marketing manager Grant Tilus says “Hangouts are a great way to create video content without big budgets.”

A Rasmussen series called “Career chats” features experts on in-demand careers, who answer questions in real-time. The events are promoted via Google+ the college website and its blog.

While production values in these early days of Hangouts vary, Tilus aims for consistent quality and says they prepare participants by helping them with camera placement and lighting, and provide each one with a custom title tag, known as a “lower third” in advance of each hangout. “We also provide a webcam and a mike to each guest,” he says, and they do a full non-live rehearsal of the event in advance. Those are best practices every brand should employ.

2. The Chopping Block Cooking School in Chicago uses free Hangouts on Air with its chefs to promote its paid classes and increase awareness about its products. They look at Hangouts, says Andrea Miller, PR Director, “as marketing events rather than revenue generators. We repurpose the Hangouts in our email newsletters and blogs and consider them another free piece of content we can use to help people not be intimidated by cooking.”

The sound and video quality of Chopping Block’s Hangouts vary, but among the ones the best and most popular on their YouTube Channel are “How to Carve a Turkey” and “How to Make a Graveyard Cake”. They promote the Hangouts on Google+, on their website, and on their blog 

Chinese Language HOA3. Yangyang Cheng, founder of the online language school, Yoyo Chinese, started using Hangouts on Air in 2013 to teach 5-minute paid Chinese classes to students from all over the globe.

Subscription plans begin at $45 per month and allow unlimited access to videos and other materials. “Google+ Hangouts on Air have allowed us to reach out to potential customers on a global scale effectively to grow our company,” Cheng says.

4. Retirement financial adviser Mara Hoover uses Google+ Hangouts “to grow my list, reach new prospects, and create joint venture relationships by doing a weekly online show, via Hangout on Air, called “The Mara Show.” She also hosts paid, private client training via Google+ Hangouts portal. She promotes her show via Google+, her blog http://anchoryourplan.com/blog/ and social networks including LinkedIn and Twitter.

5. Bernie Borges, of Find and Convert uses Hangouts solely as element of his slickly produced new video show, Social Business Engine 

Unlike most businesses using Hangouts, Borges’ show uses Hangouts only as an ingredient in the mix. He interviews his guests in private Hangouts, then has a post-production crew splice the Hangouts into the finished show videos, which feature multi-media effects and graphics.

Instead of putting the Hangout interviews on YouTube, he posts them on a dedicated Social Business Engine website along with show notes. His goal is to create a social business channel with a sizeable audience and sponsors.

M+logo6. My company, Maximum-Plus.com Google+ Events & Training, uses private, paid Hangouts on Air to train clients in how to use Hangouts; to create private, paid events which are broadcast via Hangouts; and for collaborations utilizing Google Drive, SlideShare and more. And, with co-host David Erickson, at 12:30 PM EST on Saturdays, I do a weekly Hangout on Air of The Beyond Social Media Show.

The bottom line: If you’re still using paid platforms like GoToMeeting, you’re seriously missing the boat.