Google's still-young social network is largely the territory of early adopters and tech enthusiasts, but that hasn't stopped journalists from experimenting with it. (Part 3 in a 4-part series on how journalists are using social networks beyond Facebook and Twitter.)
Google+ makes a convenient distribution channel for content, much like Facebook and Twitter. But as any social media guru will tell you, these platforms are not just about barfing out a series of self-promotional links (which followers tend to tolerate in limited doses). Engaging people is half the battle, and Google+ offers a few ways to do it.
Once Google+ launched, media outlets were quick to start playing around with Hangouts. The group video chat feature was built for friends, family and colleagues, but it turns out to be a great way to converse with sources and audience members. Here on ReadWriteWeb, we do a weekly Google+ Hangout in which our writers and readers talk about the big tech news stories of the week.
Google+ Hangouts' could hardly have come at a better time for the team behind Al Jazeera's The Stream. Aggressive experimentation with social journalism tools is baked into the news talk show's mission, and Hangouts are a perfect fit for an outlet that blends broadcast and the social Web. The Stream uses them to quickly and affordably dial in guests and solicit live feedback from viewers. In an interview with ReadWriteWeb in March, Al Jazeera creative strategist Ben Connors said that Hangouts don't work without the occasional hiccup, but they're still cheaper than a satellite hookup and enable viewer participation in a way that wasn't possible before.
The status update box on Google+, like that on Twitter or Facebook, can also be used to ask the audience questions and solicit crowdsourced reporting. Response may not be as robust as that of Facebook or Twitter, depending on the publication and its coverage. A tech blog will probably have better luck than a suburban newspaper, for example. But Google+ is still new and media outlets - not to mention other businesses and everyday consumers - are still figuring out the best ways to use it.