We’ve joined Google+; help us as we figure out how to use it to best serve our audience

Several weeks ago, Google opened it’s social network, Google+, up for brand pages. Many news organizations jumped in immediately, seeing another social media site to join as a plus (pun intended). I launched a Heritage Media account several days later, after trying to see the best way to utilize this new space.

The thing is, I think everyone is still trying to figure out what it means. We’ve become so ingrained with using Twitter and Facebook, that’s what we use to compare any new social site to. But Google+ clearly is different. It’s aimed at strengthening Google’s reach at most everything people do online, which can be seen as it integrates into more and more services across the web, including putting it into its Google News site. A television commercial even recently launched to advertise the service (although, I still can’t get over the fact someone has a circle labeled “Epic Bros.” Really?)

The question I’ve had since launching and experiment with the service is: How can we use this in a way to interact with our audience and give them something different?

The most obvious item is the use of Hangouts. This has to be the strongest feature in Google+, the ability to host a video chat with up to 10 people at a time, and allow others to observe. Even though Facebook announced Skype integration earlier this year, this is different. This opens up great interaction possibilities. I watched the New York Times’ first Hangout Wednesday, a day after it took place. All it was was two tech writers openly chatting with readers about anything that came up as a way to test it out. I was impressed, and saw great potential.

Of course, that  *is* the New York Times, and their audience far exceeds what we have in Washtenaw County and around the world, so it would be more difficult to host a Hangout with people waiting for spots to get in. But it could be used for an online chat with local leaders, sports reporters talking to readers about upcoming matches and their predictions, etc.

How is the best way to grow  an audience on Google+ to use some of its bells and whistles more effectively? I’d love to hear what other places are doing to grow their engagement on this new site.

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