Helpouts was announced yesterday as Google’s new service for getting you face time with experts on all kinds of topics.
There are a few reasons this makes sense. Obviously. Google isn’t the kind of company that runs around announcing crap that makes no sense.
But just for the sake of argument and to kill some time, let’s walk it through.
Hangouts is the standout feature of Google+.
Remember Circles? Oh, Google+.
Google+ was only good for two things: Identity management and Hangouts*. Google didn’t know that when it first launched the whole shebang, hence Circles and Events and the History API and a native standalone tablet app.
But when Hangouts turned out to be the sole shining star on a moonless prairie night, Google was honor-bound to make the most of it. That’s just good business sense: Pare away the features users don’t use; focus on and expand the features they use a lot.
Hangouts got a lot of airtime, so Hangouts needed an upgrade.
*And photos, but only for people who are at least semi-serious about photography.
People have already been using Hangouts commercially.
Every time a G3 fan gets a guitar lesson over a Hangout, every time a therapist uses Hangouts to do a session with a client, every time a kid hops on a Hangout with her tutor for homework help, a little trickle of money slips under the bridge and over the waterfall.
All kinds of professionals already use Hangouts commercially. Money’s changing hands all over the place, but no one’s paying the bridge troll: Google.
With Helpouts, Google has set up a nice, easy marketplace for even more people to use Hangouts commercially — and this way, they’ll pay a 20 percent toll for use of the bridge.
It gives consumers another reason to use Google Wallet.
As much as Google wants to make Google+ your identity, it also wants to make Google Wallet your finances.
Even though Android’s burning it up on the activations end, Google Wallet still lags behind Apple’s iTunes as the largest holder of consumer credit card data.
If Helpouts become popular enough — and that’s a huge, huge if — they could really drive more folks to hand over their plastic to Google, giving Google even more economic power in a veritable universe of marketplaces.
Marketers love it.
In talking with some of Google’s first Helpouts partners, we were struck by just how much the sales and multi-channel marketing folks were excited about the new platform.
Sure, you can sell time through a Helpout. You could sell a $20, hour-long cooking class; you could sell a $50 bridal makeup lesson.
But you can also use Helpouts to sell other stuff. Give ‘em the cooking class free, but tell them to buy your line of chef’s knives and mixing bowls. Show ‘em how to do the makeup, then gently direct them to the cosmetics wonderland that is your website.
Of course it can’t (or shouldn’t) be as obvious as a sing-a-long infomercial, but there are tons of marketing opportunities hidden in Helpouts.
PR people love it.
Other initial Helpouts partners were less about the hard sales and more about the branding experience.
A rep for Sephora pointed out that the brand already creates tons of YouTube tutorials and has in-store makeup-teaching opportunities. Why wouldn’t Sephora want to use another platform as well?
In the end, the rep pointed out, it’s about meeting the consumer wherever he or she wants to be met and creating an authentic, valuable experience there.
The bottom line
Google would have been crazy not to build out Hangouts. Helpouts combines some of the best tools, services, and features Google has to offer, and this is a very creative, useful admixture that is more than the sum of its parts.
When you put it all together, it’s kind of magical. Now all we have to do is set back a spell and see if anyone actually uses it.
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