Some recent research about Google+ isn't terribly encouraging
. According to RJ Metrics data reported on Fast Company's website, engagement on the site is pretty low—the average post has less than one +1—and about 30 percent of users who posted once haven't bothered to post again.
Of course, that data referred only to public posts. A Google spokesperson said public posts don't accurately represent sharing on Google+, where people frequently share with private circles of friends.
Conspicuously absent from the data or the Google response was any mention of the site's "killer app," its hangouts feature, which enables up to 10 people to chat over video.
"The only reason that I signed up for Google+ in the first place—and the reason I'm still on Google+—is so that I can use Google hangouts," says Michael Garfield, who uses hangouts for meetings with partners in his new business venture, Constructifieds, a classifieds website for people in the construction business.
Like Garfield, a number of small-business owners have found Google+ hangouts to be a convenient and, more important, free way to facilitate internal communications. Some larger companies use them, too, but in not quite the same way.
Howard Brodwin of Get Out Technologies, an outdoor sports startup, says he and the three other founders participate in a weekly Google+ hangout.
"With four founders spread out between Connecticut, New York and California, having the ability to video-conference with each other at no cost allows us to stay connected, share info and ideas in real time," he says.
Brodwin says the group discusses pending deals, partnerships, marketing, PR, and more in their weekly sessions.
"Could we do all this via phone and email? Sure," he says. "But I don't think the effect would be the same. There's really more of a sense of a team when everyone is in the same room, and we all get that vibe on the hangout."
Anna Coats, marketing manager at Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website, says she completed her second job interview for the company using a Google+ hangout, because she was out of the state the week the company was wrapping up interviews.
"We have since moved to holding all first employment interviews via hangout, and have completed almost 15 last month, with one new hire," she says.
Her company holds daily business meetings using hangout, as well as a weekly company meeting.
"We originally used Skype, but at that time we couldn't have multiple users logged in at the same time, so we had to crowd around one camera," Coats says.
For employees, using Google+ is just easier, because they almost all have Gmail accounts before they even interview for a job, she says. And, of course, it's free.
Hangouts have external applications, too. PC maker Dell uses hangouts for communication with customers (though not for internal communications).
"We have used hangouts for customer support, to showcase new or other product features, and to connect with customers about various matters that they have indicated an interest in," says Richard Binhammer, director of social media and community at Dell. "We enjoy connecting with our customers this way, and it's a great chance to showcase different Dell offerings and engage in conversations about them."
Dell's recent hangouts almost have the feel of webinars, with experts discussing various topics such as cloud computing. The company can do that because of Google's recent wide rollout of "On Air" hangouts, which enable people to broadcast to far more than just 10 people.
Binhammer says anyone in business can use hangouts to communicate better.
"We think if you listen and learn to people connecting with your business on Google+, it becomes apparent the kinds of things that might work in a hangout and how to best use these for your own situation," he says.
For Edward Hanapole, chief information officer at educational services company Kaplan, Google+ hangouts presented convenience other resources just couldn't offer.
"We have years of experience in using Skype, Office Communications Server, in-house VC/HD platforms, and so forth and have found the integration of G+ with our already connected Google user base the solution that works best for us," he says. "At the end of the day, it comes down to simplicity of communication."
Communities Google+ users create can carry over into Gmail and Google Docs, which helps build communities for certain projects, Hanapole says. Plus, participants in a hangout can use Google Docs to share notes or access shared documents during a session.
"Having an integrated, real-time communications platform that allows many of our remote employees to just hang out, dial in land lines, bridges, or cell phones into the hangout and truly collaborate is the key benefit," Hanapole says. "Not many other solutions are that seamless."
In a Wall Street Journal article about hangouts, Hanapole said he was somewhat concerned about information leaking to a competitor via a hangout, but he says Kaplan is working to keep a lid on things.
"There are manual steps that we are promoting to keep conversations from hitting a user's wall or timeline as well as ensuring that their privacy settings are maintained to ensure that they are only sharing status and updates with users in the Kaplan domain," he says.
Hanapole does note, however, that he hopes Google institutes more enterprise tools in the near future.