Well, I did not exactly hang out with will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas – just with the scores of fans who responded to will.i.am’s open invitation to participate in a Black Eyed Peas Google+ Hangout at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time before a September 30 show at Central Park. The experience promised to give fans backstage access to the Black Eyed Peas through the power of the Google Plus Hangouts feature (through which people can schedule the equivalent of video chats with their Google Plus friends). After the Hangout, you could witness the actual concert through a webcam onstage. The September 30 Black Eyed Peas Hangout, although imperfect, was an intriguing approach to using technology to build brand in the entertainment world.
As will.i.am commented during the Hangout (which I watched on a YouTube replay), “I don’t think anybody has had a one-to-many webcam interactive experience like this with fans before and during a show.”
News of the Hangout spread after it was promoted on will.i.am’s Google+ personal page and on the Google home page itself (an exception to Google’s practice of keeping its home page free of endorsements). As Search Engine Watch noted, the Hangout was the second by the band. The first occurred on September 21.
As reported by Google, 74 people ended up hanging out with the Black Eyed Peas before the show. And as you can see from the YouTube replay, fans really did get a chance to interact directly with the band, ask them about their music, and essentially goof around – an authentic and unvarnished conversation with everyday people.
The band discussed just the sort of trivial detail that makes rock stars feel more human to us — for instance, in answer to a fan’s question, will.i.am mentioned that the pre-show routine for the Black Eyed Peas usually consists of playing with video games and creating beats on their computers. (One of my favorite moments from the replay occurs when will.i.am whips out his mobile phone and shows off his own Google Doodle, which is an obvious source of pride to him.)
Scores of other fans tried unsuccessfully to join, blocked either because of the limited attendance capacity of a Hangout or technical glitches. And they vented their disappointment on will.i.am’s page in real time. (Typical comments ranged from “Lame” to “the link doesn’t work to “I AM angry.”). Ironically, the Hangout – which is intended to create intimacy – alienated people, too.
To manage fans’ expectations, the band could have promoted the September 30 Hangout as a more exclusive experience – say, offering the Hangout to a small number of fans through a contest (“Show us how you feel about the Black Eyed Peas – get a chance to Hangout with us before we go on stage”).
But will.i.am and Google deserve credit.
First, the idea behind the Hangout was brilliant, and I hope we see more of them. The band used technology to open up its brand to more fans, and Google traded on will.i.am’s own street cred to promote the still new Google+ social media platform.
Google is wisely taking advantage of the rapidly converging worlds of entertainment, media, and technology, as recently evidenced by the launch of the Mashable Entertainment brand. As Google commented on the September 30 Black Eyed Peas Hangout, “This is just the beginning of Google+ getting a celebrity touch.”
I also liked how will.i.am used his personal Google+ page to promote the Hangout in his own voice, too. And he used his Google+ page to post messages during his performance at Central Park. (Sample post: who post’s from stage?????? future people do.!!!…that would be me….”)
Talk about real-time marketing.
I believe Hangouts also have potential for lesser known, emerging artists who have smaller but dedicated fans. A musician like AM, who builds his brand through the power of social and his live performance, is a natural fit for a Google+ Hangout. In fact, lesser known artists might have an advantage. Google Plus Hangouts – essentially narrowcast media as we know them today – are well suited for artists with smaller, more highly segmented artists.
Based on Google’s willingness to test and learn, and will.i.am’s own technology savvy, I am excited about bigger and better things to come. Both Google and will.i.am act as bellwethers for the worlds of entertainment, media, and technology. Don’t just watch what they’re doing. Hangout with them.