Cooking Alone, Together

By Digital Strategy — October 4, 2011 - 7:53 pm

Picture yourself at home in your kitchen with your laptop perched on the counter with a skilled chef on the screen leading you through each step – not so novel, right?  The experience parallels tuning into a show on Food Network.  But what if you could ask the chef a question?  Or listen in as another amateur cook (in another city, no less) asks one?

This was the idea behind the Google+ Cooking School, created by Lee Allison in July 2011.  After using Hangouts (the Google+ feature which allows up to 10 people to video chat together) Allison was inspired to create a new social experience where he could invite friends and strangers into his kitchen (while they watched from their own) for cooking lessons, conversation, and to simply enjoy the face-to-face virtual company of other foodies.   And he’s not the only one…

Hangouts are one of many new video chat tools being incorporated into the social media experience adding real-time interaction and visual cues that endow an emotional edge that is lacking in text and image-based communication.

Research has found that nearly 80% of interpersonal communication is nonverbal—so much of our thoughts and emotion are lost in text-based interactions on social networks (for instance, status updates and comments on Facebook).  But video chat brings real-time emotion back into the equation: the interaction is spontaneous, interactive, and feels more natural than using the keyboard to communicate.  According to Forrester, this emotional engagement lays the foundation for trust between parties.

Back to the G+ Cooking School—Allison told The New York Times Bits Blog that his class is meant to “foster social interactions while making a meal, so it’s designed to let people cook along or just hang out.”  And that’s exactly what happened: students trust Allison to teach them how to make a delicious margherita pizza while they enjoy the virtual company of other foodies.  The initial response to Allison’s classes was so great, he’s now working on “The Social Skillet,” a website offering several cooking classes per week through G+ and using Webex video chat to accommodate classes with more than 10 students.

Other Google+ food-lovers, or ‘+foodies,’ have also used Google+ to host online iterations of real-world hangouts. Table for Ten put their spontaneous and engaging dinner parties online.  The Hungry Duo got the idea for Friday Beer Tastings via Google+, giving them the opportunity to “connect with craft beer lovers around the world, enjoy refreshing brews together, share our opinions, and educate others.”  Many other G+ users have used Hangouts to host concerts, karaoke, viewing parties with YouTube, and many more uses could be on the horizon since G+ opened to the public on September 24.

It’s important to note that video chat is still very new to most people.  In fact, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found only 19% of American adults used video chat in 2010, compared to 85.8% of the US Internet audience that viewed video online (comScore).  Much of this discrepancy could be due to difficult technologies and a lack of integration between video chat and contacts on social networks. But now, tools like Google+ Hangouts and Facebook video chat (added July 2011) are bringing the two experiences together, and the potential for growth is great.  GigaOM Pro projects that 5 billion video calls will be made this year, with that number doubling to 10 billion in 2012.

Video chat is a valuable tool to add to a brand’s social media arsenal, and it’s relatively easy to integrate.  Since most social network users are already ‘hanging out’ on social networks—adding video chat is not a big additional ask, and it offers real-time, emotional interaction.   It’s the chance to turn static recipes and photos into a dynamic experience with a chef or celebrity, offer more information about clothing for sale (as Lands’ End is doing with their personal shoppers), or share advice (as many doctors are already doing).  An article in Harvard Business Review asserted that “Humaniz[ing] your brand is the golden rule of social media, because humans connect with humans”—when used properly, video chat does just that.


One Response to “Cooking Alone, Together”

  1. Parker says:

    this is a great idea!