As anyone who has used Google’s Help Community knows, it’s not always the official Google representatives that provide the most helpful and useful responses. Oftentimes the best assistance comes from Google’s Gold Product Experts.
Previously known as “top contributors” due to their contributions to the now-defunct advertiser community, these luminaries have been handpicked by Google to provide expert assistance on their products.
I spoke to Google Gold Product Expert, Steady Demand’s Ben Fisher to find out how one becomes a PE, and to uncover the benefits of volunteering time to the Google cause.
How did you become a product expert? Was it something you worked towards or did it come about fairly organically?
All of the product experts were brought into the program after working in the Google Help community as volunteers, but each of us has our own story about how we ended up here and what kept us going. For me, it was an email from Google themselves after they’d noticed my work volunteering on the help community.
So there’s no one-size-fits-all route to getting on the PE list? It’s more invite-only. How did you feel when you were selected?
Once you get that email from Google asking if you’d like to join the Product Expert Program, you realize what an honor it is to have earned their trust, and that they feel you truly are an expert at using Google My Business.
With this offer, the team is acknowledging that you have valuable expertise, you might be able to help shape the product, and your knowledge and experience can be of benefit to users as well as the team at Google. In my opinion, it’s a huge honor.
You’re a Gold Product Expert. Does that mean there are other titles, like Silver and Bronze?
There are a few levels of product experts. Silver is the entry level, which used to be called “Rising Star,” and to be fair it’s just as much an honor to be a Silver Product Expert.
Silver Product Experts get to cut their teeth on issues that users have, and through doing so gain access to a private forum where they can engage with Googlers, other Silver Product Experts, and also get assistance from Gold Product Experts. Then there is Platinum, these distinguished people help mentor and dedicate enormous amounts of time to helping users.
Becoming a Gold Product Expert takes time, and it’s at the discretion of the community manager and others in the Gold Product Expert group if someone is to join the ranks.
It sounds like you really have to know your stuff, and put the hours in, pro bono. Is it all worth it, though? What benefits can you look forward to if you get invited to become a Product Expert?
I’d say it’s definitely worth it. As a Gold Product Expert, I have access to a special forum where I can talk directly to the team. When we see issues in the community or trending problems with Google My Business, we have the ability to get them looked at almost immediately.
We also have the privilege of being able to ask questions indirectly to Google’s product managers. If we need clarification as to why a feature functions the way it does, or if we want to provide input as to how we feel a feature should behave, we can offer that.
Not many can boast of such exclusive access to senior Googlers, so it certainly seems like that’s something worth working towards. How else do you get to communicate with Google?
We have meetings with our community manager via regular Google Hangouts, where we can ask anything or discuss any topic. It could be something as serious enquiring about the progress the spam team is making on a major spam network, or as simple as an update on a specific case someone is working on. Either way, we have access that most do not have.
Then there are the Hangouts that we get to have with Google’s product teams. These are a treat as we get to see product features during their conceptual phase, which is sometimes six months in advance of release.
Wow, that’s early. Does that mean you’re able to influence product development? What’s the process like?
Well, we’ll first be shown a demo, get to ask questions, and provide our feedback. Then when the features are ready, we’re whitelisted and allowed access to play around with the new features.
This is handy for both Google and the PEs as we may see things a Googler may not anticipate, and we always look at things from a business, user and agency point of view.
I personally take pride in knowing that some features in GMB are there because of something that one of my teammates or I suggested!
Learning about new features before they hit all users is pretty significant. We get to break stuff, find out what’s working as intended and what isn’t, and take all that feedback back to the product teams.
In that process, we get to experience some things a long time before the public does, and in some circumstances invite our clients to try it. With Google My Business short names, for example, we had a Google Hangout about that and were given some limited access to the feature.
Another cool perk you have as a Gold Product Expert is an invite to the Trusted Tester program. This is where we get to preview all kinds of neat features that we’re not allowed to talk about. Then there’s the Trusted Verifier program, that grants us the ability to instantly verify a business based on certain circumstances, which, by the way, is a completely free service we can offer but one that’s not available to every business.
That’s a lot of digital contact to have with Google, and a heck of a lot of influence, too! Do you get many chances to speak to Googlers face-to-face?
Yes, there’s a couple of ways we meet up with Googlers “in real life,” so to speak. Well, three if you count the Local U conference.
Firstly, there are regional events like the one we have this year, where we’ll get together in Denver and meet with our community managers and the product teams at Google. These are usually smaller events. Then there’s the more official Product Expert Summit, which I love. We head to the Google campus and meet PEs from all over the world.
It must be nice to be able to finally shake hands with the people you spend so much time chatting with and working online.
Sure, it’s great to meet your virtual compatriots in person, have some drinks, and share some ideas. But there’s also the aspect of sitting around for a few days interacting with Google’s Product Managers. We really maximize our time there and try and learn as much as possible, ensuring we have as much of an impact on the end product as necessary.
Do you ever receive credit for your impact on these products?
I like the fact that, as a Gold Product Expert, I can make an impact that no one even knows about. For example, when something bad happens to a business which gets reported in the news, one of us PEs will usually look to see if the profiles related to the business are getting slammed with a review attack. If we see this, we’ll report it to Google. Then we’re usually given the ability to stop people leaving reviews on these profiles, and even to have the malicious reviews removed.
A great example of PE teamwork was the case of the massive auto accident lawyer spam network I uncovered in January. Quite a few of the PEs, like Jason Brown, Tom Waddington and Joy Hawkins, all worked together to document and track the network. After removing 1,000’s of profiles and contacting Google My Business to show them how bad it was, they enacted some methodologies to help stop the network.
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