Google Product Experts Program: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

After my first Google Top Contributor (Now Gooogle Product Expert) Summit, I arrived home wowed upon discovering a utopian community of like-minded people. It amazed me how supportive, friendly and respectful the members of the TC Program were. On the plane ride to the California Google Headquarters, I was surprised upon discovering myself sitting next to another program member on the plane. We had a pleasant and geeky conversation which only added to the beginning of my PE summit experience. I loved meeting people who understood the tech geek side of me. My first summit was the beginning of what looked like a dreamlike experience.

Meeting like-minded people at my first summit was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ll always hold close to my heart. During the transition from the Google Top Contributor (TC) to the Google Product Expert (PE), the program atmosphere changed. Some of the members started to become more self-centered and less collaborative. Google had implemented gamification into the Product Expert Program. Unfortunately, this seemed to set up a more competitive atmosphere, and the quality of answers faltered.

Not only did I see the quality of some answers falter. The number of generic replies increased, and I noticed the users asking the questions were not as responsive with replies. Some PEs started recommending all of the other PE’s responses.

I find it a problem when PEs provide recommendations to post replies asking questions for more details. Details are necessary for providing an accurate answer to the user seeking help, but the questions are not answers themselves. I wonder how the PE recommendations affect the machine learning training for the search tool used by the Google Help Communities?

I’ll never forget what happened coming back to the Google Help Communities after my husband’s passing. First, I’d like to start this paragraph share with how impressed I was by the Google Community Managers. One community manager (CM’s) team sent a beautiful bouquet of white Lillies; some CM’s sent handwritten messages and personal emails. The CM’s kindness truly made me feel like a family member of the Google Top Contributor/ now Product Expert Program. Then everything fell downhill after posting in the Google Help Community, where the former CM wanted me to become a mentor.

On my first day back, posting in the Google Help Community, my inbox became full of messages from a newer TC/PE. The TC/PE thought it was their responsibility to correct my post wording. Funny for it was the exact wording that Google taught the Top Contributors to use in a help community post. This PE already knew about the program transition which was going to happen. The PE using a brusk tone would answer as many post questions as possible each day. I complained to the community manager about the PE’s post tone. With the Community Managers’ guidance, the PE started posting more respectful replies. However, the PE emails continued flooding my inbox.

The PE threatened me by stating they were a good friend of the Community Manager. They also picked on the anigifs and the tutorials I created. The PE told me not to waste my time on my blog, and YouTube Channel. Then boom! The transition to the gamified version of the Google Product Expert program happened.

Now this PE ramped up their post replies and earned the highest badge in a short time. They continued flooding my inbox with emails. I do believe the PE was trying to get rid of me. In one of the emails, the PE stated, “You shouldn’t be participating in multiple Google Help Communities because it interferes with the quality of your posts.” After trying to make me limit lending a helping hand in multiple Google Help Communities, the PE started posting in more than one community.

The PE’s rude bully-like mannerisms carried over into private PE areas, where they would react negatively to my input. I was feeling bullied and bought this up with the young new CM. No action occurred in support of me.

I was surprised to receive the respect award at the first Google Product Expert Program global summit. It was quite an honor to be a role model for one of the Google Product Experts’ Core Values. However, it didn’t change how this particular PE treated me. The PE continued making life challenging for me in this specific help community. My story doesn’t end with receiving the respect award.

After the next Google PE Summit, the rogue PE stopped participating in the help communities. No one seemed to know why or if something happened to the PE. Unfortunately, my story with rogue PEs doesn’t stop there. Since this encounter, there were other PEs who stepped into the shoes of this PE, causing me to have anxieties about my Google PE Program participation.

I was surprised! Another rogue PE started contacting me by email. They also put down my answers in PE public areas and Help Community threads. Then the PE started hiding my answers and reporting them as off-topic. I tried to reduce the anxieties felt by this PE’s actions by becoming a Google Product Expert Alumni. However, the PE didn’t stop correcting me, hiding posts, and marking my answers as off-topic.

In the old days of the program, we were taught not to speak down to another PE. Instead, respectfully add to the answer they provided in a thread or private PE conversation area. As a retiree who has extra time on my schedule, I could potentially participate more in the Google Help Communities. However, all the rogue PEs have left a bad taste in my mouth for the gamified version of the Google Product Expert Program.

I’ve left the Google Product Expert Program thinking it would be possible to participate without the extra anxieties caused by rogue PEs. Only to find out this isn’t possible. Yes! There is more to my story, but today I was very windy. One last share I’ve now given up all my points, badges, no more summits or swag because the perks are not what motivated me in becoming a PE. I liked the idea of being able to help people struggling with applying technology. Certainly appreciated the opportunities and learned dreams don’t always last forever!

Why I Joined the Google Products Expert Program

In 2016 I joined the Google Top Contributor Program, which eventually evolved into the Google Product Expert (PE) Program. The first thing I’d like to share is the premise of both programs was to provide volunteer support in the Social Media realm, including the Google Help Forums now Community. At the time, the life of being Googley appealed to me. Plus, helping people struggling using technology was intrinsically rewarding. The Google PE program was also a good fit for expanding my knowledge bank as I started the journey of becoming a Certified Google for Education Trainer.

There is nothing more motivating than receiving an uplifting reply from a struggling product user.

In 2016 I didn’t know diddly squat about the Google Product Expert Program. I used Twitter to help Google for Education (now Workspace for Education) users with product applications. While chatting with educators on Twitter, I received a direct message. The message started with, “I’m an employee of Google….” My first thought was, “This got to be a scam.” The first thing I did was a Google search on this person. To my amazement, this Twitter handle was the real deal. After meeting in a video chat with the Google Employee, I decided the Google program was a good fit. It was a tool for supporting the growth of my knowledge bank and provided me another method for helping people who were struggling with using technology.

Kindly note this is the first post of a series focused on the Google Product Experts Program.