Rewarding the Local Guides That Make Google Maps More Useful
If you have ever used Google to look up a restaurant you wanted to eat at or to research before visiting someplace new to you, you’ve probably depended on information contributed by a Local Guide. Traci Cappiello is the program manager at Google that makes sure those Local Guides feel engaged and empowered to provide helpful information to the world.
With 100 million people who have contributed through the Local Guides initiative, Traci and her 12 member team focus on the one-to-many interactions that happen on Local Guides Connect, the dedicated community space for those contributors. That includes creating online and in-person experiences that reward, uplift, and encourage the Local Guides. Traci shares the team’s approach to this work and some of the checks and balances in place to make sure that all of the content shared by Local Guides is trustworthy and accurate.
Traci and Patrick discuss:
- How the Local Guides met the challenge of sharing accessibility information on Google
- The tools and teammates that support the Local Guide community
- What’s the difference between a Local Guide and just someone posting reviews on Google?
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If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsors: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community.
What’s the difference between a Local Guide and someone who writes Google reviews? (8:31): “Anyone can be a [Google] Local Guide. You don’t have to jump through any hoops. You literally just go to g.co/localguides and sign up for it. If you are already a Google Maps contributor, it will say, ‘Hey, do you want to join the Local Guides Program?’ The difference between a Local Guide designation on a review and a non-local guide is simply that this person has taken the step to say, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of something different.'” –@JumpingTraci
The biggest obstacle to contributing as a Local Guide (14:50): “People don’t realize they’re violating our policies until they’ve already violated. Oftentimes, there’ll be folks who aren’t really malicious. There’s a small handful of people that can be malicious, at times at least, … but I really think that for the most part it’s just [a] knowledge [gap].” –@JumpingTraci
Tailoring content to Google’s community and needs (32:22): “We encourage people to share original content that is tailored for the platform itself. There’s nothing wrong with excerpting. If you’ve already created a guide to 10 top places to go to in New York City; feel free to paste it over. If the crux of your posts or the intention is to just promote yourself, we’re not here for that.” –@JumpingTraci
About Traci Cappiello
Traci Cappiello joined Google in 2012, working on what is now Local Guides, a program for the passionate Google Maps contributors helping the world to find the places worth discovering. Over the years, Traci has gone from managing hyperlocal activities to managing social channels with over one million followers to now focusing on designing delightful community experiences for her fellow Local Guides.
Traci’s current focus is engaging, connecting, and empowering this nearly 100 million strong community. She manages the community forum, Local Guides Connect, as well as leading community support operations and Connect Live, the team’s annual event for top community members.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
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- Traci Cappiello on LinkedIn
- Traci on Twitter
- Local Guides Connect
- Traci’s call to Local Guides to help share accessibility information on Google
- Meet the Guiding Stars of the Local Guides community
- Khoros and contractors from Grazitti help power the Local Guides community
- Connect Live
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thanks for joining me. Have you ever searched on Google for a local business, and then looked at the reviews and the photos that Google has available natively in their results? Our guest today leads the community for the people who write those reviews, post those photos, and provide other useful data that Google then displays through search, Google Maps and other products.
A big thank you to our loyal supporters on Patreon, including Serena Snoad, Carol Benovic-Bradley, and Marjorie Anderson. I am continually grateful to you for supporting our program. If you, listening, would like to do the same, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Traci Cappiello joined Google in 2012, working on what is now Local Guides, a program for the passionate Google Maps contributors, helping the world to find the places worth discovering. Over the years, Traci has gone from managing hyper-local activities to managing social channels with over one million followers to now focusing on designing delightful community experiences for her fellow Local Guides. Traci’s current focus is engaging, connecting, and empowering this nearly 100 million strong community. She manages the community forum, Local Guides Connect, as well as leading community support operations and Connect Live, the team’s annual event for top community members. Traci, welcome to the show.
[00:01:35] Traci Cappiello: Thanks for having me, Patrick.
[00:01:37] Patrick O’Keefe It’s my pleasure. I’m really looking forward to getting a nuts and bolts understanding of the way that the content– I interact with it so regularly, I was thinking about this before the show, I search things on Google, and I look at the photos, and I look at reviews. I look at the location metadata, what’s at a location, how accessible is it? That sort of information. I can assume that so often that it’s almost ubiquitous, and it’s maybe with a social network or two, I spend some time on the most ubiquitous UGC in my life. I want to talk about that. I want to understand it. What’s the scope of user generated content with Google Maps. It’s photos, it’s reviews of places. What else?
[00:02:14] Traci Cappiello: Oh my gosh, it’s a number of different things. That made me really happy to hear that, I think a lot of people say like, “What is the gateway contribution?” Definitely reviews and photos have always been on the table. In the past couple of years, we’ve added a number of different user-generated content types. You’re currently able to add dishes. When you’ve taken a photo of something, you can then caption it with what it actually is. We’re not just looking at the bunch of plates of food that we have no idea. Because let’s be realistic, sometimes food doesn’t look good, and you just want to know what it is.
One of my most favorite things is I’m a really passionate about accessibility information on Google Maps. Either two ways that you can contribute this information in a way that isn’t about a photo or a review, which is answering questions in the product, and you’ll be prompted to say, “Does this place have a wheelchair-accessible entrance?” You can say yes, no, or not sure, as well as visiting the sheet of a place on Google Maps, and just clicking on the different attributes and adding if it has a wheelchair-accessible entrance, restroom, so on and so forth.
I think that one thing that people don’t realize is that you can actually add businesses to Google Maps as well. It’s not just restaurants and other places where you can get a good meal. Every single part of your life is on Google Maps, and you can find a solution. That’s the program I work on Local Guides, which is all about getting people like you and me together. I don’t want to speak for you but definitely me to contribute that information to Google Maps. Because we know we can’t be everywhere at once but Local Guides are, that’s totally okay.
[00:03:40] Patrick O’Keefe One thing that we’ve done some times while traveling, and that’s pre-COVID obviously, is that we try to find fun coffee places to go to, but they can’t be purist coffee places. My coffee has to be like a dessert basically for me to be able to drink it. I don’t drink regular coffee. I don’t drink hot coffee with a little bit of milk in it. It’s like I make cold brew at home. We get stock cold brew. I add some milk, I add some creamer. It’s actually only 100 calories per glass. It’s actually not that bad. When we’re out and about, we need to find a place with the right dessert.
That leads me or my fiancé to search for something like mocha or caramel latte or something along those lines that is a dish, let’s say, or a drink or whatever. If I go to Google Maps, and I type in caramel latte, and someone has taken a photo of a caramel latte and tagged it as such through a Google Maps UGC contribution, is that factoring into what I see?
[00:04:29] Traci Cappiello: Absolutely, as well as if someone said this was the best caramel macchiato of my life. By the way, I don’t actually know if caramel macchiato is a thing because I also don’t drink coffee. I would be looking for hot chocolate, lots of marshmallows or best hot chocolate ever, and looking for people who’ve written that in their reviews. That definitely does factor into the information that is served to you both in Google Maps and across Google search as well.
[00:04:52] Patrick O’Keefe You touched on this very briefly, the accessibility content. Talk a little bit more about that specifically around the effort that you pushed back in 2017 to really fill in that initial data set, so that people, when they’re looking at Google Maps and they have an accessibility challenge, are more able to make quick decisions and see what places will be accessible to them rather than having to go there and then decide then find out in person.
[00:05:15] Traci Cappiello: Yes, absolutely. I think, before even talking about what I did, one of the things that made me really cognizant of all the accessibility challenges on and businesses was when I was in London for the first time. Sorry, if anyone listening to this as like heard me talk about it before. It was really I went to a pub, and I was meeting with my coworkers, another coworker I hadn’t seen in forever. I was like “Where’s the restroom?” They were downstairs. I was like, “What? Downstairs?” I was like, “Oh, that’s an older building. It’s such a pain to crawl downstairs after you’ve had a few beers, let’s be real.” You’re definitely holding onto the rail, but I came back up and I started ruminating. I’m like, “Man, this really stinks.” You’re telling me someone who maybe isn’t able to walk downstairs, someone who uses a wheelchair can’t have a pint in a pub? For me, at the point in time, I was like, “This is a travesty.” From that point forward, along with getting really well-acquainted with one of my colleagues who was a phenomenal activist and works on accessibility on Google Maps, Sasha, after getting to know him and learning more about this, spearheaded a project that helped to share that story with our community members, those in the Local Guides Program at the time, and really brought them all together and all the different ways that they could add accessibility information on Google Maps. I’m trying to remember the numbers off the top of my head. Forgive me, I’m still on a number break. I think it was 51 million pieces of accessibility content that people edit through those questions I mentioned to you earlier, through those attributes I told you about. They went beyond that. Before we even started asking them, they were starting to add photos of entrances of places, what seating looks like and beyond. It was really something that the community ran with and was so incredible. Because to this day, and actually just as recently as last month’s inclusive mappers category of our Guiding Stars Initiative, people are still going on and on about accessibility in the best way possible. It’s been something that three years later has been absolutely phenomenal. What that does is that’s enabled other items in Maps as well or on Google search if you’re searching an accessible restaurant, accessible doctor’s office. The information is at the forefront for you, and you’re able to really make better decisions.
Just like you said coming back to point, you don’t want to get all the way to a place. Say, you’re planning a birthday dinner, pre-COVID times, of course, and you’re not able to get in the door. We’re really trying to help people head that off. One thing, if you don’t mind if I add as well, is you can also ask live questions at the community or of other people who may have visited a place. You could say go to your favorite Peet’s Coffee and Tea. I think that’s the West Coast favorite. You can also just say, “Hey, does this place have a wheelchair-accessible entrance?” Majority of the time, you’ll find the answer very quickly from someone else.
[00:07:51] Patrick O’Keefe That’s really quality of life content is how I think about that. 51 million, then, obviously, more now. Probably hundreds of millions of pieces of accessibility content by now. Just a staggering improvement overall for quality of life of so many different people. I was looking at a review locally here of a restaurant I like because it was easy to find a restaurant with a ton of reviews. I noticed that there are some reviewers who have a Local Guides designation and some who don’t. There are some who have many reviews who have clearly dedicated a lot of time to posting reviews and other content on Google Maps that are not local guides or at least don’t have the designation. What’s the difference between a local guide and just a person who’s very active on Google reviews or Google Maps.
[00:08:31] Traci Cappiello: Absolutely. Anyone can be a local guide. You don’t have to jump through any hoops. You literally just go to g.co/localguides and sign up for it. If you are already a Google Maps contributor, if you had written a review or contributed some piece of content, it will say, “Hey, do you want to join the Local Guides Program?” The difference between a local guide designation on a review and a non-local guide is simply that this person has taken the step to say, “Hey, I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of something different.”
Some people maybe choose not to be a local guide. We only send one email a month, usually, maybe more with some additional opportunities or news. That’s really the difference.
I think what we have learned to appreciate about local guides is that local guides are going to give really strong and trustworthy information. They’re going to contribute what is really needed. For those who are super engaged, they’re the coolest people that you’re ever going to meet in your life. I know I’m biased. [chuckles]
[00:09:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a moment so I can talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
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When you submit a piece of content a review a photo to Google Maps, for the moment you press submit to when it appears, which could be milliseconds, however long, what happens to it? What are the steps that the piece of content goes through to ensure it’s the type of content you want on the platform?
[00:10:17] Traci Cappiello: Sure. As you mentioned, it could be and is most usually a combination of both automated, as well as agent-touched reviews of it. It really depends on the type of content that it is. Our photos occasionally are published much more quickly than, I would say, another piece of content. I think where you’ll find the clearest answers about our policies and our terms really when we are talking about maps edits that are contributed. Maps edits are when we’re patently changing something on the base map.
If it is your local elementary school, maybe that’s a protected category, maybe not. A restaurant, maybe it is something that can be edited very easily, most of the times it is, unless it’s something that may be controversial because we have a ton of checks and balances in place and a lot of policy to ensure that only the best information does appear on Google Maps. What I think is the best piece of it is that if something does happen to get on the map, people just like you and me, most likely local guides, are the ones who are flagging the content to make sure that we take a look at it and correct any information if necessary. At the end of the day, it really depends on the piece of content, but it usually is a mix of both automated systems as well as manual agents who are taking a look at the content.
[00:11:30] Patrick O’Keefe You mentioned photos, so are photos more likely to go up because photos being a visual medium, algorithms can be written that identify a lot of the things we think would be problematic about photos? Nudity being the easy example. Is that why photos go up more quickly than other forms of media? Why do you think that is?
[00:11:46] Traci Cappiello: This is all anecdotal for me. I honestly would check with other folks on which one it is, but this is what I see. I think people know what kind of photos they can contribute. I think that education is a really clear thing there. I would assume that the algorithms are a bit more polished on that, on photos themselves, but photos are pretty highly visible. Tons of photos are added each day that I think that process is just a little bit more streamlined. I’d probably have to check with that. I’m actually going to write a note about that, so I can check with that because this will keep me up at night. [chuckles]
[00:12:17] Patrick O’Keefe With the volume of content coming in, it’s safe to say that trust and safety is it’s own thing, is that a fair observation from the outside? There’s so much data coming, this data’s so important that there are obviously teams of people dedicated to nothing but the quality of the information that appears on Google Maps.
[00:12:33] Traci Cappiello: Absolutely. We do have a dedicated team that handles all of the quality and the evaluations. It’s something that we think about for every entry point within the program and for UGC itself. We don’t want to encourage local guides to contribute content that is not accurate. Thankfully, there are really high rates of accurate information that local guides themselves contribute to maps. I would say that is something that is for any community program, we’re a community program that supports a product, we work across a number of different teams to ensure that our policies can be regulated on a pretty uniform basis.
When something isn’t perfect, we have really great open lines of communication that we can say, “Hey, we don’t think that this is right.” Again, our community members sometimes tell us the nuances and things that we may not know about their local areas, which then helps inform how we treat other pieces in the future, maybe even adjust their policies.
[00:13:25] Patrick O’Keefe: What are some of the things that people do to local data that is a threat to the quality of information in your eyes? When I thought about this before the show, I was thinking about brigading, as some might call it, where a group of people online focuses on a particular business, they don’t like them for some reasons, so they fill them with reviews. What do you think are the biggest threats to the quality of the information? Because the quality of the information is really almost like the currency of the Local Guides Program.
If people have a bad experience with the information, they find something wrong, they find something that’s inappropriate, unfair as it is, they’ll judge the whole thing because of that content. What in your eyes is the biggest threat to the quality of that information or the biggest threats?
[00:14:04] Traci Cappiello: This is a tough one only because I do think that I have a lot of faith in the Local Guides community members because I do interact with our super users and our most active contributors most regularly.
[00:14:15] Patrick O’Keefe: I think you interact with the best, which I think is a positive thing. You interact with the best of the community, probably the people that you see, the people who would make an initiative to join the localguidesconnect.com website and really are active are the exemplary users. You know them very well, I think that’s a positive thing. Not to interrupt, I totally understand that perspective.
[00:14:35] Traci Cappiello: With that, I do recognize that there are some, we like to call it bad actors. I don’t know where bad actors became the norm for folks who are maybe wanting to contribute incorrect information. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a threat, but one of the bigger concerns is that people don’t realize they’re violating our policies until they’ve already violated. Oftentimes, there’ll be folks who aren’t really malicious. There’s a small handful of people that can be malicious at times at least, I want to say, the 10 years now that I’ve been using Google Maps as an individual. I really think that for the most part it’s just knowledge. It’s interesting because you have someone who’s contributing knowledge on the map that is so critical for other people.
Here’s a great example, especially during COVID times right now, they see that a restaurant isn’t open at this time. They may go in and then mark that restaurant as closed or permanently. What you don’t know on the other side of that is that this owner actually had to close because maybe they have contracted COVID or they needed a data, pivot their business model. The only thing that the person sees is that they went and edited is that it’s close. I think it’s almost this well-intentioned but also, “I need to update this so other people know.”
I’ve been there. That’s a mistake I’ve made before where I’ve had to go through a long arduous process of, “Let me correct this immediately. Let me make sure that I can let people know.” I know that’s something different for me as a Googler, but I think it’s really, I would say, this zest for life and the intensity in which local guides want to help other people. If they’re not aware of the policies that could be something that could impact the validity of their contributions.
Let me tell you, there’s another person right behind them saying, “No, no no. I know Bob. Bob did not close this place.” It also requires people to be really active and then checking out their favorite local businesses en masse regularly. I don’t know that everyone does that like I do. [chuckles]
[00:16:25] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting that you mentioned that because there is a restaurant here in Hollywood, the 101 Coffee Shop that’s down the street from me. It’s well-known, it’s been in a lot of films. I actually have only been there once. When I was in there, I saw two different actors. It’s a funny place. It’s this small out of the way place right before you get on to the 101, but it’s very well-known, it’s famous and it’s good. My feed the other day was hit with this tweet that a guest went. I don’t like the word fire, but Hollywood viral in a sense of people who live in the area where it was closed permanently because the Google result for the page, when you search the restaurant, says permanently closed in red, like we’ve all seen before probably.
I essentially trust that, but also I’m like, “That actually needs to be confirmed by someone like a journalist. Someone needs to go talk to someone and make sure it’s actually closed.” That’s not enough for me to say this business is closed down and yet, the bottom line for this whole Twitter thread was that, “Look, this isn’t mark permanently closed. Therefore, it is permanently closed.” That’s a lot of trust into that information to look at that and say, “It’s just closed now.” It looks like this has been since confirmed. It was worth the trust. It all worked out there. It’s bad we lost the business, but it was accurate information at least.
[00:17:43] Traci Cappiello: See, that’s one of the worst things to come out of last year is that the business is shuttering. A person can’t just log in and say, “Oh, this place is permanently closed.” We ask you to submit information, a photo, someone will likely verify that edit themselves. You can even go in and look at edits and help to confirm them through this mode that’s like deep in your app, but you can say, “Yes, this is open because I called. Yes, this is indeed closed because I called,” so you’re able to help verify that information. It is indeed a lot of trust. For the most part I think you can trust us.
[00:18:17] Patrick O’Keefe: What everybody loves to hear from Google.
[00:18:20] Traci Cappiello: From your local guides. This is that individual piece with us. [chuckles]
[00:18:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s take a pause so that I can tell you about our great sponsor, Localist.
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On the angle of dealing with the best of the best of the Local Guides community, the people that have really proven themselves, is there a trust level system that exists within Google Maps data that says, “Hey, this is a local guide with this established credibility.” They get to edit or submit edits for these things with a greater degree of trust or their things go up faster or are there any trust levels, and how do those work?
[00:19:21] Traci Cappiello: Years ago, there were trust levels. At this point in time, we don’t have trust levels. I don’t think in any of the ways that you would consider as we did many years ago. That’s probably something I’ll have to check on as well for the homework. I know it doesn’t help for today’s podcast, but that’s definitely something I want to double check on.
[00:19:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Talk a little bit about the team you manage and who it’s comprised of.
[00:19:41] Traci Cappiello: I currently manage a team of four web developers. I’m trying to go through my org chart in a particular order 12 community managers and a content editor. Our team has really just been refining the areas that we work and how we can really scale ourselves. Because it’s a pretty small team considering that we have over 120 million local guides in our program. That was as of our last public number, of course, I have to give you that. However, our program continues to grow. That group of folks that I manage really helps us to deliver everything online and offline. There are a team of other program managers that work on local guides working on different elements of the program. However, my area is focused on the connections and recognition piece that goes along with it. It’s helpful.
[00:20:24] Patrick O’Keefe: What are the web developers working on?
[00:20:26] Traci Cappiello: Our web developers are working specifically on all of the features that you see on localguidesconnect.com. [chuckles] We are using Khoros for our platform, and the forum that we’re using for all of the web development is Grazitti. They’re essentially experts in Khoros or formerly known as Lithium. I know you know Lithium because you’re a community pro, and they are building a completely customized experience for us. Out of the box, Khoros didn’t have exactly what we needed, but they had most of what we needed when we launched four years ago.
It became quickly apparent after a year of managing it on our own that we needed web development help to really do all of the finer tune things. You’ll see, if you visit our homepage, everything that we have from the UI to the infrastructure, to the way that posts are labeled is all that customization. That’s something that’s really key to us. That team is dedicated to ensuring that the site keeps running, and that when we launch things– It’s funny to say last quarter, last year, December’s Guiding Stars initiative. They did all of that for us from soup to nuts.
[00:21:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you. Are the four web developers on your side employees full-time or are those contracted through Grazitti?
[00:21:30] Traci Cappiello: Oh, we contract them through Grazitti. Grazitti has great experience with this.
[00:21:34] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a lot of people for the website. It was four plus. I was like, “That’s a lot of people focused on that website.” What are the 12 community managers working on? Is it mainly interacting with that volume of 100 plus million people that are in the program and bringing contributions out of them? What is the specificity there?
[00:21:53] Traci Cappiello: Everyone on our community management team does have the ability to fill in on other areas of responsibilities. We do have a couple of project managers that handle things. We have a team lead who’s handling basically everything that comes down from my work stream and from my teammates. They’re primarily spending a lot of their time on the one to many interactions or the communication that’s happening on Local Guides Connect with our community members. While we do have over 120 million people in our global program, those are people who signed up for Local Guides.
They have just over a million local guides that are in our forum, which is exciting. If you come to the forum and you’re just like, “Hi,” chances are one of our community members who also moderate the forum is going to welcome you to the forum before our paid team does. Our paid team is really focused on those escalations. Making sure that they can handle things as they come up. They’re creating a lot of free content for our forum. They’re avid travelers, and they’re helping us to execute on things. Again, and I feel like I’m really pushing Guiding Stars but I’m not. It was just such a big program for us last year that without that team, we would not have been able to execute.
[00:23:01] Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned recognition a minute ago, a program so large you mentioned 120 million, the last public number and growing. One million that’s active in the forum or in the forum. With something so large, I think there’s a struggle to recognize enough people, and there’s a lot of different ways to do it. I’ve seen programs like this, where it’s just literally is a small number of people that reach this upper tier. They’re the model of the community, and everyone looks up to them. I’ve spent some time in the forum, I’ve spent some time on Local Guides Connect.
I see badges. I see some of those things that you might expect to see in recognition, both automated and manual. Talk about the tiers of recognition and how you have created steps to graduate up to if you will. What does it look like? What percentage of people really get a lot of recognition from your team?
[00:23:48] Traci Cappiello: I would say it’s a very small number of people kind of starting backwards, a very small number of people that do receive recognition regularly from our team. We do try to spread the love, but we also have to balance that with these are people who are doing really phenomenal things, and we just want to celebrate them over and over again. Knowing how a person on the other end of that, was like, “Hey, I’ve done some really cool stuff too. Why do we keep recognizing Traci over and over again?” I figured my own name is safer than using a random–
[00:24:18] Patrick O’Keefe: I can’t believe you recognize yourself like that. As someone who manages communities, I usually don’t just praise myself every month as member of the month. Oh, wait, Traci’s camera’s on and behind her is employee of the month, and it’s just her picture 12 times. No, it’s not it’s really a Christmas tree for those listening. There’s no employee of the month back there.
[00:24:34] Traci Cappiello: Remind me of podcast recording to tell you about my Christmas tree. [chuckles] No, we do really try to spread the love as much as possible. I think for us, it’s less about….We do want to let our community members inform how we’re recognizing them. I think we have a couple of different ways that recognition plays into our program. There’s definitely gamification, you can receive badges both in Google Maps and both on localguidesconnect.com. We send you emails that shows you the reach and the impact of your contributions depending on your activity. We offer from time to time rewards to community members, and that may with partners internally or externally. That’s something like access to a trial that maybe is not something usually a trial or maybe it’s Google Play credit. One of our most popular rewards has been pair of Google socks. I think there’s an entire Reddit thread about the socks. They refresh the thread when it gets too unwieldy. For me, what I’m really focused on is making the community members feel good about what they’re doing in our online forum, as well as with our offline events.
Up until this year, this was going to be the fifth year of our annual recognition event, which started out being called Local Guide Summit and then morphed into Connect Live. That was most recently in 2019, we had Connect Live where we brought 200 local guides from all around the world. Those local guides were selected out of tens of thousands of people who applied for this opportunity. Yes, we actually did review nearly every single application. We used some help in pairing folks down, but we really got to know the people that were in our community. That really enables us to not just recognize the same people, but also as I started to say earlier, it’s like really informed the types of people that we do recognize. I think a fun example was over this past year, we saw a lot of things changed with COVID and how our community members interacted with each other.
One of the things that was really cool was like we had a handful of folks who were really all about building community events online and offline, hosting meetups, all of those sorts of things. This past year, we saw people really go an extra step. We saw our community members, in Latin-America specifically, go completely all out and share weekly recaps of what was happening in their community. What is something that is culturally specific and really giving you insights. It’s almost like a foreign exchange student program, or at least the one I dreamed of being a part of in high school, happening all online for anyone to read.
I think that’s something that’s absolutely beautiful. Those are the people that are helping to inform our work. Then of course, that event didn’t happen this past year. We did put together was a new for 2020 digital recognition program where they picked 50 local guides. I know what you’re probably thinking, you had 200 people at an event, and then now you’re recognizing 50 people, but this Guiding Stars effort wasn’t meant to replace our Connect Live event because you can’t replace that. It’s pretty awesome. I’m not just saying that because I work on that with a team of people who do.
This group of 50 people really helps us to pull out five key themes and to really positively reinforce within the community what these folks were doing. Also, tell stories in a nice way that didn’t make people feel bad if they hadn’t left their four-block radius all year, which we know that’s happened. I think some of us have been more fortunate than others. I think it was just a really nice way to continue to support them. The people that have been coming out of the stories since then have been really phenomenal. Those are the people that are, again, who we recognize this year, and I hope we get really high number there. Also, like everything we do, we’re all about quality over quantity. The more people I can help is pretty important to me. [chuckles]
[00:28:08] Patrick O’Keefe: Are you aware of anyone who has, I don’t even know what this would look like, but I’m sure you would, take in their activity within Google Maps and made that the basis point for them earning a living in some way. The first example that comes to mind is travel guides, tour guides, those sorts of people who might be, let’s like, “Oh, look, I’m a prominent Local Guides reviewer. I’ve built up credibility. I know the area, I know these things.” There’s a lot of incentives. A lot of reasons people participate in online communities, in social networks, in UGC of any kind.
Is there anybody like that? This is part of who they are as a professional, this is part of how they earn a living? Is that part of the time they spend reviewing things as credibility that they then use for this thing? Is that something that exists?
[00:28:52] Traci Cappiello: Not that I’ve ever discovered. Definitely. We keep that line pretty strict. You have to contribute to the program as an individual, not as a brand, a business, or an organization. I’m just trying to remember my high school blogger name. Even if you were that person, we encourage you to only contribute authentic information that’s recent and isn’t because you’re receiving any compensation. Street cred will come along with some of those contributions. There are times that I meet people and they’re like, “Oh, you’re the Traci who reviews every place in Brooklyn.” I’m like, “Yes, guilty.’ I have not seen anyone do that. I do think that we have in the past, when people have asked like, “How do I get compensated for this?” We’re like, “You don’t get compensated for this. You’re helping X number of people.” I would be very surprised to see that because it goes against our policies. I can’t imagine a company owner going to an influencer and asking for– I wouldn’t take that necessarily as street cred only because I’m always looking at people’s terms of service and their contribution policies. I feel like I know I’m a very special case there. Don’t mind me just thinking out loud. [laughs]
[00:30:04] Patrick O’Keefe: I think you went to a place. I would probably ask that this was a little more trust and safety grounded, which is just how detecting conflicts of interest that exists. I get stuff all the time that just is cringe-worthy from a business. On Amazon, I might buy some a flashlight and in that is a little business card and it says, “Give us five stars on Amazon, and we’ll give you 5% off.” I’m not saying that this is like a massive criminal operation that we should, the FBI should bang down their doors, but technically FCC guidelines prohibit that thing.
You have to disclose the discount that you receive. There’s no component to there that’s making people disclose. That’s the way my brain goes is in that area. I also feel like there’s this opportunity somewhere where there’s probably someone out there who’s like, “I’m a local taxi driver.” Let’s say, pre COVID and like, “I know the area so well. If you come to the area, I’ll be your taxi.”
It’s a way to demonstrate local knowledge. I’ve managed communities that have policies that basically say– Let’s say, you wrote the best article about this thing. Find the second best article about it. Spread the love. Don’t link to your article. Don’t link to what you wrote, link to something you’re not affiliated with. Because at the end of the day, that’ll give back more to the community than just you linking to your website over and over again. I really do appreciate that because I think without a very strong line, it’s very easy to become far less valuable.
I look at something like Quora. Once upon a time, I thought Quora was very valuable, and I think in pockets, it still is. Now, when I read Quora answers once in a while, gosh, 30%, 40%, 50% of them probably not exaggerating are, either a link to their article or they’re affiliated with a thing that is to do with the thing they’re answering. It makes me distrust the answer and the answers as a whole. Once it creeps in, you’ve made the expectation, it’s bad. People don’t trust it. I do appreciate that line.
[00:31:50] Traci Cappiello: I will say on the contributed content where reviews specifically and photos that you contribute your reviews cannot include links. You shouldn’t be self advertising, whether or not you’re a local guide. All of your contributions should be done out of the goodness of your heart. Whether it’s helping someone make a better decision or helping them to avoid the same mistake you need. Photos can have huge watermarks on them. There are policies about that. It’s interesting you mentioned people who meet people who contribute in an online forum who will potentially just include a link to their blog or their website or something they’ve already written.
We also encourage people to share original content that is tailored for the platform itself. There’s nothing wrong with excerpting. If you’ve already created a guide to 10 top places to go to in New York city, sure. Feel free to paste it over. If the crux of your posts or the intention is to just promote yourself, we’re not here for that. Also, community members will tell you, “Hey, Patrick, this is what we are here for. Check out our five core values of Connect. Check out our program rules. Please consider editing your posts to be in line with this. Otherwise, you may find that your post gets removed.” Our community is really phenomenal on that too. Gosh, I was away for holiday. I feel like I’m just crushing on my community all over again, I’m sorry. [chuckles]
[00:33:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Traci, thank you so much for being a guest on the show. I’ve enjoyed the conversation.
[00:33:08] Traci Cappiello: Thank you, Patrick, for the opportunity. I hope we can continue chatting community.
[00:33:12] Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Traci Cappiello program manager, community, at Google. To learn more about the Local Guides Program visit g.co/localguides and to visit the community for local guides, Local Guides Connect, go to localguidesconnect.com.
For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Thanks for listening.
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