As a Google Local Guide, I run into a lot of weird experiences. A LOT of weird experiences…
One thing I try to do is make sure all local businesses have an image, more than just the street view photograph they have by default. I’ll meander around the downtown Spartanburg area, snapping pictures of any businesses I haven’t taken pictures of before, occasionally seeking out specific places that I’ve noticed have no good picture. Obviously, seeing a guy wandering around taking pictures of places every few steps is a bit weird, I won’t deny this. Some moments stand head and shoulders above the rest, however.
The first notably strange experience I had with Local Guide activities was with a local paint shop. I made a quick lap around the building, almost like a strip mall but limited to only about 4 businesses. The paint shop was on the corner, and I noticed people inside looking at me as I took the picture. Before I could head on toward my next photo target, a fellow came outside and greeted me, asking why I was taking a picture of the place.
Having never encountered any employees of these businesses before, I didn’t really have any sort of explanation at the ready. I asked if he knew of Google Maps, and how people can review businesses on the site. He claimed that he did, so I began to try and elaborate how I flesh out information and provide pictures of businesses. When I finished with my cobbled together explanation of the Local Guides program, the man asked if I worked for Google. Well, not exactly, it’s user-driven and thus I don’t get paid for it, but I do work for Google in the sense that I’m putting in effort for the company.
After a few back and forth interchanges of vague questions and badly worded answers, I deduced that this guy didn’t know what I was talking about, and I probably wouldn’t be able to explain it adequately in my hour lunch break. I half-heartedly requested that the guy check on Google Maps in a few hours, to give me time to upload the images. Seeing someone take pictures of your business and then fail to explain why he was doing so must be tremendously unnerving, and I felt terrible for not offering him a good summary of what I was doing.
I resolved from that moment forward to express my goals clearly and concisely in any future encounters with employees. I am a Google Local Guide, a representative of the businesses in Spartanburg. That should be easy enough to convey, as well as get people interested in becoming Local Guides themselves.
Combative Loan Brokers
Several weeks later, I went on another of my walkabouts to photograph a specific shopping center nearby. I hadn’t yet taken any pictures of the area, and figured it wouldn’t take long to pop in and polish off a few of them. After snapping photos of all but the last business, a cash advance or loan company, I lined up the last shot and noticed people inside looking at me again. Great, here it comes.
As soon as I took the picture, I turned to walk away and heard a voice from the door ask, “Excuse me, can I help you?” Been there, done that, I knew how to deal with these questions. I turned around, made strong eye contact, smiled, and responded, “Hi, I’m a Google Local Guide, I was just taking a picture of your business to upload on Google Maps and make sure you guys get proper representation.” Nailed it: short, direct, polite, that should be a good enough explanation for anybody.
“Do you have permission,” the lady asked. Uhh… well, no, but I don’t need permission. I’m standing in a public location, taking a picture of a business that anyone can see from the road. The lady proceeded to grill me with a series of very pointed questions, and clearly thought I meant to do something malicious with the images. Why did you choose us? I didn’t choose specifically you, I take pictures of all the local businesses. What’s your name? My name is Jake Hennett, you can look online and see all the pictures of businesses I’ve posted to Google Maps.
A few questions in, the lady’s coworker came out as well. Did you talk to Mr. [business owner]? No, but I don’t have to, anyone can post pictures, reviews, or edits to the business. Well what if we don’t want our picture online? There’s a glare on the front glass so that you can’t see anything inside, but I’ll delete the picture if you want me to. Do you have a badge or something? No, I don’t actually work FOR Google, I’m just an active member of the Maps community.
After several minutes of failed attempts at adequately explaining what I was doing, I summed it up that they could look online in a few minutes to see that I’m being honest. I offered again to delete the photos if they wanted me to (though I was by no means obligated to), but mentioned that you couldn’t see anyone inside due to the reflection on the glass. The ladies didn’t seem particularly keen on the idea, but there really was nothing else I could do. I gave them my name, that’s plenty to go online and see what I’ve put on Maps. Clearly, I was not as prepared for future encounters as I thought.
Luckily, Google has since rewarded active Local Guides with t-shirts, sporting the Local Guides logo and Google name. Ideally, this would be sufficient proof that I’m just giving these businesses the coverage they deserve. Though it doesn’t fit my work dress code, I do plan on wearing it underneath a button down any time I plan on walking around to snap pictures. It may still not be enough to prove the validity of my cause, but it’s better than nothing.
To Google, and those in charge of the Local Guides program, is there any sort of official policy for how to handle these situations? I want to be a proper advocate for Google and the program, and not come across as some creeper taking pictures of businesses without reason. Several people do not take kindly to having pictures of their businesses put online, despite the fact that it helps them establish a recognizable image.
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