I spend (my wife would say far too much) time as a volunteer on a specialized Google help forum. With my knowledge of the program, I have become something of an expert, to the extent that Google staff invited me to join a group of about 350 others around the world with “Top Contributor” status. This status requires us to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding specific behind-the-scenes information we may learn and earns us a Christmas card and small gift. We certainly aren’t paid for our time.
This environment allows me the opportunity to interact with many people with frustrations and problems. Some are truly caught up in difficulties of a technical nature because of Google’s complex, international structure. Here, I can push a button and refer the inquiry to a real Google employee. (Google is using a modified form of crowd-sourcing to handle its client and supplier inquiries — it is much less expensive to use a corps of volunteers on this stuff than to staff an expensive call centre with multilingual capacities.)
Most of the inquiries, however, arise from a combination of greed, dishonesty, ignorance or stupidity. Some people I deal with are downright psychopaths or sociopaths. Of course, I am probably seeing the bottom of the barrel of humanity here because I choose to try to help in the area of the forums where individuals lose their accounts because of various ill deeds.
Why do I spend time in these spaces when the revenue potential for my own business is limited, if anything at all?
First, my voluntary involvement has connected me to an intriguing, intelligent and mutually supportive hidden community (at least to the general public). I’ve never met my colleagues in this space in person, but they combine incredible integrity, good-will and humour. They certainly helped me out when one of the psychopaths decided to wage war on my Google account — and that experience is one reason I don’t discuss the specific program or service in this space. (Some Top Contributors go to extreme measures to keep their identity totally private; because of earlier public postings, this is not possible for me, so I don’t think this reference will cause any additional harm.)
I also have learned something that is obvious to most of us: We often have trouble reading or following instructions! You can lay out the rules and set up guidelines, but many of our clients (and employees) are tempted to do things the easy way or the way they think is right, when they are really screwing up. You can tear your hair out trying to explain things, but they simply won’t get it.
More challenging are the bad guys who will “hear” your instructions and the rules but have their own agenda, and when things don’t go quite right, will blame you or some third party for their problems, rather than accept their own level of responsibility for their mess.
Finally, a surprising number of people I encounter in the Google space really have trouble communicating clearly and openly with understandable English — without using cuss words in every sentence. I can understand the language issue for people in various parts of the world (the service I support works with individuals everywhere, including some really poor third-world countries.) But some of the most shockingly illiterate and offensive postings arise from, gulp, Canada.
I suppose you could consider my online activities here to be a waste of time — probably one in 25 or 30 inquiries I receive can be resolved in a manner which leaves the inquirer happy with the results. But I also realize that when you spend some time helping in spaces beyond your home territory, you gain insights, depth and respect for the larger human picture, and this is healthy for everyone.
This knowledge and experience I can take back to my home base and its relevance to construction marketing. How do you apply your own time and resources outside of your core business?