Google is hitting the streets of San Francisco next week — with at least one high-powered supporter in tow — to talk to small/local businesses about Google products and services. The event is called “Favorite Places,” and Google will have San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other “San Francisco trendsetters” show their favorite local businesses — presumably ones they found on Google Maps.
In the invite recently sent out to select Bay Area local business owners, Google bills the event as “an afternoon celebration and educational opportunity.” But it’s really a sales pitch for Google’s products:
“The event will feature a series of product demos and speakers, including Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco trendsetters who have shared their favorite local businesses. Google employees will be on hand to help you learn how to make the most of Google’s free business solutions and AdWords online advertising program, and we’ll distribute coupons for free AdWords advertising.”
Favorite Places is the latest in a string of attempts by Google to introduce its products and services to small and local business owners. As far back as 2002, Google hosted seminars under the name Google U, which introduced and taught AdWords to small business owners. (Google continues to offer similar Seminars for Success today.) In 2006, Google partnered with Intuit on a deal that integrated AdWords and several other Google products into the uber-popular Quickbooks accounting software. In 2007, Google launched a Local Business Referrals program, which paid foot soldiers a small commission for visiting local businesses, helping them get listed on Google Maps, and introducing them to AdWords. That program shut down late last year.
While Google is out selling its products to local businesses, there are almost continual complaints in the Google Maps Help Forum about Google’s (lack of) commitment to answering questions from local business owners who are already using Google’s products and services. Miriam Ellis recently wrote about Google’s poor track record of customer service in The Great Wall Of Google – A Short Essay On Communication. Perhaps in response to the growing din of complaints about Google Maps’ customer service, Google published a cryptic blog post yesterday that basically says customer service is a do-it-yourself concept:
“Since we can’t respond to every problem individually, we put a lot of effort into helping users help themselves, and each other.”
The catch-22 is that Google wants and needs more small, local business owners using its products for economic reasons … but it isn’t adequately serving the ones it already has.
Next week’s event, meanwhile, will go on. Local businesses on Google Maps will be celebrated, many new ones will be persuaded to sign-up for AdWords and/or add their business listing to Google Maps. And they’ll eventually have questions or need help. And then what?
Postscript: Prior to publishing this, I emailed Google to ask who they’ve invited to the event and will there be similar events in other cities. After the article was published, we received this reply from a Google spokesperson:
“We’ve invited LBC users in the Bay Area, as well as the businesses that have been featured in our “Favorite Places” campaign, which will be kicking off next Wednesday (July 15). This is part of a global campaign that will highlight local businesses in several cities worldwide — more specific info will be available when we kick off next Wednesday.”