8 Reasons Google Sidewiki Will Keep Marketers up at Night


They are totally talking about me right now.

They are totally talking about me right now.

The business reaction to Google’s Sidewiki has been surprisingly muted.  Other than buzz in the blogosphere (I recommend an insightful piece by Sean Carton on ClickZ), there’s been little written in the traditional press about a tool that has enormous ramifications on any company with a web site.

Sidewiki was launched by Google on September 23.  It is a tool connect to you web browser (available on Internet Explorer and Firefox).  Sidewiki opens a sidebar on every web page and allows users to post and read comments about the web page they are visiting.  Users can leave behind insights on the web page content – positive or negative.  Basically, Google has made every web page socially enabled.

Here are 8 reasons why Sidewiki will keep marketers up at night.

1. As Van Halen Sings: “Loss of Control! Loss of Control!”

If you’ve ever launched or helped launch a company web site – you know the effort that goes into getting every word and image just right.  Brands spend an inordinate amount of time and money convey specific messages and images to customers via their web sites.  Sidewiki allows for visitors and outsiders to add their own commentary to a web site – disrupting the deliberate tone, messages and images that the company wants to publicize.  Nothing ruins a carefully crafted marketing message more than a snide remark from the peanut gallery.

2. “Attica! Attica!” – Sidewiki Attacks on Brand

What happens if a band of protesters decides to launch a “Sidewiki attack” on a brand? Dozens – maybe even hundreds or thousands – of people can now converge on the web site and leaving behind comments protesting a company policy or practice.  Remember the “United Breaks Guitars” YouTube video?  What if even just one percent of the more than 5 million viewers of the video descended on United Airlines’ web site?

3. Lies, Lies and More Damned Lies

What can a company do if people start to leave misinformation – or worse – outright fabrications about them on Sidewiki?  They can obviously responded via Sidewiki – but the misinformation remains there.  Companies don’t have the ability to delete erroneous information.  Google says it has an algorithm to sort comments from valuable to least valuable – but those “bad” comments are not eliminated.

4. Firing the First Shot: Brand wars via Sidewiki

So you need to worry about protesters (see #2 above), but you also need to worry about competitors.  What if they decide to leave behind comments about what they perceive as deficiencies in your products and services?  What if they start leaving behind links to their web pages and product pages?  Do you really want to get into a war of words with competitors on your own web site?

5. So How About Them Red Sox? Off-brand Conversations

Anyone who has visited online forums or blogs and read through the comments knows how easy it is for side conversations to start.  The topic might be about how Yelp can impact restaurant popularity and then two jokers start discussing their favorite tuna recipes.  Or a forum topic on Best PR Practices can degenerate into a string of movie quote oneupmanship between posters.  No company wants its web site to become a discussion board for topics and issues that have nothing to do with them.

6. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Marketers have full plates already.  Now they can add another task – monitoring and responding to comments on Sidewiki.  Who wants to be the VP of Marketing at Company X if the CEO is the first person to find a negative comment about him on his biography page?  Ouch.

7. Revenge of the Nerds: The Disgruntled Employee

It’s a fact of life.  Sometimes employees have to be let go.  Occasionally for performance issues and other times as cost cutting measures (lay-offs) in tough economic times.  Now angry or disgruntled employees can actually vent their frustrations on your web site via Sidewiki.  Think about a string of ex-employees leaving a litany of complaints on the “career” or “job openings” section of your web site.

8. No Where to Hide

So you’ve been sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out this social media thingy.  You don’t have any social assets in place.  There’s no social media policy for the company.  You’re keeping an eye on some social networks, but don’t have a formal monitoring program in place.  And as far as a social media strategy to integrate with marketing and communications?  Well, it’s come up in meetings, but that’s about it.  You’ve thought about hiring some smart consultants to help you get started.  Sidewiki is going to force you to take social media seriously because your web site – your pride and joy – is now a social network.  There’s no where to hide – so stop sitting on your hands.

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4 Responses to “8 Reasons Google Sidewiki Will Keep Marketers up at Night”

  1. It will end up being controlled at some stage, just like Wikipedia. After a year or so of glorious freedom pressure will be brought to bear to ensure that all submitted snippets of information are vetted by an official body.
    But really, why should corporations worry? No publicity is bad, so they say. And far better to have disgruntled employees badmouthing you, and providing further google hits for your company name, than that they start stalking the cubicles with an Armalite rifle.
    http://doctorbeatnik.wordpress.com/

  2. Hi Steven:
    I’m not sure many communications people would agree that any publicity is good publicity. Nor do most like the idea of their corporate web sites as public white boards for anyone to deface – with good or bad commentary.

    But I’m sure you’d get 100 percent agreement that it is better than nut jobs with firearms…

  3. Any publicity is good publicity worked 20 years ago, now things have changed, A LOT. 3 people saying that something is awful is enough to scare off many people. That’s the same for any “non-traditional” site, there are many sites(usually shops) that we trust because they have been there before us, but what if a new one wants to start, and the 4chan raid it just for the lulz? This sidewiki has the tools for that.

    This seems awful. Of course you have the choice to not view the sidewiki, but that is for any user, soon they’ll ad this thing everywhere and induce people to use it, and, if you’re the onwer of anything on the internet, you’re held hostage to the comments, for there is no “delete” or “do not include my site” option.

    Always hated google, always will.

  4. This has got to be the worst idea Google has ever come up with. I think this will be abused more than used for positive purposes. Proof? Check out the Twitter trending hashtag problem. If there’s a big conference going on and people are tweeting about the event from the floor using a hashtag, and it ends up in the top trending tags on Twitter, spammers flood Twitter with the most awful and distasteful garbage you can imaging. They do this for the “free” exposure, and it ruins the good use of Twitter and trending topics. The same is true with popular live podcasts. When someone has a large audience due to the quality of the content they are delivering, in come the spammers, cyber-bullies, and perverts. You can’t kick them out as fast as new ones arrive. I will have to see it first to believe that SideWiki will not be abused. If the site owners have no control over comments posted to their own page, then I say BOOO GOOGLE!

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