Sidewiki – Friend or Foe for PR Professionals and Marketers?

Google launched Sidewiki last week to mixed reviews. Sidewiki (in a very small nutshell) is a tool that allows consumers to engage with web sites (and their brands) by contributing content directly to the website itself. Click here for Google’s description of the tool, or read SearchEngineLand’s post for an in-depth analysis.

It goes without saying that Sidewiki has major implications for every brand. Jeremiah Owyang and Jason Falls have some good related insight. Basically, everyone with access to a computer, a Google account and the wherewithal to install the Google toolbar now has the ability to tell you exactly how they feel – about you, your brand, your company, and maybe even your dog – when they feel like it. And in a very public forum, where everyone else can see.

Parallels have been drawn to what Seth Godin proposed last week (since modified) with his Brands in Public concept. But the Brands in Public concept allows companies some control over how content and comments are managed – they can highlight the good stuff and respond directly to negative comments. With Sidewiki, companies can post responses and contribute content, but there’s no guarantee that it will rise to the top (with the exception of the company’s first post…more on that below.) Other major difference? Sidewiki is free.

But before us marketers and PR folks get too up in arms about reputation and content management (which I, admittedly, did before taking a closer look at the tool) here’s what you need to know about Sidewiki, and the steps we can take to manage brand integrity and benefit from this new level of engagement:

1. Get on It: You, the website owner, have the right to the first contribution to the Sidewiki on your site. So install the toolbar and get to it. Now. Click here to get started.

2. Understand the limitations: Not everyone can see the Sidewiki on every web page. Right now, Sidewiki is only available through the Google toolbar on Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers. And consumers will need to download the Google toolbar and click on the Sidewiki to see contributions and make contributions. Secure websites – i.e. log-in pages for banks, credit cards – can’t be “sidewiki-ed.” Please note: this goes only for the log-in pages of the site, not all the other pages.

3. Know How it Works: Sidewiki is not an evil plot to destroy your website. It’s a wiki – meaning the good stuff (usually/hopefully) rises to the top. Therefore it’s up to the community (i.e. all of us) to vote on content and push the helpful comments to the top. As marketing and PR professionals, we need to keep a close eye on our websites and monitor and vote on the comments. Encourage brand enthusiasts – whether they’re employees or consumers – to do the same. In this spirit, the good stuff should come to the fore. In an effort to control spammers, Google has created rules of engagement for contributing via Sidewiki.

5. Use it to Your Advantage: Sidewiki gives you real-time feedback. Take that feedback – be it positive or negative – and pass it along to the appropriate people in your organization.  Think of it as one giant, 24-hour focus group. You never know what you could learn.

6. Extend Your Reach: Sidewiki works both ways. If you see something – be it a website or a blog – that you feel you can make a meaningful contribution to, by all means do it. But know that contributions are not anonymous – your Google account name will appear next to your entry.

Thoughts? Have any of you had an experience – positive or negative – with Sidewiki yet?

(photo by Stefan Baudy)


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