This was a big week in the blogo- and Twittersphere for poorly received product launches: Two new products from Google and Squidoo threaten to become reputation management nightmares, if they manage to catch on. Ironically, the products also threaten to (further) tarnish the reputations of their creators.
Brands in Public: A Big Misstep from Seth Godin?
Seth Godin this week announced a new product/service from Squidoo called Brands in Public:
If your brand has any traction at all, people are talking about you. Of course, they've always talked about you, but now they're doing it in writing, in video and in public.
Today, Squidoo (a company I founded) is launching Brands in Public. It's a neat idea and I wanted to give you an overview and a first look.
You can't control what people are saying about you. What you can do is organize that speech. You can organize it by highlighting the good stuff and rationally responding to the not-so-good stuff.
Indeed, you can’t control what people are saying about you, including if you’re Seth Godin. A lot of people out there don’t think this is such a “neat idea.”
Patrick Altoft of Blogstorm was one of the first to react, calling it a “reputation management timebomb.” Altoft writes, “I’m all for brands having an outlet for things but the outlet should be something that is 100% under their control such as a blog or social media account. Answering back on a Squidoo page where they have very little control of the content is a terrible idea.”
The issue isn’t just one of control and in whose hands it lies—Squidoo is setting up unofficial pages for big brands like Guinness and then charging $400 a month if the company wants ownership of that page. Otherwise, the conversation goes on without them. According to Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer, “the $400 or more fee Godin’s company plans to charge is, in a way, blackmail.”
Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media also disapproves (to put it lightly), calling this tactic “brandjacking”:
If you’re a large brand like Guinness, Home Depot or All State, you don’t want Brands in Public. You’d be much better suited creating your own internal dashboard to track mentions or investing in a program like Radian 6. Brands in Public isn’t nearly as powerful as you’d need it to be. To be honest, Brands in Public is nothing more than a 5k a year public Google Alert . And it’s the “public” part that Seth says makes these pages so valuable. It allows you to do your monitoring in full of view of everyone on the Internet. Personally, I’m not sure why the thought of that is so exciting. I tend to look at brand monitoring like showering. They’re things I like to do in private. Or at least only with people I really, really like.
(Lisa's post has a very lively comment thread.) Meghan Keane of Econsultancy further plays up the threatening aspect of this service in a post titled “Give Squidoo $400 a month. Or your brand gets it ”:
Squidoo is providing a forum for brands to monitor, control and influence their reputation online. But rather than letting brands set up their own pages, Squidoo is doing it for them and dangling control over the site for the $400 monthly fee. If that price sounds like a threat, it is. […] Of course, companies can do any of this on their own site or blog or platform. But the info gathered at Squidoo will continue on with or without their input. And if they care at least $400 a month about what people on Squidoo think about them, they'll fork over to control how it is shown.
Robin Wauters at TechCrunch is also skeptical about the value of the new service:
I’m not sure I like the fact that Squidoo takes the lead in creating pages for brands only to ‘unlock’ them for a monthly fee afterwards. Sure, there’s some truth to its claim that conversations are happening around the web anyway and they’re merely aggregating them, but I’m sure many will claim that the company is doing this for obvious SEO reasons. Get Satisfaction follows a similar strategy of holding company profile pages ‘hostage’, and has in the past been criticized for that behavior. I also think a $400/month price point is extremely high for something that can easily be built internally.
I have to agree with the detractors; this sounds sketchy. Any business model based on extortion is unlikely to gain fans and followers among marketers. Companies find reputation management difficult enough without dragging ransom fees into it.
Google Claims Yet More Web Real Estate with Sidewiki
In a similar move to limit the power of web properties and brands (oddly contrary to recent algorithm updates that place more trust in brands?), Google announced Sidewiki, an app that allows universal commenting on any website. Anyone who installs the app can see and add comments, which appear in the sidebar on the left-hand side of the screen, hence the name (though AboutUs points out that Google is confused about what a “wiki” actually is).
Gab Goldenberg sees this as its own form of extortion. While webmasters and site owners don’t have to pay Google to participate in this side conversation, they can’t opt out:
Google continues making moves toward establishing a monopoly on the web […] This gives Google expanded presence on ALL websites its toolbar users visit and will open up all kinds of online reputation management issues for businesses. […] Google is telling site owners that they can either participate in SideWiki or else see competitors’ nasty comments dominate the discussion about their site(s). Worst of all, you can’t block Google’s SideWiki from appearing alongside your website so as to opt-out. It’s also unclear whether webmasters will even know when their site is being displayed with SideWiki.
It sounds kinda good in theory—putting power in the hands of consumers. (Matt Cutts, in Sidewiki’s defense, brings up the use case of “Make thousands of dollars working from home!” scam sites.) But we have to remember the rule of wikis (or comment threads): 1% of users are responsible for 90% of the content. So Sidewiki comments aren’t necessarily going to be representative of the general public opinion about a site; they might just represent the loudest (and most obnoxious) opinions.
Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine senses “danger.”
Google is trying to take interactivity away from the source and centralize it. This isn’t like Disqus, which enables me to add comment functionality on my blog. It takes comments away from my blog and puts them on Google. That sets up Google in channel conflict vs me. […] So this goes contrary to Google’s other services – search, advertising, embeddable content and functionality – that help advantage the edge. This is Google trying to be the center. […] Somebody should have asked the “is it evil?” question. That’s why it’s there. I sense no one did.
This echoes Gab’s sentiment about monopoly—Google seems to have its paws in every damn pot on the web. (In fact, when Google launched its Monopoly game, I kept seeing "Google Monopoly" in my Twitter stream and finding it rather apropos.) As one commenter on Jarvis’s post put it, “The Googely Monster has too many arms.”
Michael Gray’s Twitter stream  was also a fount of complaints about Sidewiki this week (I really wanted to type "this weeky"). Some highlights:
- hey @mattcutts what the reasoning behind no opt-out on sidewiki ... not ever site owner wants to moderate a forum ya know
- any of you corndogs naive enough to think there wont be adsense ads for your competition on sidewiki in less than 12 months
- HEY YOU CAN DROP LINKS IN SIDEWIKI COMMENTS ....http://bit.ly/2D1WVy google doesnt have a policy for governing the sale of sidewiki votes seize the moment and claim your internet riches
- I need to go lay down between whuffie, sidewiki, and squidoo brand pages internet stupidity is overwhelming today
- I swear I feel like charlton heston at the end of planet of the apes yelling at ppl who cant hear me
(If you don’t already follow him, @graywolf consistently brings it in the day-long rant department.)
Two Great Launches That Taste Great Together
Sidewiki and Brands in Public meet (Oh, hello. I didn't see you there) on Seth Godin's blog, where Danny Sullivan and others have used the Google add-on to comment on Seth's announcement, since he doesn't allow comments. Maybe it has some value after all? I just love the symmetry here.
What do you all think? Do these launches make you feel empowered as a consumer? Or, as someone with a reputation to manage/protect, are you vacillating between anger and fear?
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