Google Sidewiki for PR and marketing professionals
Google Sidewiki has been out for six months and it a is good time understand the strategies PR and marketing should adopt to deal with this new power-to-the-people channel. For those new to Google Sidewiki - it is like Wikipedia, but in this case anyone can comment right on your own corporate Web site. People who come to learn about your company on the well-kept site could see glowing comments from happy customers or spiteful graffiti from upset ex-employees. Instead of arguing if this is evil, legal, or ethical, I'd like to discus how PR and marketing professionals can address this challenge.
When Google Sidewiki was announced, some thought (including me) that this would result in graffiti all over the Web, but it seems that even months later many major brands have no Sidewiki comments. People simply didn't rush out to hate on their easy-to-bash cable company. Like the broader Web, most of the comments that are visible are constructive and seem to make an attempt to be fair. Just because much of the Web is acting civilly doesn't mean that you should leave this channel unmonitored. Like all social tools, each PR department should develop a plan to engage in a meaningful way with people that are attempting to converse with your company.
I pulled this example from Apple.com. When someone navigates to the Web site, Sidewiki prompts the visitor to view the comments. After six months, there are only four entries about Apple. Most of them are positive or neutral, but there is one that really seems to be burrowing into Apple. This opinion can't be removed, but the company has the opportunity to claim the Sidewiki entry and add their own comments (they haven't yet). Company produced comments are often shown at the top and can set the tone for the online conversation. The Web site owner's comments are always shown in green and that difference sets them apart. To help you retain your online reputation and keep the Debbie Downers in check, I recommend that you start with these steps:
Keeping your reputation from getting hijacked by Google Sidewiki:
1. Claim your site - Sidewiki pages should be claimed by the Web site owner. It's a simple process and it allows you to add a post that sets the tone for the other wiki posts. Without any real programming skills, I was able to claim mine in about five minutes.
2. You don't own your corporate Web - the public does - Paraphrasing from a great article on this topic by Jeremiah Owyang, you should shift your thinking on who owns your corporate Web site. The public now owns it, not you. It is best to adjust how you approach all communication now that it is easy for your customers and other stakeholders to add their opinions on your site through social media.
3. Appoint a Sidewiki ambassador - Steve Rubel, Edelman colleague, recommends in this white paper to assign an ambassador to each social network. Sidewiki is one more channel that requires that you establish and embassy and staff it with well-trained ambassadors. They can build relationships and alert you when relations with your community are cooling off.
4. Verify your identity and be transparent - Google is here to stay so it makes sense to invest a little time in your Google profile. A key benefit of the Google account is that it verifies your identity so people know that you are you (mine is here). This free process increases online trust and reduces spamming and scamming. Set a good example for the community and disclose your real name. Account verification instructions are found here.
For a deeper discussion on the ethics, viability and legality of Google's Sidewiki program, I encourage you to read these blog posts. Each has well-developed thoughts and extensive comments that seem to argue both sides.
Google Sidewiki: Danger - Jeff Jarvis - Buzz Machine
Google Sidewiki is PR Game Changer - Mark Rose - PR Blog News
How To Use Google’s Sidewiki For Maximum SEM Benefit - Kevin Gibbons - Search Engine Land
Google Sidewiki: Brands under attack - Malcom Coles - Econsultancy
The corporate Web site as a controlled communication channel has changed with the introduction of Google Sidewiki. Sharp PR and marketing teams still have an opportunity to understand this new user-generated social tool and develop strategies keep your company's reputation from being hijacked.
How has your company addressed comments on Sidewiki? Please post these stories or links to your blogs in the comments section.