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Should Companies be Scared of Google Sidewiki?

October 5, 2009

What the Heck is Google Sidewiki?
On 23rd September, Google unveiled a new toolbar feature for web browsers that allow anyone to add comments and notes about web pages – including your web page – in a sidebar. Users can make comments about the page as a whole, or reference specific content on the page. Here’s what it looks like:

Google Sidewiki: Allows Anyone to Comment on your Webpage

 

Why, Oh Why?
The social media beast continues to grow. Almost everywhere you look online, people are talking, commenting, interacting and rating companies and their products – be it through forums and blog posts; on Amazon, Twitter and Facebook; and now on your site too.

According to Google, Sidewiki will help people to:

  • More easily contribute to any web page and help others
  • Learn from others who have visited a page before you

Isn’t that a bit “Pie in the Sky”?
Definitely. Sidewiki works on the basis that people are altruistic, and this is true to a certain extent. We see this all the time in forums – people like to help people and put their knowledge on stage. It makes contributors feel good and valued, despite there being no monetary gain.

However, with the good, also comes the bad. Sidewiki – as with most social media – opens things up to abusers who are not looking to add value, but rather to write insults, spread rumors and post spam. It also means competitors can go in and add comments, which could include tactics that tell visitors to go to their site and buy their products instead.

What Does This Mean?
Whether you like it or not, your web site just went social. Visitors can now voice their feedback on your pages using Sidewiki. Unlike before, feedback is now attached to your site, rather than just through some disparate blog or third-party site. This means that if you’re not already, it’s time to seriously start listening, participating in and embracing feedback and interaction.

So Should Companies be Scared?
This depends on a number of things, including:

1. Audience Uptake
Sidewiki comments are stored on Google’s servers and only visible to those who have actually downloaded the tool and are aware of its function. So if your audience are early adopters of social tools, then they are more likely to be users compared to late adopters and laggards. Of these people, an even fewer amount will actually use the tool to make comments.

2. Brand Promoters
If you’re brand is popular then your promoters will likely stand up against the detractors when it comes to negative comments and insults. If you don’t have a lot of promoters, then it’s time to gain them through listening and addressing concerns.

3. Abuse and Spam Issues
It seems that you get system abusers wherever you go these days. But how do you address this? There’s a couple of options available, but nothing fool proof:

a. Report abuse to Google – Abusers can be “identified” since users have to be logged in as a Google users. However, there is likely to be a time lag between Google addressing any abuse, plus anyone can sign up for an account or fake account.

b. Usefulness Ratings – In Sidewiki, comments can be rated as a thumbs up or thumbs down. From the few sites I’ve found so far (mostly B2C), it looks like Sidewiki puts comments in order of usefulness rating (as opposed to recency), where comments with the highest number of thumbs up appear at the top of the Sidewiki list, thus pushing the not so useful comments (such as spam) to the bottom.

c. Address Issues With Your Own Comments – Monitor the posts and conversations, listen and address issues, encourage brand promoters.

Check it out Yourself
The best way to learn more about Sidewiki, see it in action, and of course keep a check on whether people are adding to your website, is to Download Sidewiki yourself. 

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