What does Google Sidewiki mean for brands and PR?

Summary

  • Sidewiki allows consumers to leave public comments on a sidebar attached to your organisation’s website
  • You have no ability to delete or moderate these comments
  • You can respond to comments, and as the owner of the website you can post a message which will always be displayed at the top of the Sidewiki for your site
  • ACTION: Ensure that the Sidewiki for your website has a relevant and timely message from the brand to welcome Sidewiki users
  • ACTION: Regularly monitor Sidewiki for consumer comments and respond accordingly

What is Sidewiki?

Google recently launched a new tool called Sidewiki which allows web users to leave a comment on any website via a collapsible sidebar – those comments would then be visible to all other Sidewiki users who visit that site.

The sidebar is controlled and owned by Google, not by the owner of the website – it is implemented through Google’s browser toolbar, not on the website. Although the owner of the website is allowed to post a message which will always be displayed at the top of the sidebar, brands have no control over other messages displayed in the sidebar.

What does Sidewiki mean for brands online?

This creates a possible PR issue since there is the potential for unfavourable comments to be presented within the users’ browser alongside a brand’s online presence, with very little recourse available.

There has been a lot of press coverage about the potential threat to PR from Sidewiki, and if the service were to achieve mainstream adoption there would indeed be a problem. However, we think this panic is a little premature.

Sidewiki is still in its infancy

As yet, Sidewiki does not appear to have gained much traction, despite an initial wave of interest in the tool when it launched in late September. The fact that it requires users to install the latest version of the Google toolbar and explicitly choose to enable the functionality means that a large number of people will simply never come into contact with Sidewiki.

Furthermore, whether Sidewiki provides functionality that the vast majority of web users are actually interested in using is debatable. We would argue that most consumers are far more interested in the content of a website they have visited than the comments left by other web users.

At this stage our feeling is that Sidewiki is unlikely to enter mainstream usage, but since Google has opened the system up to third party developers there is a possibility that this could change. This means that there’s the potential for a third party to create an application that makes Sidewiki much more interesting for users and propel it into the mainstream.

What action should brands take?

We advise brands to keep an eye on the Sidewiki entries for their own online estates to see if any negative comments pop up. Since there is no way to remove negative comments, the only real course of action available is to respond to them directly by adding your own comments. Remember, website owners can post/update a message which will always appear at the top of the sidebar.

If illegal or inappropriate comments are posted on your brand’s Sidewiki, we recommend contacting Google’s customer services to request that they are removed.

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