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How Should Content Strategists, Publishers Address Sidewiki?

Marketers have always had to worry about overall brand health via word of mouth but are are now becoming more reasonably concerned (if not panicking) about consumer sentiment in the social media space and on properties they otherwise don’t moderate or own. This is considered a necessary evil, but all fine and good; because at least we have control over what content is published on our own Web sites and can limit what consumers are adding to the conversation. Right?

Now, with Google Sidewiki and other web annotation services like Blerp, publishers are realizing they have no control over what users are saying about their content, and that those opinions can now convieniently live right next to our carefully worded, incredibly insightful site via Google Toolbar or widget. Gasp! Shudder! The Horror!

Should you worry?

If your content or your brand isn’t useful, then yes you absolutely should be worried about it. However, if you’re publishing content that is optimized, honest and useful to visitors, you should see sidewikis as one more oppotunity to connect with your readers on a deeper level. The fast evolution of the Web is forcing companies to become more and more transparent out of necessity, which in turn calls for better content. People aren’t as concerned with connecting with brands on an emotional level online. They want you to be useful, which calls for web content to be functional, relevant and most of all valuable to the consumer.

Have A Plan

No matter how good your content and content strategy are, you should still be prepared in the event negative entries do start to pop up. Be honest, open a dialogue and address issues. Orvis does a phenominal job of addressing every negative comment or review that appears on its Web site by openly admitting how the feedback was addressed by consumer relations teams, how it affected the future development of the product and if any immediate changes to the product in question will occur as a result. Because the company handles business in this fashion, the users of their Web site wear their love for Orvis on their sleeve, improving word of mouth offline. These consumers also act as an army of brand evangelists for the company in numerous spaces online.

But Will Sidewiki Take Off?

I think that’s a great question. I’ve waited almost three months to write about it and form an opinion. I think early adopters have done some really interesting things with Sidewiki – adding insight, history to articles and opposing perspective to extreme points of view. Personally, I think tools like sidewiki were 100% inevitable, and that ultimately, a moderate portion of web users will adopt, while a smaller number will participate. That being said, Google has historically pulled the plug on projects that didn’t turn out the way the company was hoping for. Lively comes immediately to mind as one of the failed lab experiments, so the jury could very well be out on Sidewiki for the next year or two.

Danieleizans.com Sidewiki Entry

Don’t Panic. Everything Will Be Ok

I understand the worry site publishers have about having unmoderated commentary attached in a convenient sidebar right next to the site they worked so hard to produce and the jury also still seems to be out on whether sidewiki content will hurt the SEO value of the actual site. I also worry that sidewikis have the potential to become giant graffiti walls that serve no real value to enhancing conversation or elaborating on existing site structures, but still contend that the content on your acutal site is what you as a publisher really need to worry about.

We can spend a lot less time worrying about what could be said in a sidewiki, provided we focus on useful, relevant messaging. As content strategists, we say it all the time – it all comes down to what content you put out there. You either have the confidence to put product and your voice out there to stand up for themselves or you don’t. You can always choose not to participate, though I strongly discourage that course. Stay the course content creators. Stay the course!

What do you think of Google Sidewiki? Should we be as worried as some people seem to be?