Google’s Sidewiki is here and it’s not hard to see that it could be big, that it could change the way we use the internet. However, it has some frankly scary implications for website proprietors. People can visit your pages and leave messages, whether you want them to or not.
Dell Homepage with Google SideWiki – Image credit: Flickr
I think the best description I’ve seen to date was on Econsultancy, describing it as “a way to graffitti websites.”
How can we web marketers respond? Have we lost control of our own websites and those of our clients? There have already been several instances of rude, insulting comments being left on the pages of major corporations.
So how can we make the best of Sidewiki? Here are my thoughts, and I welcome your comments. Haven’t yet seen Sidewiki? You’ll need to install the Google Toolbar and enable Sidewiki to do all of the things I describe below.
Leave a page owner comment
Sidewiki allows brands to leave special Sidewiki entries on their own pages, entries that are distinguished by a green background.
These entries rank above comments made by other users. They are another way of engaging with your audience via a platform they have chosen and can be really useful.
You could leave some general information about your organization, leave contact details for your customer services department, encourage people to visit your forum or blog, even include some comedic lesser-known facts about your business.
Anything you do engages with readers and shows you aren’t afraid of the power of Sidewiki.
Why not regularly update your Sidewiki with new information, links to press releases, podcasts, blog posts and so on. View it as a chance to speak to your visitors in a whole new way, rather than open season on your site.
Know your rights
Of course, having said that, you do have rights and Google has to recognize them. It would be unfair and illegal to introduce a tool that allows competitors to spam your pages or trolls to leave slanderous comments dotted about your website.
There are some raised eyebrows over whether Sidewiki is even legal and Google has to show some concern over spammers, flamers and so on. It has a ban process that allows people to complain about content.
For example, one of the first Sidewiki comments I saw was on the Daily Mail website. It berated the content and linked to the Guardian.
Now it’s gone and there’s a message from another user that explains: “I reported your post, using ‘other’ as the reason and explained you were simply redirecting traffic to competition.”
While I enjoyed the original description of the site, it is good to know that there’s a simple procedure for complaining about posts.
Don’t be afraid to use this facility in the face of spamming, slander and redirecting.
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice? Google has said repeatedly that the purpose of Sidewiki is to allow people to “contribute helpful information next to any webpage.”
Its vision, it says, is for a tool that allows people to share useful information and insight. Perhaps doctors can leave informative comments on websites advertising treatments, maybe finance experts can proffer guidance on how competitive a credit card is next to the page advertising it.
While people will try to exploit Sidewiki, others will use it to be helpful and social—just like Twitter, Sphinn or any of the other social tools we’ve seen.
So be helpful. Leave useful comments (not advertising) across industry pages and make sure people know where you’re from. Sidewiki could be yet another way to enhance your online industry profile, which can only help your business.
Offer alternative feedback options
Inevitably, at some point someone will be less than happy with your service. Make sure you give customers plenty of ways to offer feedback to you that aren’t Sidewiki.
Ensure you leave contact information on your site, don’t block blog comments, add a feedback form… Do everything you can to ensure people bring their complaints to you rather than scribbling them on the sides of your web pages.
Of course, you then need to take action to make your client happier with your business—otherwise, frankly, they have every right to leave comments for others to see.
Respond to negative criticism
I hope Sidewiki doesn’t just descend into a maelstrom of abuse and criticism, but it’s sensible to plan for dealing with any negativity. You should treat positive and useful comment as a bonus. However, it’s really important for any business to respond to negative criticism. Do you search Twitter for mentions of your company? Do you respond when those mentions are negative and try to resolve them? Then you’re a fine example of a company that listens and acts, which people respect.
Do the same with Sidewiki. If there are legitimate complaints about your product or service then address them. Your business will improve and customers will know you care.
Want to learn more about how Sidewiki works and how to use it effectively? See Danny Sullivan’s Google Sidewiki Allows Anyone To Comment About Any Site.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.