Is Google Sidewiki a risk to your brand?

Is Google Sidewiki a risk to your brand?

Is Google Sidewiki a risk to your brand?

Sidewiki was launched by Google on 23 September 2009. Using Google Sidewiki, internet users can now comment on a website and provide feedback and information regarding the content displayed on the website. They can also make comments about the goods and services provided by the owner of the website. Comments provided via Sidewiki can be seen on the left-hand side of the relevant website where users have installed the Google Toolbar.

Implications for brand owners

Understandably, the introduction of Sidewiki has caused a range of reactions within the online community. Consumers are pleased about being able to provide feedback and commentary on online offerings. Sidewiki offers brand owners an excellent — and free — method of monitoring how consumers view their company and their brand. On the other hand, businesses and website owners are concerned about competitors using Sidewiki’s capabilities to market and advertise their own products, and internet users using Sidewiki to disparage the owner of the website and write superfluous and/or offensive commentary.

A Google promotional video explaining the new Sidewiki product.

The Terms of Use for the Google toolbar (and therefore Sidewiki) prevent users from posting spam, malware, offensive material and content that violates or infringes upon intellectual property rights. However, the Terms of Use do not prevent competitors from advertising their own products, using trade marks incorrectly and/or generically, or providing untrue comments about the owner of the website or the goods and services offered. Google’s Terms of Use allow users to flag comments and report abuse, but Google has not stated how it will handle comments that have been flagged as untrue, or how long it will take to respond to complaints about abusive Sidewiki comments. It is also not possible to opt out of Sidewiki.

Despite these potential downfalls, there are some positive aspects to the Sidewiki capabilities. In addition to reporting abuse, brand owners are able to claim the Sidewiki frame as a page owner through Google’s Webmaster Tools. Once registered with Webmaster Tools, the page owner’s Sidewiki entry remains as the top entry on the Sidewiki, no matter how many entries are posted.

Page owners cannot delete or modify Sidewiki entries, but their entries are coloured green as a further means of distinguishing the page owner’s comments from general internet users. Sidewiki also provides owners with the ability to receive direct feedback from their customers and address consumer concerns that may not be adequately addressed through formal media avenues. Sidewiki, if popular, may be an effective means of testing consumer satisfaction.

Should brand owners be doing anything now?

Just as with Facebook and Twitter, brand owners will need to be aware of Sidewiki entries and take action, where appropriate, to register themselves as a page owner and respond to any detrimental posts in an appropriate manner. As online interactions grow in importance in the consumer world, brand owners need to be ready to engage in new media to protect their intellectual property rights and reputation as needed. In particular, it is recommended that brand owners:

  • familiarise themselves with Sidewiki and the procedures for reporting abusive posts;
  • create a Google account and register as a page owner where a Sidewilci has been created;
  • create a “green entry” for any Sidewikis. Brand owners can demonstrate that they are not afraid of new technology, and are interested in their consumer’s opinions;
  • not be afraid to report to Google posts that are offensive or abusive or spam or misdirect internet users;
  • offer alternative feedback options and consider posting a direct link to an official feedback portal; and
  • monitor and respond to consumer complaints lodged via Sidewiki. It may be difficult initially to judge between a legitimate complaint and a “serial sledger”. However, being able to respond quickly to a comment by a consumer will only increase consumer appreciation and result in more positive posts on Sidewiki.

Brand owners should be encouraged to maintain an awareness of the comments posted by consumers on Sidewiki, to react to legitimate complaints that are posted and to report abusive or offensive posts. More damage is likely to be caused where brand owners do not acknowledge Sidewiki, as potentially damaging posts may be allowed to exist alongside a web page without the brand owner’s knowledge.

This article was originally published in Vol 12(9) of the Internet Law Bulletin under the title “Sidewiki by Google: implications for brandowners” and is republished here with permission.