Most of you have probably been in a conversation with clients or colleagues where they profess to like the concept of user reviews and comments but don’t want to enable that for their websites for fear of negative responses. You then say that the users are already talking about your brand anyway whether you approve of it or not, and that it’s better to join the conversation (whether positive or negative) then to simply ignore it. Well, with Google SideWiki, users will be able to comment on any page of your site whether you like it or not. Heck, even your competitors can join in. With Google sharing the API for this, who knows what other type of content will be developed.
Comments has become increasingly dynamic as an online social discourse. It’s something that has taken place in the back alley, but has evolved to become a charged terrain in the social web landscape. This is where the lively and passionate discussions take place, and in many occassions, has taken a life of its own than what the original article, question or proposition intended. The coming of J-S Echo (which turns static pages into live streams of comments, tweets, diggs and more) and Google SideWiki are examples of comments asserting its place in the foreground of the social web landscape.
What does this mean for users? A shift of a large part of website ownership from soley corporations/organisations to consumers. The ability to leave useful information for the next user to find; to affirm or challenge any product / brand proposition; to make the content of your site richer; to direct the conversation according to what’s important for them. Naturally, not every user will leave relevant comments. Jeremiah Owyang advices Google to make sure that content created in this sidebar “… look more like Wikipedia than YouTube comments.”
What does this mean for corporations? Less control over the message of you site. You say one thing and users might say the opposite. Or they can agree and verify your claims and raise your trustworthiness levels. They can go on and discuss by themselves and help each other out if your site doesn’t provide the info that they need (thereby excluding you in the conversation). Competitors might even contradict you directly or offer alternatives linking to their own sites. Your site will change to become less of a coporate / company website and more of a social conversation platform for questions, feedback, and ideas. Will you be a co-owner of this new social platform?
1. Doing the basics right is more important than ever. Users don’t only have the option to talk about you on their blogs or tweets, but they can take their opinions right to your doorstep and into your home. So make sure you have the usability and design basics right like logical info structure and clear user journeys, interesting content, good design, a clear proposition.
2. Whereas conversations have turned outward from your website with the proliferation of social tools, the SideWiki may potentially be one way of getting you back in the centre of these conversations. To leverage this potential, you need solid social strategy.
The need to develop social strategy is now more important than ever. It was never about the tools to begin with, but the impact of these social technologies on your organisation. Coversations will take place right inside your homes. How can you be the perfect host? How can you listen attentively, surface relevant points, take negative comments in stride, present your side of the story, win the crowd’s favour or at the very least, make them listen to what you’re saying? Your organisation needs to be prepared to accomodate this change: to have the means to converse, aggregate this kind of content, anlayse it, feed it back to your product/service life cycles, and act on it.