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Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Sidewiki Become an OEM or Dealership's Worst Social Media Nightmare?


Google just released a new technology they call Sidewiki. It allows anyone who installs Sidewiki on their browser to read and add comments to any website (requires Internet Explorer 6+ or Firefox 2+, for now.) A side panel that can expand or contract sits on the side of the browser window. Comments in the Sidewiki window are unique to each website and are viewable to anyone with the technology installed on their browser.

Social media strategist Richard Stacy explains the technology best in SocialMediaToday, “Because this is linked to the browser, the site owners themselves have no say here – you can’t opt-in or opt-out. At one level this could be a move which forces every website into the social media space – whether they like it or not.”

I thought about this technology and immediately became concerned about all of the vendettas people have about their poor experiences with a particular brand, car and dealership. Now people can instantly share their disgust with your brand and products as long as you have a website. You can’t turn it off, you can’t delete their comments and you are now instantly part of the social media party whether or not you want it.

Take for instance a person who owns the car I own – a 2007 BMW 335i convertible. He started a website called BimmerIssues.com that covers his ownership frustration with water coming through his convertible top. Now he can go to BMW’s website and his dealership’s website and share his frustration with everyone who visits these web pages. Provided someone has Sidewiki installed, they now may avoid that dealership or that product and move right on to a competitor simply because of this one person’s issue or worse if many people have a similar issue with a vehicle, everyone now can voice their frustration collectively on that brand’s own website’s Sidewiki.

I did a test to see how this would work and added a Sidewiki complaint to a dealership I bought from over 10 years ago. As you can see, in the image that leads this story, it is quite easy to share one’s frustration and leave negative feedback (note: I deleted the comment after taking the screenshot for this story.) Not an unusual problem in social media, but now I can do it right on that dealer’s website and they have only a few options: ignore the comment, defend what happened in their own words, or hope others will come to their defense.

The most frustrating part for a dealership (or any commercial website) is that now no one has to search for feedback by reading various blogs and digging deep into search results. In fact, a site is probably using media buys to drive people to their site and now this drives them to all of the Sidewiki commentary too.

Now anyone with an issue can raise that issue right on the company’s website and the minute there is some sort of Public Relations fiasco, just think how bombarded a site will get with Sidewiki comments?

It’s a new world out there and every website now has public feedback turned on. Sidewiki is very new and it may not develop as I am outlining it here, but my guess is that we will see this technology spread. What will be interesting is to see how brands respond and if Google will eventually have to pull the plug or change functionality (like allowing sites to disable Sidewiki functionality.)
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