Presto Change-o: Google Sidewiki Just Made Your Site Social

If you're responsible for developing or marketing a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) Website, you may have been in a predicament for at least the last year.

You're aware of the Web-wide trend toward user participation. People want to talk (the basis for social media) and not just on sites created for the purpose of fostering community and networking. They want to talk to one another, and in context with what brands are saying. An obvious example is CNN's sharing its TV screen with people commenting using Twitter.

The challenge for you, of course, has been how to address your audience's yearning to participate. Social bookmarking tools and forward-to-a-friend features are becoming commonplace on some of the industry's progressive Web sites. But to date, commenting has represented an unacceptable risk for, I'm estimating here, 99.2% of asset management companies. Vanguard and Navellier blogs are exceptions that we're aware of.

Should your site invite commenting? What's the upside versus the known downside? While that promised to be a debate that could rage on for years within investment companies, Google short-circuited it last week with its launch of Google Sidewiki.

Google Sidewiki is a feature of Google Toolbar, available now for Firefox and Internet Explorer users with plans underway for Google Chrome. Essentially, those who download the Google toolbar can now comment on your site, and those comments show up as a browser sidebar. 

Ready or not, you are now publishing a site with comments riding alongside.

This is yet another illustration that brands cannot control what's being said about them. Not what and not where and not even asset manager brands.

Several commenters are up in arms about the Sidewiki. Bloggers are upset by Google's hijacking comments that might otherwise be made on their blog posts. Brands have the same issues your company will.

We think you have three near-term moves to make:
1. If you haven't already, go to Google Webmaster Tools and claim your site. Once you go through the process to be verified as the manager of the site, the Google tools will help you understand how Google is indexing the site.

Specifically for the purposes of Sidewiki, you'll be able to claim the top spot on the Comments sidebar for a short welcome message. Whatever you say will have to be Compliance-approved, naturally, but we recommend fast-tracking that.

2. You're going to want to tell others about this. If your company is just vaguely aware that there's "chatter" on the Web, it's your role to show executive management, Compliance and whoever else that social media has come to your front door (i.e., home page and all other pages) and will be squatting there. It's time to get serious and organized about listening and, ideally, engaging.

3. Much less straightforward and not at all automated is the monitoring of the Sidewiki comments. If there are comments on your page, the icons in the upper left-hand corner (assuming that you've enabled the Google toolbar) will show. In the screenshot below, the arrow and balloon icons indicate that there is at least one comment on our home page.

An excellent MarketingProfs Daily Fix review of Sidewiki drew several passionate comments, including this one from Ike Pigott, who wrote, "The single WORST sin here is that those Sidewiki comments are not RSS-enabled. There is NO way to monitor without physically refreshing the page, and even then with the comments moving up or down based on voting, how do you know you've read everything? [For information about the algorithms Google uses to order the comments, see this article.] 

"This is a fiasco," Pigott concludes, "and I feel sorry for the first big business that gets hammered by Sidewiki in a crisis. It's too flat, too wild, and not able to be monitored."

Will there be wholesale adoption of Sidewiki? In fact, the ideal scenario might be that all Web site annotation would be done with this single application, enabling you and others to focus on it. What's likelier is the opposite scenario: Sidewiki will be matched by the introduction of multiple similar solutions for posting and distributing comments.

Think of all that can be learned and acted upon once you have some real-live dialogue happening with customers, prospects and the general public. Your work is getting even more interesting! ...And a lot more complicated.