Squiddo, Brands in Public & the risks of aggregation blackmail

Picture 78This week Seth Godin blogged about a new service from Squiddoo that would aggregate the constantly changing digital footprint of a brand, using automated feeds from disparate social media and traditional web sources. The service is called Brands in Public

Squidoo has built several hundred pages, each one about a major brand. More are on the way. We’ll keep going until we have thousands of important brands [emphasis added], each on its own page (and we’ll happily add one for you if you like). Each page collects tweets, blog posts, news stories, images, videos and comments about a brand. All of these feeds are algorithmic… the good and the bad show up, all collated and easy to find.

Squiddoo announced its intent to let brands use this page, for a fee, to contribute their own content to their Brand in Public page.

If your brand wants to be in charge of developing this page, it will cost you $400 a month. And once [we build] the page, the left hand column belongs to you. You can post responses, highlight blog posts, run contests or quizzes. You can publicly have your say right next to the constant stream of information about your brand (information that’s currently all over the web–and information you can’t “take down” or censor). You can respond, lead and organize. If a crisis hits, your page will be there, ready for you to speak up. If your fans are delighted, your page makes it easy for them to chime in and speak up on sites around the web.[

Within a couple of days, Squiddoo backed off the grand scale of its original intent.

[UPDATE: Our intent in building sample pages and letting brands see them in action was misunderstood by many people, and I can understand why. As a result, to clear the air, we're going to be taking these 200 sample pages down today. The only pages that we'll be posting are those from our sponsors, we won't be building any others. Thanks to those that let me know about their concerns, and I'm sorry for the confusion.]

What happened? Many brands saw Squiddoo as a form of aggregation blackmail. The service is a large-scale aggregator, organizing its search around specific brand names. By creating thousands of these pages, and then setting up signposts for all the search engine crawlers and promoting the aggregated brand information to consumers across the web, Squiddoo would have put marketers in a position where they felt compelled to respond, but would have insisted that marketers pay for the right to respond.

There were two flaws in this approach. First, a basic underlying premise of social media is that anyone has the right to contribute or respond…that’s the social part of the media. [Interestingly, Seth Godin has made a conscious decision not to offer comments on his blog, which he explains very rationally.] As a brand, if you find a bad review about you on Yelp, you’ve got the ability to respond to the review. The Brands in Public aggregation required you to pay to respond.

But the value of the Brands in Public aggregator to a brand is limited by its own design. The content that you produce for your Brands in Public page isn’t distributed out to any of the originating content sites. So, if you find a negative review on Yelp, you would need to respond to it on your Brands in Public page AND on the Yelp page. Brands in Public has created extra work for the company without creating a proportionate amount of value.

As a brand-information tracking service, Brands in Public may be a nice tool. The design, however, doesn’t create the kind of time-saving value that companies are looking for from social-media services.

A big challenge for brands in today’s social web is having the time and the strategy to manage their social reputation online. The process is still in its infancy. The real ROI of managing your brand’s social footprint, and to what degree, is still being developed.

The Brands in Public service does speak to one important rule for Brands in the Web 2.0 universe. Each brand needs to have its own social footprint, developed and executed using social media tools. This footprint should have frequently-changing content, should allow for consumer engagement and should be driven by a content-marketing strategy. Squiddoo recognizes that need and is offering one way to address parts of it. Other services are developing. But the most important part of the equation is creating and executing the content-marketing plan. Without it, the best brands will be adrift in the rich, liquid and evolving sea of content on the social web.