Google Sidewiki could damage corporate brand reputations

New social media technology will cause major headaches for PR professionals.

Google's controversial feature: Sidewiki

PR professionals this week warned of fresh hurdles to managing corporate brand reputation following the launch of a new Google application.

Companies are facing up to a new social media challenge after Google unveiled its Sidewiki technology. The application enables members of the public to write comments directly next to a brand's website.

The healthcare PR industry is set to face the biggest challenge because of strict regulations limiting how much companies can interact with the public.

'Managing corporate reputation online just got harder,' said Axon Communications managing partner Ralph Sutton. 'The real risk is highly critical, inaccurate or even potentially libellous comments may now appear directly associated with a company or product-related website.'

Aurora Communications co-founder Neil Crump agreed: 'Sidewikis could be a game-changer for the pharma industry. They have the potential to change the way people view your information on the internet and you have no control over it.'

Pharmaceutical firms GlaxoSmithKline and Roche both said they were aware of Sidewikis and were monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Marketing Society intends to include Sidewikis in the new guidelines for pharma companies. Steven Gray, who heads up the society's digital group, said: 'It is like having a heckler at a press conference that you are not allowed to do anything about. However, for the pharmaceutical industry the situation has greater implications.'

While the pharma industry is arguably the most affected, it will not be the only sector watching the new technology. EasyJet comms manager Andrew McConnell said the airline would be monitoring its development to ensure fairness and accuracy.

Google UK head of comms Peter Barron told PRWeek the firm had built Sidewiki to allow people to contribute useful information alongside any web page to help other users as they browsed the web.


What is it?

Overview: The application allows members of the public to post a comment in a browser window alongside a company website, once they download the new Google toolbar

Comments: These appear alongside the corporate website, and are visible to anyone using Sidewiki. They are invisible to those who do not activate the tool

Abuse: Anyone can flag illegal, pornographic or copyrighted content using the 'Report Abuse' button, but brands cannot edit or delete users' comments

Brands: Site owners who have claimed their site in Google Webmaster Tools can post a special entry that appears above all others in the Sidewiki sidebar

5 - Number of Sidewiki comments on Twitter

2 - Number of weeks Sidewiki has been available

79% - Google's share of the UK search market

7% - Google's year-over-year revenue growth in Q3 of 2009

$765m - Google's income for Q3 of 2009

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