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Google Gives HR Something New To Worry About

by Oct 26, 2009, 5:19 pm ET

Google SideWikiWhen Dr. John Sullivan said last week that employers have lost control of their brand, he likely wasn’t thinking of Sidewiki. Why should he? When the article was published Monday Sidewiki was not even three weeks old; Google launched it on Sept. 23rd.

But Sidewiki’s potential for deconstructing a brand is enormous. Unlike all the networking sites, Twitter posts, and job board forums where the disaffected go to vent their anger, Sidewiki makes it possible to post these comments directly to your site.

Just imagine the mischief a disgruntled job seeker or employee can wreak by posting their story directly to your site. Side by side with your video of happy employees talking about the fun and interesting work they do is a post — or multiple posts — from current and former workers denouncing your message as bogus.

If Sidewiki were to catch on and gain even a percentage of the users that Twitter has, the impact is easy enough to see.

Says Mark Hornung, senior vice president, strategy, at Bernard Hodes, “What that means for corporate employment sites is that they need to be monitored much more aggressively.”

But what you do about negative posts is much more difficult. As Sullivan observed in his article, “The new owners (of your brand) are a complicated mix of individuals who use a variety of communication channels to influence your brand without your knowledge, consent, or guidance.”

It should be needless to say that Sidewiki also offers significant benefits. Users can post helpful suggestions for others consulting, say, a how-to page of a site. Or offer additional places to look for information. Employers can even benefit from positive comments and helpful feedback.

So even though this article addresses the negative side of Sidewiki, there are plenty of pluses and lots of potential value for users in the application.

Before we go further, let’s talk about what Sidewiki is. It is a type of message posting system that attaches to web addresses and can be seen by users accessing the address who also have the Sidewiki app installed on their browser.

There’s nothing really new about Sidewiki. Similar tools — Purple Bunny, iComment for instance — have been around for years. None of them have gained broad enough acceptance to have a significant impact.

Google, however, has a big advantage over the other commenting tools. It’s packaging Sidewiki with its popular Google Toolbar that has been installed by millions of users. The Internet Explorer version alone from CNET has almost 4 million downloads.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict if Sidewiki will get traction or how large it will grow,” says Hornung, who leads Hodes’ employer branding practice.

“Practically speaking the growth of Sidewiki will be dampened by several factors,” he adds, citing the relative lack of anonymity to the postings, the need to download and install the toolbar, and the likelihood that corporate IT will fence off downloads of Google Toolbar.

Still, there are plenty of ways around the issues and with Google simplifying the installation of its toolbar, even novices can manage the feat.

“Sidewiki may become interesting only to those who have it, mostly the tech ‘in crowd’ who bother to download and use it,” says Hornung. “Employers should be concerned about it today, especially if they are in a technical field.

Monster sidewiki“The techie crowd will (by definition) be the early adopters and a negative buzz from Sidewiki —- especially if it appears that the employer is unaware of what is going on (kind of like goofing off in high school while the teacher was writing on the board) —- could be trouble.”

Already comments have begun to appear here and there on websites. Monster, for instance, has two comments posted on its main page. One is a pitch for another job board and the other is a political polemic that has almost nothing to do with Monster.

Google has thrown site owners a bene in that they get to post their own message, which will always appear at the top of the wiki, even as other posts slide down when more relevant posts rise up the list. In spot checking several job boards and corporate career sites, I didn’t find any employer posts. Hornung did, providing the Raytheon screenshot accompanying this article.

rayjobs-sidewikiCuriously, though, he doesn’t recommend that employers make a peremptory post.

“I would take a ‘wait and see’ approach,” he counsels. “If there is no activity, why provoke it?…

“As some observers have pointed out, Sidewiki really creates a ‘bifurcated’ Web experience: those with and those without Sidewiki will see Web sites differently. To those who are unaware of, or don’t care about Sidewiki, why create a commotion when there isn’t any?”

He says his clients are just now beginning to get their arms around the notion that an old tool may be getting some new life breathed into it. “I think the hardest part is to grasp the concept that people may comment on your Web site whether you want them to or not. Some view it as online vandalism,” Hornung says.

While many corporate communications departments already subscribe to monitoring programs or otherwise track what Internet users say or write about the company, Hornung recommends that the HR department install Sidewiki to monitor the corporate career site. ” Sidewiki can go on individual pages such as benefits descriptions or diversity programs, and it is unlikely that (marketing or communications department monitors) will drill down too deeply on an HR site when they’re trying to keep up with the hobgoblins elsewhere.

“I believe HR must be more proactive in monitoring and policing it,” he says, especially since some posts may involve employment law issues that aren’t readily spotted by others. Hodes, among others, provides a brand monitoring service for employers and has added Sidewiki posts to its scrutiny.

And when a negative comment is spotted? “If you feel you have to respond, respect the opinion. Don’t be defensive,” warns Hornung, who likens online discourse to a conversation. “If something is really just venting, you can ignore it.

“The essential lesson is you have to be thick skinned. You have to accept it.”

Senior Vice President, Strategy

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.starbucks.com/careers Jeremy Langhans

    this like 100% totally sounds like *fun*
    i jus’ added a sidewiki to our careers page here ;-)

    Jer

  • http://jessicacrb.blogspot.com Jessica Braun

    I agree that Sidewiki could create some significant problems for brands and I think that is largely because negative comments will frequently outweigh positive ones. When someone is malcontent about something they complain however, when things are working smoothly consumers seem less likely to comment on how great a product or service is. Therefore, if you have more consumers writing negative reviews because the positive ones are just not written as often it could be catastrophic for branding.

    Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic.

  • http://www.reputationmanagementfor.com/ Mark Scott

    Its another easy opportunity for a disgruntle employee or competitor to easily attack a website. Often these kind of tools are used by people have issues with a company and rarely by people who have had a fantastic service. You only have to look at sites like Trip Advisor

  • Michelle Rawicz

    I see having an opionion is valuable for book or movie reviews, but being to say anything you want, when you want to just created more clutter out there – more things to sift through to form a view about a company, product, etc. Thre purpose i see in this app is they noticed people like to complain and whining brings in ad dollars to a site. So many voices in the midst can be tiring with a contstant strain to listen…

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/frodin Richard Frodin

    Re: Mark’s comment about Tripadvisor, surely that site proves the opposite is just as likely? Most comments on there are perfectly rational, justified with evidence, and constructive – and the reader is empowered with enough information (ie the context of a crowd) to identify wantonly destructive behaviour. That’s a visualisable outcome for sidewiki content too (over time).

  • Shirley Ray

    Glad to see this article. It’s something everyone who has a web site needs to be aware of. With no opt out for webmasters, Google is in essence highjacking their content.

    Here’s a link to a more comprehensivce discussion of the down side to sidewiki. http://talkbiz.com/blog/google-steals-the-web/

  • http://www.reputationmanagementfor.com/ Mark Scott

    Hi Richard yes agree in the normal world, but I guess I see how it’s abused rather than utilised correctly. Maybe my glasses are a bit more tainted than most…

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/frodin Richard Frodin

    Mark, do agree this is generally a negative development though – it subverts a core principle of the web, which at its heart has until now been real estate – yes, networked, but definitely your site was land that you owned. It’s one thing for someone to comment on you at Tripadvisor or another piece of aggregator real estate that’s not your own, but a whole other thing for someone to be able to add a comment on to your own site (with you not being able to opt-out in any way). Good money will have been spent getting visitors to that land, and it seems a bit inequitable that squatters can then push negative or competitive messages to customers you’ve invested in attracting. “Don’t be evil” indeed…

  • http://www.lifesize.com/videoconferencingcareers/ Michelle Rawicz

    I agree with Richard’s comment above. As much as we all like having a say and voice about things, this does seem highly inequitable to a website owner, particularly if you are not able to shut it off or opt out. Its a bit self-serving on Google’s part. Instead, a website owner should allow a “smoking” section somewhere on their website for this, where naysayers can congregate.

  • Jim Stroud

    The new tool from Google is interesting, but this has been going on for years with another tool (that I adore) called Diigo. (www.diigo.com)

  • Kannan Kasi

    This is absolutely unethical. It is trespassing. There is a forum for everything. Expressing one’s feelings is fine but not on the corporate website. As explained above by Shirley Ray or Richard Frodin, rumour mongers or liars can cause so much harm to you. Really frightening. There is no way, a corporate can shut / satisfy the naysayers. How can we form a forum to raise an objection to this? Should we also use Sidewiki to raise our legitimized concerns against Sidewiki and make it appear on google’s corporate website ?

    When you post a comment to this article, there is a statement below “Post Comment” button that reads “Comments are lightly moderated for spam, inflammatory language,
    and other inappropriate messages.”

  • http://www.reputationmanagementfor.com/ Mark Scott

    Kannan to be honest the only effective way to do it is to boycott using Google, problem is of course they control 80% of the search market so would they notice.
    I had an issue with one of my sites where it disappeared from Google’s natural searches. I immediately stopped my adword spend for the site which was about $100,000 a year and contacted the Google adwords to complain, miraculously my site reappeared again in the search results. So although they are meant to be ethically driven I still think the big buck is worth more to them. If enough people boycott using adwords then just maybe they will listen. Hit them where it hurts!!!

  • Jackie Bozorgi

    I have mixed feeling about this. While it will absolutely encourage companies to be at their best regarding customer service, etc…it will give unethical competition an upper hand in bringing your site down to promote theirs.

    I wish it didn’t exist.
    I will be downloading it.

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  • http://www.enticelabs.com/ Joshua Westover

    Great post Jimbo! Thanks.

  • Keith Halperin

    Interesting…..

    I just found this site:

    GLASSDOOR
    http://www.glassdoor.com/
    A free inside look at over 30,000 companies.
    Company Salaries, Reviews, and Interviews posted anonymously by employees.
    See what we have for your company or job title…
    Search Salaries Reviews Interviews

  • http://www.brickelm.com Lesa Caskey

    OK, I’ll be the one to look at the bright sides of this app for organizations in general. Too often, dissatisfied workers have a difficult time airing their grievances or communicating the issues they’re having because they are not sure who they can trust. With the Sidewiki, employers may get an opportunity to learn valuable information about their own company that they might otherwise not get to know. This could prove to be the canary in the coal mine of sorts for when there is trouble brewing.
    Another bright side for companies is along the same lines, but on the customer-facing side in that the Sidewiki comments may alert a company to a problem they didn’t know they had.
    For instance, there is a large media company here in LA that has written an app that collects Twitter data on a live feed. The information from Twitter lets this broadcaster know when local cable or satellites are down much faster than through their own current process because people start squawking on Twitter about their TVs going black. This company also tracks viewer squawks on the shows and ads which is essentially free market surveying.
    It is possible to graciously thank those who write posts for taking the trouble, therefore setting the tone for constructive dialogue.
    I don’t see this as a negative for employers at all. I only see the opportunity to embrace yet another channel through which a company can broadcast a positive message that further promotes their product and employer brands.

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