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Google Sidewiki: How Will Pharma Respond?

Guest Blogger

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It’s hard to keep track of all of Google’s new technology launches. Sometimes I pay attention, sometimes I don’t. But the launch of Google’s sidewiki this week certainly caused a stir in our pharma marketing agency. Here’s why:

  • Google sidewiki is a sort of browser-add on tool that allows commentary on ANY site.
  • When installed and enabled, users can freely post comments that appear in a box beside the web site being viewed. (See image of the sidewiki concept above on Google’s own sidewiki page. I tried to find a branded product.com site with sidewiki comments but didn’t find any. yet.)
  • It’s easy to install.
  • It’s Google, and they are promoting it through Google Toolbar, so it’s likely going to stick around and have decent levels of adoption.
Our Emerging Media department immediately wrote a brief and distributed it to our clients (did your agency do the same? they should have.). Here are some points we made:

This idea of universal commenting could be a problem for regulated industries like pharma. The control of content is further in the hands of consumers. For example, marketers will not be able to control the user-generated comments in the sidewiki window appearing alongside a branded Web site. However, Google did build in the following controls:

  • Sidewiki posts are arranged by a Google-created algorithm that lists posts according to usefulness and quality
  • Quality is determined by indicators like user votes, author’s authority, and text analysis
  • Users can vote on a comment’s usefulness and report abuse
  • "Report a policy violation" page defines "abuse" as being spam, containing illegal content, or advocating hate or violence.
  • The Sidewiki requires users to sign in via their Google accounts, relinquishing the ability to post abusive comments anonymously
  • The Google Sidewiki must be downloaded in order to view comments

The way I see it, pharma has a few options for how to respond. I can hear the discussions echoing in Big Pharma’s hallways now:

  1. "Take down all Web sites. Immediately. We just can’t have them anymore. This internet stuff is just too risky."
  2. "Post a disclaimer on all Web sites. That will help protect us."
  3. "Wow all this social media technology is super cool. Let’s just give up and embrace it - in fact, shouldn’t we be encouraging commentary?" (not likely)
  4. "We need to get some monitoring in place. Pronto. Complain to Google that they need to take down any comments that are overly good, overly bad, or an adverse event." (also not likely)
  5. "Meh. Let’s just ignore the fact that sidewiki exists. It’s time we realize that we just can’t control everything, nor can FDA expect us to. Let’s focus on what we CAN control." (most likely)

Steve Woodruff over at Impactiviti Daily had it right in this post and in a Twitter comment where he also said "It’s not the adoption %, it’s the principle." Fellow blogger Phil Baumann also has some salient points worth reading in his post "Google SideWiki: How to Brace Yourself for a Communications Bitch Slap." No matter who or how many people use sidewiki, it poses a whole new dilemma for pharma marketers, and especially regulators. Time will tell just what level of response - if any - there will be.

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