Friday, September 25, 2009

Is ‘Brands in Public’ a Social Media crisis?

Is Seth Godin playing ‘dirty pool’ with public sentiment around brands and businesses?

UPDATE (Sept. 25) at the end of this post

Did you feel the Social Media world shake, just a little, this week? You should have.

The announcement that Seth Godin’s Squidoo was launching Brands in Public is a blatant money grab, an unfair attack on brands or just dirty pool. Maybe it’s all of them.

As spelled out on Seth Godin’s blog – Brands in Public creates pages for individual brands that collect “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.”

For just $400 a month a brand can “moderate” what’s on the page. Or, as Godin says: ”You can't control what people are saying about you. What you can do is organize that speech.”

As I struggle to make sense of this I’m reminded of an analogy about Social Media. It states that Social media is much like a village square where you can wander around, discover the good stuff and meet new people who might also direct you to the best sources of stuff. People there might also warn you away from some other ‘bad’ stuff.

Godin’s Brands in Public has just added a giant billboard for every brand on the village square. Oh sure it’s convenient – all the hubbub around a brand, the good and the bad, in one place. But its potential for abuse by mischief makers is HUGE! And the only recourse for a brand? Pay Godin his $400 pound of flesh per month.

Yes, this stuff has always been out there. If someone wanted to speak ill of a brand they could and would. But outside of paid Social Media monitoring tools the average person had to believe strongly enough in the criticism or the person saying it to pass it along. Only when a LOT of people spoke up or passed along a criticism did the general masses become aware of it.

Enter Brands in Public. Now all the bad stuff is (true or not) is posted on that giant virtual billboard for free and the brand must pay the owner of the billboard to have some control over how it’s displayed.

This feels so … slimy. I’m sorry, but this just seems like a money grab, an unfair attack on brands or dirty pool.

My only hope is that enough of the Social media community sees this for what it is and doesn’t join the game. Social Media may never be the same.

It seems not all reaction to the concept of Brands in Public was positive. Today (Sept. 25) Seth Godin announced on his blog that the service would take down the sample pages.

Upon reading the new post it seems that only brands who are willing participants will be the subject of pages in Brands in Public. Although the wording leaves this not particularly clear if that is the case kudos to Godin for making a major change on the fly.

Related link:
10 Commandments for Social Media


  1. I'm sure the corporate world and brand owners are relieved to hear what you say in the update.

    On the other hand, commenting on sites has been around for a long time. I wrote about it at

    Besides, didn't we hail the annihilation of controlled messages just a while ago?

  2. Thanks for the comment Kimmo. I guess my objection is not the loss of "control" on messages but that one person/company decides which brands messages get highlighted and the only option for that brand is to then pay Mr. Godin $400 a month. I think there are better even-handed and less obvious money-grabbing ways of doing what he is doing. I will be following whjat happens here and suspect that if enough brands decided to "not play alonmg" that this service will not catch fire with users.