September 26, 2009

Keeping Public Order

Have you ever found yourself disappointed when someone you admire greatly doesn't live up to your ideal?

I'm a great fan of Seth Godin and tell others about his ideas and messages as often as I can. His ability to see things from the perspective of the customer in particular has always appealed to me and much of what I have to say about branding has been influenced by Seth, beginning with Purple Cow, then back and forth through his remarkable books and blog posts.

But I found news of his latest initiative Brands In Public a little unsettling and, although it's undoubtedly well intentioned (as well as commercially savvy), it struck me as running the risk of returning us to the bad old days when business-owners sought to control the conversations their customers had about them.

Essentially, Squidoo's Brands In Public creates websites for brands, what they describe as dashboards offering a hot list of what's being said about the brand in question. If the brand-owner wants to "take over" their brand-page, they pay $400 per month for the privilege and can then "curate" the conversation.

Sure, as Seth says, "you can't control what people are saying about you. What you can do is organize that speech. You can organize it by highlighting the good stuff and rationally responding to the not-so-good stuff."

Hmm, as customer, I don't like the idea of having my conversation organised for me.

Whilst these dashboards will continue (I think) to feature some of the not-so-good stuff, I doubt whether there's real value to the customer in being corralled into a conversation under the watchful eye of the brand-owner.

Over at Fast Company, Chris Dannen wonders if "by moving the 'conversation' to a static website, the energy a company might put into a personal response instead goes into a PR campaign. That brings us full circle, to backward-looking company-customer relationships. The ultimate loser? The customer."

Seth has built up far too much respect for me to easily take a pop at one of his ideas but there's something not quite right about this latest enterprise.

What do you think?

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