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Launching Brands in Public

I was talking with a senior marketer at one of the most famous brands in the world last week. She said, "executives keep coming to me with stuff they find on the internet, stuff they find on YouTube about us, and say, 'take it down!' Of course, I have to explain that I can't take it down. No one can."

If your brand has any traction at all, people are talking about you. Of course, they've always talked about you, but now they're doing it in writing, in video and in public.

Today, Squidoo (a company I founded) is launching Brands in Public. It's a neat idea and I wanted to give you an overview and a first look.

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. You can organize it by embracing the people who love your brand and challenging them to speak up and share the good word. And you can respond to it in a thoughtful way, leaving a trail that stands up over time.

But how?

Over the last few months, we've seen big brands (like Amazon and Maytag) get caught in a twitterstorm. An idea (one that's negative to the brand) starts and spreads, and absent a response, it just spirals. Of course, Amazon can't respond on their home page (they're busy running a store) and they don't have an active corporate blog that I could find, so where? How?

Enter Brands In Public.

[see update at the bottom] Squidoo has built several hundred pages, each one about a major brand. More are on the way. We'll keep going until we have thousands of important brands, each on its own page (and we'll happily add one for you if you like). Each page collects 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.

Of course, these comments and conversations are already going on, all over the web. What we've done is bring them together in one place. And then we've made it easy for the brand to chime in.

If your brand wants to be in charge of developing this page, it will cost you $400 a month. And once [we build] the page, the left hand column belongs to you. You can post responses, highlight blog posts, run contests or quizzes. You can publicly have your say right next to the constant stream of information about your brand (information that's currently all over the web--and information you can't "take down" or censor). You can respond, lead and organize. If a crisis hits, your page will be there, ready for you to speak up. If your fans are delighted, your page makes it easy for them to chime in and speak up on sites around the web.

If you have the tools and wherewithal to build a page like this on your own site, you should consider that. The challenge is getting it done, regardless of where the page lives.

There are already monitoring tools online (like Radian6) that allow big brands to watch from behind the scenes. That's great, but what are you doing in front of your audience? Is there a low-cost, easy way to let one of your non-technical marketing people lead and engage with people who are already in the conversation?

We have beta-testers like Allstate and Molson and Home Depot that see the value of showing up where the conversation is happening. My guess is that other significant brands will discover that they can't just rely on a static home page, nor is it sufficient to post an ephemeral response in a feed somewhere. Brands in Public isn't the first, nor will it be the last place brands need to be to coordinate and organize the conversation. People (your customers) will find these pages, point to them, link to them and talk about them, creating a new circle of interest online. If you know a brand that needs to hear about this, there's a short ebook (download) about the project.

It's worth saying that we care a lot about keeping this simple for your organization.  A Brands in Public page for your brand requires no development team, no ad buys and no deep pockets. While you control the left-hand column and can pepper it with good stuff, it's still part of a larger site, not "your" page. That means that the number of meetings you need to go to for approvals and permissions is going to decrease. It means that it's not behind your firewall and not something that has to fit into the larger ├╝ber-corporate strategy. More like a tradeshow and less like your home page. It's in public. It's simply a place for your brand to see and be seen, to organize and to respond.

I'm guessing that big brands are going to need to be in dozens of places like this going forward, because media has shifted from top down, "here's what we say, we're putting on a show, watch us!" to, "oh, you're here, you're talking, hi."

The first 100 brands that sign up will benefit from a share of the $500,000 in house ads Squidoo will run across the site promoting the service and the first partnering brands. Sales are handled by BzzAgent, so you'll be in good hands--please give them a call if you have any questions about the service. If you've got a brand that people are talking about, I hope you'll give it a try.

[UPDATE: We're now offering free pages to chosen charities. If your non-profit organization is interested, please fill out this form. We'll choose a bunch each month, set them up and then the page belongs to you.]

[UPDATE: Our intent in building sample pages and letting brands see them in action was misunderstood by many people, and I can understand why. As a result, to clear the air, we're going to be taking these 200 sample pages down today. The only pages that we'll be posting are those from our sponsors, we won't be building any others. Thanks to those that let me know about their concerns, and I'm sorry for the confusion.]

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