Is Seth Godin Holding Brands Hostage? - Social Media Explorer
Is Seth Godin Holding Brands Hostage?
Is Seth Godin Holding Brands Hostage?
:en:Seth Godin
Seth Godin – Image via Wikipedia

Seth Godin announced Squidoo’s latest venture this week. Brands in Public is, as I understand it, an aggregation of conversations about certain brands. Godin’s team has apparently developed a nice way to aggregate and parse out relevant conversation about various brands and put them all together in one big page. That’s not all that innovative, but how they’re going about it is eyebrow raising.

First, Brands in Public will aggregate conversations and create these aggregation points for brands without their consent or buy in. There’s nothing wrong with that. The conversations are public and no one “owns” them. However, in order for a brand to officially have a presence on the page and highlight their responses to certain issues, etc., they have to pay $400 per month or more.

At first glance, you just think, “So what? The brands can just participate in the conversations on the various social networks and they Brands in Public spider will pick up those conversations as well. Hopefully, Brands in Public isn’t doing anything shady by parsing out the brand participation and that theory will hold true. However, think for a moment of the power, reach and influence Godin has. If his idea takes hold (it probably will because on the surface it’s a good one) and he markets it the way he’s capable of, Brands in Public could be come THE place to go see the “unfiltered” conversation about brands everywhere.

If that scenario plays out, then the $400 or more fee Godin’s company plans to charge is, in a way, blackmail.

Or is it smart marketing? Step 1: Build a place people can see fair, unfiltered conversations about brands. Step 2: Market the place until it becomes a public resource looked upon as the place to go and see the true buzz about a brand. Step 3: Lease brand control of the page out for a fee and make money off the paranoid brand manager who insists on having “control” of the conversation.

Can a competitor pay to take over your page? Can a random person have the same access? Probably not, but is that fair? Everyone can participate in the conversation except the brand, unless they pay?

The only saving grace in this is that, I assume, Brands in Public will not adulterate the conversations aggregated to filter out the perspective of the brand. But are we all willing to assume that? I see accusations, controversy and perhaps even litigation coming on this one.

Godin’s company will make money off this. But will it be at the peril of decency?

A penny for your thoughts?

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • Jason Strong

    I’m not to familiar with this kind of stuff, but it sounds interesting. I’ve never been able to fully understand technology, or how it works, but after reading this I have a pretty good idea. I’m excited to learn more about it, thanks so much for sharing this!

    Jason |

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  • The irony in this is how far Godin is off the mark. I really love Godin's work and owe some of my career moves and even my business success to his encouragement in his books. The fact is, though, that people will network around 'a business'. If you imagined social media as a universe, the center will always be the person, the planets will always be their network, and the meteors and comets are businesses. They come and go… but never have the gravitational field to support their own universe.

    So – developing a solution that focuses on the brand and not the people isn't going to work. Now… if it were facebookesque and focused on MY network and THEIR conversations about brands, it would have a much better chance. Godin has it upside down.

  • Eyelona

    Sounds like the mafia…I think the guy from tried this and it ended up being ruled extortion.

  • The irony in this is how far Godin is off the mark. I really love Godin's work and owe some of my career moves and even my business success to his encouragement in his books. The fact is, though, that people will network around 'a business'. If you imagined social media as a universe, the center will always be the person, the planets will always be their network, and the meteors and comets are businesses. They come and go… but never have the gravitational field to support their own universe.

    So – developing a solution that focuses on the brand and not the people isn't going to work. Now… if it were facebookesque and focused on MY network and THEIR conversations about brands, it would have a much better chance. Godin has it upside down.

  • Eyelona

    Sounds like the mafia…I think the guy from tried this and it ended up being ruled extortion.

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  • JosephRooks

    I think it makes him look like the sleazy car salesman of the internet. He obviously understands how CEOs and others in business think, and it looks to me like his ulterior motive is to capitalize on that. No matter how he frames it to make it look like a good thing for these companies, he knows the business world inside out and he knows they're going to flip out if there's suddenly something about their business that they don't have control over.

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  • What's the essence of niche community conversation? Discussing the brands, retailers and other commercial industries that interest them.

    How will they make money as a niche community? Selling access to the conversations and data contained within to brands, retailers and other commercial industries.

    This will happen before SG gets to aggregate the content and sell access rights to it, so it seems pointless in my eyes. A fairly obvious attempt to monetise social media that anyone could have come up with – come guys, get a little more creative.

  • I think this will pass without much of an impact… reason being that I think consumers overall won't go for a company managed, company filtered version of online reputation.

    To me, it will mean more if companies interact directly and not expect consumers to come to them (their owned page) for their own reputation.

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  • Jason,

    I like the way you dissect Brand in Public with questions. Much better than the rants I'm seeing on twitter. (Although the best tweet so far in response to the controversy has been: “Seth is getting served his own meatball sundae”. Clever)

    A meta question: What's this going to to to Godin's credibility? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. It will be interesting to see what, if any, response their is from BiP. Thanks for the insight.

  • “…question whether or not the site is truly presenting “fair, unfiltered conversations…” is exactly the point I was going to make.

  • lauraclick

    I'm not sure about this. To me, it just screams of a way for Godin to make money, or perhaps, rip off companies by forcing them to pay up so they can join the conversation. What if a company doesn't pay? Will the consumer even benefit from those kind of pages?

    Much of what makes social media great is the ability for the company to respond and participate. This seems like one-way communication unless the company is willing to pony up. As a communications professional, I would want the ability to manage my brand's reputation, but I don't like that I would have to shell out that kind of cash just to participate in the conversation.

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Seriously! For the moment I wouldn't give a toss if I were a major brand. I admire Seth but not this. He has since posteed an update. It shows he is serious about this. He has also taken down some brand pages which were objected to. That is good. Maybe it means that a brand page will only appear if the brand wants that. That would remove possible brand hijacking from rearing it's ugly head. My gut feeling is that in 12 months time we will look back at al this as a non-event.

  • You pay to get the left column. The right column is still Seths :P I think he is winding us up. In the USA's 'I'll sue you' culture this does not stand a chance imo… and the costs of pages Seth does not sell… costs like maintenance, is he going to outsource it/ aggregate it? I hope he aggregates it from various sources incl. twitter. Then I can take it over with lies and slander ;)

  • What a valuable information. Really help, I'm a new comer in blogging. I agree with the majority of it, it seems to make sense. Thank you. Keep blogging.

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  • I was reading about this on Godin's blog yesterday. An excellent idea! As everyone else has already said, I can see the high potential for spam. However, I'm sure Godin has thought through that as well and will address that issue.

    To address your question about fairness to the companies to charge them for their voice… Assuming Godin doesn't parse out content created by the company in the various social media channels, which would be lame and I think would damage the reputation of the site, the companies have an equal voice as everyone else does without having to pay a dime. If a company decides to pony up $400 a month they get a stronger voice since their content will take up 2/3 of the page when people view the brand page on Brands In Public.

    I'm interested to see how this plays out.

    • Thanks Derek. I agree under those circumstances it would all work. Just want to know and feel confident that is, in fact, how it will work. And I'm interested to see how it plays out, too. Thanks!

  • I am familiar with BlueTweet. I am curious if Brands in Public is anything like

    • Don't think they're similar, Greg. PicoStatus is more about driving discount codes and what-not to Facebook pages, as I understand it. BIP is more about aggregating conversations into one place.

  • HI Jason:

    Nice post – this is pretty interesting – and one of the reasons we (MotiveQuest) don't do dashboards – cause they are going to be free!

    I am pretty surprised that Seth Godin is selling the Brands “presence” for $400/month. Guess we'll have to see how that works. For me that sets up some pretty strong cognitive dissonance with my prior understanding of the Seth Godin “Brand”.

    I'm interested to take a look at a few of the brands on here (where we have done projects) and compare what “Brands in Public” shows about them and what we see with our techniques.

    My guess is that there are lots of issues underneath the “Brands in Public” presentation. I think this because if you asked me (or MotiveQuest) to do all the linguistic coding required to:

    1 include all the relevant data about Ford + Models and exclude all the irrelevant data and

    2. De-Dupe and De-Spam all of that,

    It would be a pretty big project. To do this well for hundreds of brands?? Well, you get the difficulty.

    Interesting nonetheless.

    Tom O'Brien
    MotiveQuest LLC

    • Thanks Tom. Good to see the perspective from a company that knows the ins and outs of parsing the information. If they've figured a reliable way to do it in a fair and balance way, they're onto something. Of course, I agree that there will be lots of questions about whether or not they have it. Thanks for the input!

      • Jason:

        Take a quick look at the Brands in Public page for UPS (the package shipping company) and you'll see that two of the top five stories include:

        “Chile central bank UPS credit line . . .”
        “Eminem, Public Enemy, Tom Morello Bring All-Star Team-UPS to . . .

        It isn’t so easy to exclude the data you don’t want and include the data you do want using (apparently) simple keyword searches. (I guess this is Seth’s business partner’s responsibility – BzzAgent.)

        You know what they say – GIGO!


  • I think the more interesting question is what this does to the corporate website as conversation aggregator.

    Jeremiah Owyang has talked about conversation aggregation as one possible extension of brands into social media. The idea is simple: Listen to and participate in conversations about your brand on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and also compile those conversations — in part or in whole — on your corporate website.

    The assumption, of course, is that brands would aggregate only those conversations that are positive or that otherwise build trust and drive sales. What, you thought brand curators would show you the criticisms, too?

    With “Brands in Public,” Godin and Squidoo may undermine brands' own aggregation efforts. Consumers will likely favor the “balanced” picture of BIP over the manicured snapshot on corporate sites.

    What are the implications? Are brands less likely to embrace social engagement on their own sites? Will corporate sites remain static digital brochures? Will brands eschew participation on Twitter, Facebook and other properties in favor of the one-stop response vehicle of Squidoo? Will consumers even gravitate toward Brands in Public? Will BIP offer consumers the real-time search and peer-influence existing platforms offer?

    Time will tell…

    • Certainly see your line of thinking Scott, but my question is, if brands are not allowed into the aggregation (which may not be the case) or are somehow not put on the same playing field with others having those conversations, is what BIP offers “balanced” at all? I'd like to know more about how they decide what makes the pages and what doesn't. If they manipulate the data or filters at all to make sure brands are hijacking their financial model, they in turn, are holding brand interaction hostage. Just food for thought. Not accusing them, but I would want to know I could still participate as a brand without paying them if I choose.

  • This is a viable business model only if the brand sites become destinations. BzzScapes has not been very successful: GetSat does well, but serves a different purpose. I don't see many companies paying $400 defensively, and there are sophisticated conversation management tools already out there. Does Seth have the marketing chops to draw traffic from the mainstream?

    • I think Seth certainly can drive significant traffic to these pages, especially if they deliver on the promise of unfiltered conversations. But it benefits BIP for them to weed out brand participation for free. Are they doing that or can brands doing a good job of managing their own conversations out there not have to worry with paying to manage those pages? Just need more clarification on it.

  • involve_social


    That's funny, sort of. This reminds me of a story where a popular blogger (or so I faintly recall) created a site and would write positively and/or negatively about various public companies (or so I faintly recall). These were powerful companies and apparently the blogger had the ability to affect their stockprices. He monetized this by buying or selling shares prior to writing reviews.

    Aggregating conversations is fine. This shouldn't be illegal because this is a value-add to brands, the ability to really 'influence' conversations from a central hub where these will be aggregated as opposed to influencing them throughout the social sphere. As Jay said, this is beneficial to companies so they don't have to track disparate conversations.

    Imagine for a second that you weren't tracking conversations, but tracking a company's actions (such as how green they are or their decisions affecting the environment or their openness about manufacturing conditions etc.) and aggregated those. These aren't conversations but perhaps aggregation of media (assuming no comments are present). Would then it seem like blackmail to charge a company?

    Take aggregated conversations and add in some kind of sentiment tool:

    Godin is essentially offering cheap access to analytics, regardless of participation or not.

    If we take into account Godin's power and then limit his entrepreneurial ability based on that, then we should redefine human rights and other systems as well (that's a whole 'nother conversation).

    The key thing I see is that Godin is able to isolate company members. How would a company be allowed access? Would they be monitored? Would access be granted based on tiered pricing (different pricing for diff # of company representatives?) but even in that situation a company would just want to pay for one and have all the thoughts/conversations being administered through one employee. Most likely these employees would also have color coded conversations (the way you can tell techcrunch employees responding in a long thread of commentary by color).

    I could see a free-to-converse model working better (similar to free-to-play) where you can talk for free but you may not be allowed to use certain words or be limited to a certain number of statements (based on an energy level LOL!) unless brands pay. Or there can be a freemium model of participation.

    Anyways, thanks for the news!!

    • And thanks for the discussion. Good points. I think we're on the same page needing to know more about how the system works but think in general it's a pretty strong idea. Thanks!

  • This project could be doomed from the start as keyword based aggregates are ripe for exploitation by spammers. And if as predicted, Mr. Godin works his marketing magic and works these feeds to the tops of the SERPs, then it will be no time before they're targeted and rendered useless by non-relevant noise (just like Twitter's Trending Topics).

    • Good point, Jeremy. Thanks for that thought.

  • Makes sense to me. Think about all the companies who will save on having to do this brand monitoring in-house. It can be a major full time job, and small businesses cannot always afford to spare the staff. So instead they pay the fee and save time and money and Seth's group facilitates the dialogue for them. Win win.

    • Valid point, I suppose. I just think you have to see the merit in a company not wanting to pay the $400 or more to participate.

  • This reminds me a whole lot like the 37signals vs Get Satisfaction debate that happened a while ago over Get Satisfaction's policy towards companies not participating:

    • Great point, Rob. Thanks for that.

      • It's pretty clear on those pages that the brands aren't involved, but I would say that if a brand isn't participating, they shouldn't be advertised on the front page.

  • In principle, what Godin is doing could be considered blackmail, but only if these hub pages become points where consumers look for comment/feedback from brands. Personally, I don't expect that to happen. The real value is in the conversation tracking — which, as I read it, will be available to everyone for free — and brands are better served in responding where the actual conversations happened.

    As a consumer, if I rant about a product or service, I'd be really offended if the producer or service provider apologized to a separate audience at a separate venue. That would be like me telling my friend that someone had insulted me, then the insulter (after hearing from my friend) going on TV to apologize for his insult — without ever directly contacting me.

    Granted, it's not an either-or position. You can apologize personally and apologize publicly. But the whole value here hinges on Godin's ability to make his hub pages the go-to spot for brand conversation tracking. To effectively become the Wikipedia of brand conversations. That's quite a steep hill to climb.

    While those of us in the social media space know who Godin is and understand the concept, we often forget how tiny the percentage of social media consumers/interactors is compared to the overall consumer marketplace.

    My mother will never go to Godin's hub pages. She'll never understand the point.

    What I suspect is really happening here is Godin is going to sell these hub pages as conveniences to brands. Don't bother tracking and dealing with all the disparate conversations on the Web, just fork over a few Benjamins and pay one PR guy (maybe an intern) to post spin copy to your hub page every time you find a criticism. Why log into all those blogs and Facebook pages and forums when you can just post here. It will lead to less direct conversation, not more. Granted, I'm more cynical than most.

    That said, I hope Godin does build these hub pages, because I'd love a tracking repository of brand conversations, if only to develop a punch list of places I need to be talking directly. And that list probably won't include the hub page itself.

    • scottclark

      “my mother would never go” — hmmm.

      … from an SEO perspective, it's likely that Godin's setup will appear at least in the top 5 for many brands if he's able to obtain authority. So what we have will be Google results #1 Brand, #2 Brand, #3 BrandsinPublic.

      So while my Mom may never specifically seek out Godin's setup, that #3 listing on Google will likely get her attention.

    • Excellent points, Jay. Though I will defer to Scott Clark's input on search results effecting your point. Still, your portrayal of the benefit to brands is pretty strong. They can be useful pages for them to participate in. I just hope there's no funny business going on ensuring brands feel helpless if they don't.

      • involve_social

        What else is interesting is how this relates to capitalism. Seth Godin has used capitalism to out-compete others (to a degree) and will now use that power/influence that he seemingly earned to get utility (unless he's acting otherwise). Since his aim might potentially disrupt or be adverse to other parties, we are somehow saying that there should be equal opportunity for brands to participate.

        In other words, we want to level the playing field for the brands – through discussion (but ultimately through government intervention such as laws etc.). In a way this is unbecoming of capitalism.

        This is sort of akin to the financial industry running rampant and then asking the government to bail them out (ofcourse that stuff is way deeper than I know, but I'm seeing a similar field).

        If Seth is NOT allowed to do this, then that may be a disincentive for him to achieve his current status. If Seth is setting a price of 400$, and there is benefit to the companies to pay, why is that wrong?

        Of course the reason we are saying it may be wrong is that it may be 'directly and noticeably detrimental'. What about other actions that may not be detrimental?

        I guess with power comes responsibility ;)

  • catherinecrofton

    In many ways I think this concept was inevitable. Although a company can use alerts and other social media monitoring tools/services to learn what's being said about their brand, and then respond through social media or other channels, the consumer/investor has to do a lot of leg work if they are looking for comparative information across a number of companies. Of course, Joe public could also use monitoring tools to gather information on these companies but an aggregation such as Brands in Public would make things much easier. When you think about it, this isn't really a novel idea – there are aggregators who are servicing other segments of the online market already. To structure and maintain this type of service costs money and therefore needs to be monetized. That said, I do find the gag-or-pay concept troubling. Perhaps being able to respond should be free and then other levels of engagement with consumers should cost. Otherwise in the end the consumer won't be getting all the facts (for companies that don't pay the 'ransom') they'll just be getting the rumors, and that diminishes the value and intent of the service.

    • Interesting thoughts, Catherine. Thanks for sharing them. I agree the aggregation is a service and makes what they've done a really strong idea. Just want brands to not feel penalized if they don't want to pay up. Thanks!

  • scottclark

    Another example of how brand conversations and branding messages are converging right in front of the customer, helped along by tools and an increasing number of consumer-participants in social media.

    Misalignments of these two forces damage brands, so companies will seek band-aids. $400 is nothing if Godin has the #3 spot on Google for your brand and you have some disgruntled customers.

    I just wish companies would spend the time to work the problem from the front end. Great content, strong customer support, solid SEO and authentic participation in social networks is a damn good start.

  • onejumponeleap

    I don't think this is a new concept, just a revamped one. Consumer reports has a magazine that speaks to the people based on x criteria yet sells ad space in the magazine. True this is not an open dialogue but it is a 'trusted' publication that many people use to base their buying decisions on. A quick review of twitter has given me an open ie to people sharing knowledge at time and then trying to sell you something from a back link. Is this the same? Or do you at the very least just look at it as an even trade. Do people really care if he is selling the space as long as it is not philtering the open discussion. Does it really matter.

    • I would see your point if it were as simple as selling ad space. But it's not. It's “if you don't pay, you don't get to play, Mr. Brand.” Godin isn't selling a box you put a logo in. He's (sort of) hijacking your brand (albeit with an “unofficial”) stamp conversations and saying, “If you want to participate in managing them and making them official on my website, I'm going to charge you.” If it were a banner, fine. But it's being able to manage and participate in the conversations. Very different.

  • I skimmed a couple of the brand sites and it seems like one feature is missing – filtering. There's a lot of junk on the Mini Cooper site about videos of stunt driving or a tweet about Mini almost running someone off the road. Seems like the brands will still have to spend a lot of time drilling down to where the meat is.

    As a consumer, I don't think I would use this. If I want to know if I should buy a Mini or not I would search the fan forums, read a review, etc. There's no way I would wade through what I've seen so far.

    • I agree with David. Filtering is the problem, especially with the big brands.

      That said, Seth is a smart, smart man. He stands to make a lot of money from this concept. I don't think it's blackmail. If companies do spend the $400/month, hopefully it will pay for better presentation of the info (i.e. you could pay pennies for Amazon Mechanical Turk workers to categorize each comment) and therefore provide better value to visitors. Brands in Public is an excellent innovation for social media.

      • Fair points, Daniel. Thanks for that.

    • Good point, David. I think it has its limitations, sure, but worry about how big it can become with his name behind it and then the fallout if brands feel like they have to pay or the conversation can get away from them.

  • beley

    I'm a little conflicted on whether charging brands to manage their page is extortion or just business as usual.

    On one side, the site seems like a great idea. These Squidoo pages could be an invaluable resource for people looking to work with one of these companies or buy their products/services. I can see myself looking up companies here to save time Googling and searching social media sites for information. And it takes time and money to put something like this together. Advertising is a lousy business model, so this seems like an effective way to monetize the website in a way that everyone benefits.

    From what I read, the brands would be able to feature posts, add introductory information and contact information, etc. by paying the $400/month fee. They still can't “control” the conversation. It's not much different from some of the larger review websites like Shopzilla.

    That said, there should probably be a free way for brands to participate in the conversation too, just to be fair. (Of course they could always participate on the social networks) I'm sure there will be a lot of people who think there's nothing wrong, and some people who think what Godin and Squidoo are doing isn't right… I guess I'm in the middle.

    • I don't know that we are far apart on this, B. I don't think Godin and his team are inherently doing something wrong or have ill intentions. But I still think some brands will have a fearful, knee-jerk reaction and feel like they have to pay to have any chance of fair representation on the site. Sure, they could and should participate in the social space regardless of what BIP does with the aggregation, but many will see this as a way to not do so and get away with $400 per month. Once they get in there, though, they'll see they should have participated in the first place and saved their money. Or so I think.

  • If I was a casual user who stumbled upon that resource and found the company's branding all over a page, I would question whether or not the site is truly presenting “fair, unfiltered conversations about (said) brands.”

    • Another good point, Rebeca. Thanks for that.


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