Seth Godin is taking a lot of heat for Squidoo’s new service, Brands in Public. To many, Brands in Public is little more than a brandjacking service. As my colleague Meghan Keane put it: “Give Squidoo $400 a month. Or your brand gets it.”

In my opinion, the criticism being leveled at Brands in Public is justified but it has far more to do with value than brandjacking.

In short, Brands in Public offers no value for the $400/month Squidoo is asking brands to fork up. Here’s why:

  • Brands in Public is a mediocre reputation monitoring tool. The content on each brand’s Brands in Public page is pulled from a handful of sources, including Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere. There’s also data pulled from Google Search Trends and Quantcast. There’s nothing sophisticated about the aggregation and compared to most of the commercial reputation monitoring tools out there, Brands in Public is not much to write home about. As Lisa Barone puts it, “…Brands in Public is nothing more than a 5k a year public Google Alert“.
  • There’s no SEO value or threat. Why would a brand want to pay $400/month to “curate” its Brands in Public page? Clearly, the idea is that these public pages might show up in a search. And if there’s something ’bad‘ on the page, the brand should be scared (so the logic goes).

    The immediate problem is that none of these pages have top SERPs and for generic searches like “Walmart” or “Home Depot“, they’re not likely to ever rank where it matters (read: first page). Long-term, even if Brand in Public pages do achieve decent ranks, none of these major brands is realistically going to gain or lose customers because a page with a hodgepodge of aggregated user-generated content has something negative on it. Just ask Walmart; there is already plenty of “Walmart sucks” content with top SERPs and the company still manages to get by.

  • Brands can curate but they can’t censor. If somebody says something nasty about you on Twitter and it shows up on your Brands in Public page, you may very well be able to “curate” it away on the Brands in Public page, but there’s no way to remove the comment on the source website or from stopping the comment on the source website from being indexed by search engines. So it’s really hard to see how removing something from a Brands in Public page is achieving anything. More importantly, brands that want to engage with critics and customers aren’t going to do it through a Brands in Public page — they’re going to do it at the source. Places like Twitter and Facebook, where, by the way, outside of time, it doesn’t cost anything to participate.
  • The pricing is crazy. Why does a Brands in Public page cost $400/month to “claim“? As far as I can gather, the price was pulled out of thin air. As Barone points out, brands can get a basic reputation monitoring solution at Trakur for as little as $18/month.

The only reason Brands in Public has attracted attention is because of Seth Godin. I’m sure his personal brand is going to generate sales (it apparently already has), although some question whether he’s hurting that personal brand in the long run with this service.

Godin-driven publicity aside, howver, the reality is that there’s nothing special about Brands in Public as far as the product goes. If you or I was to launch something like this, it wouldn’t get an ounce of attention because there’s almost no value. The visceral reactions to Brands in Public have more to do with the lack of value/high price tag than they do with ‘brandjacking‘. If Squidoo was offering a product that nobody questioned was providing $400/month of value to brands, nobody would raise an eyebrow.

The lesson in all this: no matter what you’re selling, you need to sell value.