It was just a matter of time: "With brands turning into curators of conversations about them and brand value increasingly determined by the value of aggregated content, third parties might be inspired to hijack these very brands by offering curated conversations on their behalf," I wrote in early July.
And now Seth Godin and BzzAgent have done exactly this. The marketing guru and the marketing agency have launched a portal that aggregates conversations about brands and presents them in a unified public-facing dashboard that gives brands the chance to lead the discussion. Brands in Public translates the Get Satisfaction business model (a portal for public-facing aggregated customer support) into the broader realm of brand management. It aggregates the aggregation, if you will, and centralizes what Modernista, Skittles, and Crispin Porter Bogusky did on their own sites.
The cost of participation for a brand is US$400 per month, and the incentives are threefold: First, brands can publicly demonstrate their commitment to transparency. Secondly, because the portal presents branded conversations just one click away from each other, brands might benefit from an attention spill-over (while of course also having to fear a cannibalization of their feed). Finally, the aggregated conversation tracking comes with some metrics, kind of like FriendFeed and Google Analytics combined. The dashboard view puts brands in control of the conversation, or at least suggests as much.
However, I have a feeling that Brands in Public will fall flat. As with the new Google Sidewiki, one could argue that community dies in the very moment someone tries to "own" it. If it's true that 'your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room,' how interesting then is what these people say when you're not only in the same room (any social network feed, i.e. Twitter, Facebook) but actually on the same stage with them (Brands in Public)? The outcome of Godin's and BuzzAgent's experiment remains to be seen: It may mark the next stage of the 'conversation economy.' Or the end of the conversation.
(Hat tip to Kristina Loring)