Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Wikipedia, wikis and social media marketing – 2

Posted in social networking and business, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on February 25, 2011

This is my second posting on wikis in a Web 2.0 communications and marketing context and my focus here is on outwardly, community facing wikis, managed and maintained as business-owned and even proprietary business branded resources. But I want to start this posting by taking a step back to look at a more fundamental issue. What criteria and decision points should a business turn to in deciding if developing and maintaining a community sourced wiki would even make sense for them to try? I said in my first installment in this series that wikis would not effectively fit into the web and online mix for most businesses, but what combination of business and business model, and marketplace would a wiki work for?

Wikis would work effectively where:

• A business or organization needs to convey and share a complex message with a well developed conceptual background.
• They need community-based buy in for this, and the innovative value that crowd-sourced participation could offer.
• Other information resources readily available lack the necessary focus.
• Or resources out there appear to carry biases or limited perspective and be at odds with organizational and community needs.

And the area of knowledge that would be collaboratively developed and maintained through this resource has to be of sufficient scale, breadth of topic and complexity to merit this type of format. Setting up a community facing business or organizational wiki is a very audacious move, and a call to scalable long term business and community effort.

I usually pick real, working businesses and organizations for case studies, but for this posting I will make up an organization, in effect designing it with wikis in mind. And with that I introduce the Northeastern Trail Association (NETA) – an umbrella group that works with and champions hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing and kayaking across the US Northeast, and the preservation of wilderness areas to make them possible.

• There is a widespread array of hiking and other trail systems in the Northeast, some of which have significant voices and lobbies, and many of which are smaller and more vulnerable – when simply acting on their own in their own separate behalf.
• There is no easy way to find pertinent information about hiking, camping, canoeing, and other options and resources throughout this system and certainly where up to date information on issues such as trail conditions might be needed.
• An ideal information resource would also provide information on the areas these trails and waterways go through, on seasonal usage issues and on a wide variety of other topics of interest to this organization and to the communities it would work with and support (e.g. using winter backpacking equipment, or information that would be of help in making a kayak versus canoe decision and with a focus on use in these trails and waterways with their conditions and features.)
• Much if not most of this information would call for both general knowledge and local expertise.
• The people who hold this general/local knowledge mix would want to share it in helping preserve their forests and streams, and their access to them for their outdoor activities – and in building public support for their outdoor and environmental issues.
• NETA would have to be willing to spearhead this and maintain it as a shared and community-sourced resource.
• NETA would have to be willing, in practice, to turn over a significant measure of editorial control to the crowd too, and to writers and contributors who in effect rise to the top in this crowd sourcing endeavor and who are accepted as editors by their community peers.

For the right organization, a wiki could become a central, value creating resource. For an organization like NETA, a wiki that seeks to comprehensively cover the general topic of its mission and vision could be what sets it apart and makes it significant to the community it seeks to reach – their wiki can become a reason people would turn to them for information and as a central organizing voice.

• If you are considering taking a wiki approach and adding that into your marketing and communications mix, what do you see taking form, as your wiki takes shape?
• If you do try this, are you willing and able to let go and allow for the fact that your wiki is not just yours, but is also a community owned resource? The more successful you are with this, the less it will be yours and your organization’s and the more it will belong to your external communities that you would reach out to with your mission and vision, and with your products and services where you offer them. (For NETA that might mean maps and guidebooks, and paid membership access to web apps that tap into a crowd sourced but organizationally managed trail information database.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a third series posting, there delving into third party outsourcing for hosting and managing the organizational side of a wiki. I will simply note here that there are a range of options to choose from.

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