Marketers need to respect online communities to earn respect: Wikipedia keynote

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Social community sites such as Wikipedia are good places to reach online communities but are not the place for marketing, according to yesterday's keynote at the DMA 07 Conference & Exhibition.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, spoke about the goals behind the social site, which was designed to offer every person on the planet free access to the sum of all human knowledge. He said that there are ways marketers should use the social encyclopedia site and ways that should be avoided.

"There are good and bad ways to think about Wikipedia, but if you think about it as a marketing channel, then you are making a mistake," he said, referring it to a "non-commercial channel" and giving an analogy from the offline world. "If you go to the grocery store and there is someone giving out free samples of chicken, then you accept that. But, if they set up shop at the local church on Sunday morning and try to pitch you the chicken in church, you feel that that is the wrong place. You need to make sure about how clear you are about where you are."

According to Wales, the best Wikipedia strategy for marketers is to do something good and then wait. If companies have a good product that is getting press elsewhere and is known by consumers, then consumers will write about the product. "Do good work and somebody will eventually notice," he said.

"This is long tail content which is generated by people who are incredibly passionate about what they do," he added. "The people are not anti-commerce, they are anti-jerks."

Wales pointed out that if marketers try to go onto the site and market their products, there could be a backlash within the community.

"Having a company deleted from Wikipedia is one thing, but often these [companies] are placed into the spam or blacklist on Wikipedia," he cautioned. This doesn't help your company or your reputation."

According to Wales, the community that makes up Wikipedia respects transparency and is open to learning more about companies or products posted on the site.

"This is not a computer program or a Web site, this is a community of people, so you have to think about how you would like to be treated in a community of people," he concluded. "Have respect for the community - these are passionate early adopters and are the people that you really do want to reach."

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