Social media & networking

The challenges of social media

A friend of mine recently launched Open Australia, which is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in politics, and more specifically the actions and activities of their federal MP.

The effort is volunteer run, and I think provides immense value to Australian citizens. One of the volunteers, Matthew Landauer, posted a very interesting note on Twitter the other day, mentioning a talkback page in relation to the work he was doing to add links to Wikipedia, pointing people to the relevant Open Australia page on various politicians’ pages in Wikipedia.

To my mind, what Matt was doing makes perfect sense, and I think greatly benefits Wikipedia readers – the Hansard is quite opaque and difficult to access, especially online, and Open Australia makes it much more accessible and useful. However, some members of the Wikipedia community felt that perhaps this was spam. A very interesting discussion ensued.

It is worth a read by anyone considering engaging in Wikipedia for their organisation. I’ve heard some PR/comms folks say “let’s just put up a page on Wikipedia”. This doesn’t work, and the dialogue on that talk page is immensely illuminating (in a positive way).

I truly admire the Wikipedians and the open-ness and transparency of this process (at least in this case – I’m aware of other cases where there may be issues, but I digress).

My summary of some of the discussion points:

  • The links were being added by someone related to the project (I’m not sure if full disclosure was an issue here – I suspect even if disclosed it would have been considered an issue). It seems that the activity would be fine if it was someone unrelated to the project doing the linking.
  • Questions about whether the links be considered an implicit endorsement by Wikipedia of the site
  • It doesn’t matter if your effort is volunteer run, non-profit or otherwise – such activity may still be considered spam.
  • Is the site political? The question arose due to the commentary on the site (as Open Australia itself is clearly non-partisan).
  • A core question is “does this provide value to readers?” References made to IMDB and other sites where, even though commercial, the value is significant.
  • Members of the community even created templates to support the linking, once the value proposition was confirmed.

With regards to value, I immediately thought of a recent post by Seth Godin: The web doesn’t care:

When I first started talking about Permission Marketing ten years ago, marketers asked, “sure, but how does this help us?”

A decade later, marketers look at Wikipedia or social media or the long tail or whatever trend is finally hitting them in the face and ask the same question.

… The question to ask is, “how are people (the people I need to reach, interact with and tell stories to) going to use this new power and how can I help them achieve their goals?”

The upshot? You can’t just wade into a social media space and plaster your “message” around, you must provide value to the community, and do it in accordance with the social norms and etiquette established in that community.

It seems, at least for now, that the Wikipedians have agreed that, on balance, the links to Open Australia provide enough value to leave them in. This is good news, IMO, because as I mentioned I believe Open Australia is of great benefit to the community. I do hope it stays that way :)