Jimmy Wales on PR in the social media era

August 29th, 2006 by Bite Communications
Categories: Communications

Bite Communications

By Trevor Jonas

Every now and again we’re fortunate enough to come into contact with some extremely intelligent people as part of our everyday work-life. In my time at Bite, I consider myself lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting and working with quite a few such people over the years.

In fact, our decision to launch this very blog in early 2005 was, at least partially, due to our work with some brilliant thinkers who truly understood what blogging was all about. One of the most difficult things for us PR-pros to come to grips in the social media era is the lack of control. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies (and by extension PR/marketing departments and agencies) to ‘control’ what people are saying about their brand, their products, their technology, etc. etc. The game has changed. Companies should no longer be looking to control conversations and messages. Rather, it’s now a game of getting involved in the dialog and understanding tactically how and how-not to do this.

In my mind the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, is one of the great thinkers I mention above. Read on to hear what Wales had to say about PR, marketing, the rules of the community and more (full disclosure: Wales’ for-profit company, Wikia, is a client).

Bite: What’s the first site you visit when you log-on everyday?

Wales: I have Firefox setup with 2 homepages: my Campaigns Wikia userpage, and my English Wikipedia userpage.

Bite: Much has been written about the rise of social media (blogs, podcasts, etc.) and community-based online interaction (Wikipedia, Digg, etc.) sites. What is your advice to PR pros looking to promote their clients in such mediums?

Wales: Respect the community. Do nothing yourself, but talk to people in the community. Understand that the best you can achieve for your brand is not positive spin on your normal message, but rather the meta-message that you care what people think, and that you are trying to do the right thing.

Bite: PR firm Kellen Communications issued a press release a couple weeks ago (which now appears to have been removed from its website) boasting about the fact that it was “…posting and editing Wikipedia-compliant articles about its clients on Wikipedia and monitoring the Web site regularly to ensure that those clients are accurately portrayed.” What’s your reaction to that?

Wales: I deleted the articles and banned Kellen Communications from contributing. I think that PR-firms editing in a community space is deeply unethical, and that clients should put very firm pressure on their PR firms to not embarrass them in this way.

Bite: Can you explain why it’s a bad idea for a PR firm to be editing Wikipedia on behalf of a client? How does the Wikipedia community react to such activity?

Wales: It is a bad idea because of the conflict-of-interest. It is perfectly fine to talk to the community, to show them more information, to give them things that show your client in the best light. But it is wrong to try to directly participate in the process when you have an agenda.

Bite: What’s your biggest pet peeve in working/dealing with PR professionals?

Wales: Ironically, the ones I directly deal with are the ethical ones, the ones who approach me and ask how to do things. I tell them: post to the discussion pages, talk to the community. The problematic ones are the ones who try unethical things like editing behind a fake id. :(

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 PR meets the WWW 08.29.06 at 12:46 pm

Wikipedia editors discussing PR firms participation - Rules of Engagement in Social Media Commons

The issue of PR firms involvement in editing Wikipedia entries for clients strikes again: the German newspaper Die Welt has recently published an article (original) featuring MyWikiBiz, a US company founded by Gregory Kohs, that is writing (for a fee)…

2 Strumpette 10.05.06 at 1:51 pm

STORY TEASE: PR’S Golden Goose Under Indictment

… and then the other shoe dropped… and a couple more after that. I’m tellin’ ya; it’s been a tough month for all those involved in the social networking scam. PR’s goose that laid the golden egg is now apparently under indictment.

Here St. Tho

3 Gregory Kohs 10.30.06 at 10:36 am

I wonder what Wales would have said if asked about the times where co-founder of for-profit Wikia.com, Angela Beesley, edited the Wikipedia article about her own company on July 12, April 30, March 27, and February 18 of 2006; plus October 17, July 15, May 6-7, April 23, March 24, February 10, February 4, and January 14 of 2005?

Oh, wait — that wouldn’t have drawn any criticism from him, because the other co-founder of Wikia is Jimmy Wales. So, it’s an urgent action to block Kellen Communications, but it’s not so mission-critical to keep Wikia’s ownership in check.

Seems fair.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Previous post: Could blogging bring world peace?

Next post: Brand Overdose?