Home Archive December 2009 @loggerheads
Friday, 11 December 2009 15:51

Should communicators be worried about side wikis on the corporate website, or regard them as an opportunity to improve engagement with stakeholders?: Welcome to the Likemind Debate, a monthly email dialogue brought to you by Likemind.

Arguing against side wikis is Dougal Paver, MD of PR agency Paver Smith. Standing up for their potential is Andrew Durkin from technology PR agency Mustard PR.

Dear Andrew,
I admit it: anything that improves stakeholder engagement has got to be good. We all know that corporates give it lip-service, after all. Side wikis, in offering something that neatly compels them to engage widely, regularly and with complete transparency pushes the last frontier of democracy firmly in to the private realm.
Point is, though, I have a sneaking regard for privacy and property rights, not to mention fair play. This is a hijacker’s charter, offering every nut-job with a grievance a technological wrecking ball with which to thump away at an organisation’s or individual’s reputation. That’s just not cricket.
So there’s a right to reply? So what? Who asked permission to cock-up the layout and spoil the visual appeal of every web site in the ether? Does Google think it’s now the technical arbiter of the web at large? And the guardian of democracy, whilst it’s at it?
There seems to be an implicit assumption that: (a) all businesses are inherently selfish and need to be reined in; and (b) unfettered democracy is all a jolly jape and should be allowed to run rip. I disagree. Fundamentally.
My web site is my property and I allow people to look at it and engage with it on my terms. That’s my right as the property owner. You wouldn’t allow passers-by to walk in to your home and scrawl all over your walls, so why should it be any different with your web site? It’s almost fascistic and suggests a worrying degree of arrogance on Google’s part that they think this is acceptable. It isn’t.
Kind regards,

Dearest Dougal,
Your description clearly describes two communication worlds on course for a collision; the old world which is trying to apply traditional rules while cherry picking the bits which it likes and the new world where point-to-point communications are an active, living and real part of everyday life.
Google’s Side Wiki is a game changer (but not because of a few ‘nut jobs with a grievance’ trying to make a name for themselves. These digital graffiti artists will have their two seconds of fame and disappear – unless of course there is real foundation in their observations) but because as we’ve seen with the success of Wikipedia (which is self-policing) the majority of added content is relevant and useful. Not everyone is a digital bandit and I strongly believe that the power of the group and their insight can only add value across the board and across organisations. Interacting, reacting and listening can only be a positive for organisations. In my mind, engagement on a one-to-one level is what marketeers and communication teams have been crying out for. Is the suggestion that now we have a mechanism we should be fearful of it?
This isn’t Google arrogance, it is innovation challenging the norm. Services like Google Side Wiki will live or die by its usefulness, the group will decide.
Google Side Wiki is a tool for sharing, exploring and challenging information, if the result of this is that an organisation needs to sharpen up its claims then good, I say. If as a result of its social nature Google Side Wiki helps facilitate a medical innovation then even better.
Yes, you’re right, I wouldn’t let passers-by into my property to deface my walls. But equally I wouldn’t be surprised if having let them peek in and teased them with things, that a few got carried away. Not every passer-by would be destructive and some of the graffiti would be to my taste.

“As we’ve seen with Wikipedia, the majority of added content is relevant and useful. Not everyone is a digital bandit and I strongly believe that the power of the group and their insight add value”

Andy (may I call you that?)
I see where this is going – it’s that wisdom of crowds thing, isn’t it?
The one that says that the inherent fairness and nous of the wider populace will, when aggregated, arrive at an optimum choice.
There’s good evidence to suggest you may be right here – witness the general levity and reasonableness of tripadvisor, for example. Problem is, you’ve brushed aside my worries about digital bandits, as though the criminal, libellous, slanderous and wilfully untruthful attempts to slay a corporation’s reputation by twisted ideologues is a price worth paying for this innovation.
Not if you’re an employee or shareholder, it ain’t. Not when you’re under attack from people whose motivations are founded on envy and out-dated, discredited political creeds. Or, in the case of the climate nuts, bad science and the fascistic tendencies of the thought police. Crowds may possess wisdom, but group-think is rarely a good thing.
There’s also an assumption that one-to-one communication is either desirable or cost-effective for all brands. I’m afraid your sweeping generalisation on that point doesn’t cut the mustard. Imagine if you were Colman’s, say, and you had to go in to a one-to-one dialogue with the millions of folk who put your yellow sticky stuff on their ham sarnies each day. The staff costs would cripple you – unless you could get away with charging everyone eight quid a jar.
Nope, I think you’re getting caught up in the wonder of the technology. Just because you can do something doesn’t make it right or even desirable for everyone. It just means you can do it.
A bit like supporting Everton, then. Ask me - I know all about where that leads you.
Keep well, old chap.

Dear Dougal,
Watch out there’s a digital bandit about. Dougal, if what you are saying is true I’m scared, very scared. But seriously, come on, you are painting a picture that behind every computer lurks a maddo. That just isn’t true. Sure, there will always be the odd individual or group hell bent on creating mischief and they already have a multitude of touch points to get their message out there. The same mechanisms which police and control these outbursts can and are applied to Google Side Wiki.
You’ve made the assumption you refer to and we know what assume did! Not every brand will want a one-to-one conversation with the Google Side Wiki participants. But for the majority it will be welcome, it will add-value to stakeholders and where there are ‘flames’ the intelligence of the group will be able to see through them.
Dougal, I’m going to let you in on a well-known un-kept secret, which has passed you by. You can’t and shouldn’t want to arrest innovation. The digital communications world is changing quickly and the last thing we need is an alarmist scaremonger movement to selectively stop it in its tracks on the premise that some people’s agenda might not be palatable.
I’m not actually convinced you really understand how Google Side Wiki could be used – other than the negative you are focused on. So just to be clear and so you get it. Google Side Wiki will provide point reference communication. This can be used to provide and highlight further information and resources. Importantly, this is not just an external stakeholder privilege, internal brand ambassadors can compliment information in real-time as well.
Now I can feel you bubbling away with your dark thoughts, but just sit back, be creative, think how this can enhance the brand and bring it alive. Do you feel it, Dougal? Do you? Are you beginning to visualise how a different flavour of mustard could spice things up a little?
It doesn’t always have to be grim up north, older chap :-)

“This is a hijacker’s charter, offering every nut-job with a grievance a technological wrecking ball with which to thump away at an organisation’s or individual’s reputation”

Andrew, young-fella-me-lad,
I fear that have espied a Luddite lurking here in the frozen north but you will see from my own web site (or ‘property’, as I called it previously) that I have enthusiastically embraced the potential of t’interweb. It is, indeed, a glorious thing – liberating, in fact.
As for embracing innovation more widely – and proving that it is the wellspring of my philosophy – I recently went fly fishing for pike (yes, pike) and have just switched shotguns from over and under to side-by-side, requiring no little adjustment in the field. So I get innovation and can see the potential for side wiki clearly.
Don’t confuse a deep suspicion of those who seek to destroy value and reputations with Luddism. And accept that, as a parent, I’m inherently optimistic about the decency of mankind and the capacity for good to triumph over evil. So your comments in this regard are well met and accepted.
We have an innovation group in the agency which is already addressing side wiki for our clients and I’ll share your observations with them as, no doubt, they’ll derive whatever value they can from them. My lurking presence shan’t dampen their ardour for moving forward and my mutterings about technological reds under the beds shall doubtless be taken with the good humour they ascribe to most of my reactionary rants.
So really, we’re more like fellow travelers than you may surmise. Just remember that as a libertarian I’ll never lose my inherent suspicion of those who seek to control and to impose their minority will upon me.
Cheers, as always.

Hi Dad,
Good working through this one with you.
Read your blog entitled ‘Nothing to say’ – it was a good read. I’ll share my private blog with you soon. It’s not out there for everyone to see so I doubt it’ll be savaged by those nasties you’ve referred to.
With a young family myself I’m at pains to ensure that they know that not everyone is out to steal their wheels.
Pike and guns - is this some sort of metaphor for Dad’s Army?
I’ll make sure the digital team here at Mustard is on the lookout for those digital bandits coming over the fence. In the meantime we’ll embrace and have fun being creative.
Don’t choke on the Toffees :-)