Forget Message Boards. Wikis Are Where It's at

T-Mobile, eBay, Others Embrace Tool as a Way to Connect With Consumers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Marketers have added another item to the multichannel checklist: wikis.
Wiki in action: Sidekick fans trade tips and eBayers answer FAQs.
Wiki in action: Sidekick fans trade tips and eBayers answer FAQs.

A wiki, popularized by the community-created encyclopedia site Wikipedia, is an easy way for a group of users to collaboratively author content. According to Wikipedia, a wiki lets visitors "easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content." That kind of user collaboration is sparking the interest of marketers who are increasingly trying to get customers more involved and engaged with the products.

Marketing infancy
The wiki is in its early days as an external marketing tool, but the term has certainly penetrated the public consciousness. Wikipedia attracted about 165 million unique visitors in December, according to ComScore, making it the sixth-most-visited collection of web properties in the world, after such giants as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Time Warner's network and eBay. As of October, when Wikipedia last reported its stats, 158,000 contributors -- or Wikipedians -- had edited at least 10 times.

EBay has used wikis in its customer-support section, letting users collaboratively write answers to frequently asked questions. The NBA's Dallas Mavericks announced a plan to let fans wiki every game using the same software as Wikipedia. And T-Mobile launched a Sidekick wiki that has produced collaboratively written pieces including tips on how to pimp out the inside of the phone and a wish list of improvements the community would like to see.

T-Mobile said the wiki is a forum where the Sidekick's biggest fans can tell others how to get more out of the product and relay information that isn't necessarily T-Mobile-related, such as how to create ringtones and find the best wallpaper. A T-Mobile spokesman said the company won't edit out negative feedback on the product, since that is valuable as well.

Sidekick's 'official community'
"T-Mobile created a wiki to provide support for Sidekick fans, who are extremely social, tech-savvy and often fiercely independent," Sam Bell, senior manager-marketing at T-Mobile USA, told Advertising Age in an e-mail. "We wanted to create an official community where fans could connect and freely share information."

So how is a wiki different from a good old message board or corporate blog? Wetpaint, one of a few companies working to make wikis easier to use, said a wiki is a more sophisticated and easily updated incarnation of a message board. Message boards can be difficult to follow -- the same questions are often asked in different spaces -- and are only for the uber-engaged. A wiki stays more current and can end up involving more people. And because it relies on the wisdom of crowds, it can help marketers address the issues of most concern.

"A brand is a reflection of people who use the product," said Kevin Flaherty, chief marketing officer, Wetpaint, and a former brand manager at Colgate-Palmolive. Wetpaint, which powers the Sidekick wiki, believes brands eventually will adopt brand-related "advocacy wikis" -- for example, PepsiCo, which is launching a healthful-lifestyle push, could sponsor a wellness wiki.

Other marketers are trying to take advantage of wikis via Wikipedia -- for better or worse. Microsoft drew fire for paying someone to edit what it called inaccuracies, while Cisco encouraged users to define its tagline, the "human network," and the definition ended up on Wikipedia.
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