Jimmy Wales: Social Web Marketing – Good for Some, Not for All

According to Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, there are too many Indians and not enough Chiefs in the world of Web 2.0 marketing today. “There is a lot of advice about how brands should be interacting [online],” he said in a keynote presentation at Ad:Tech San Francisco today. “But, unless your brand is information dense, this highly interactive marketing is both expensive and useless.”

The good news however, is that communities offer the best bang for your buck in this miserable economy and Wales sees return on investment (ROI) as an “incredible steal right now,” when it comes to consumer generated media.

The Benefits of Community During a Recession

Wales, who led the user generated content movement three years before the term Web 2.0 was coined, today told a standing room only audience that people fail to get their corporations off the ground because they don’t focus on community. And in a recession, your community could be your saving grace.

“Wikipedia was really born in the depths of the dot com crash,” Wales said. “With no investment money available, we had to figure out our own solutions as a community.” “If there had been [funds], when problems arose I would likely have hired people to try and solve them,” he explained. And according to Wales, this led to innovations in social rules and social institutions.

Wikipedia, the largest encyclopedia in the world with over 2 billion+ words, is the fourth most popular Web site in the world, with 301 million unique visitors monthly according to comScore. Its success is largely due to its passionate community and the content it produces.

Wales pointed to the Marvel community as another great example of a growing consumer generated content phenomenon, with the Marvel Database Project consisting of 49,864 articles and 50,427 images (as of today). Much like Wikipedia, this community of volunteers is passionate and focused on building very high quality content.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Consumer Media is a Great Place for Brand Advertising

Although most brands have been afraid to get involved with user generated content in the past, Wales sees this as a thing of the past because sites like Wikia, Flickr, YouTube etc. are becoming more dominant.

“The modern Web 2.0 space is not about funny cat videos any more or about angry ranting blogs,” Wales explained. “If you look at what is happening, you’ll see quality content – equal to magazines and television.”

But with the plethora of advice being dispensed on the Web it is no wonder brand marketers are confused. “‘You need to interact, to blog, to Twitter’ is the general advice given today,” said Wales. “And for some brands this is absolutely the right thing to do.”

The caveat of course, is having a brand that is information dense.

Using Doritos as an example of a brand that won’t make it in the consumer generated world (due to the nature of its brand), Wales explained “I don’t believe there is ever going to be 50,000 [user generated] articles [written about Doritos].”

Another brand Wales points to is Skittles and its recent campaign, and explains that while it’s a good gimmick, it’s certainly not the future of Skittles marketing. “Interacting with customers [for brands which are not information dense] is not helpful,” Wales explained. “But, if you have a brand that’s being talked about online, you need to understand that although you cannot control what is being said, you do need to be there.”

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