The Agency Business: PR firms adopting wikis to buoy internal, external comms

Wikis are a new technology that can offer users a host of communications benefits. Now many PR agencies are incorporating wikis to collaborate on press releases and to aid in media relations.

Wikis are a new technology that can offer users a host of communications benefits. Now many PR agencies are incorporating wikis to collaborate on press releases and to aid in media relations.

The flux of new technologies entering the market is enough to give the average PR pro a migraine. Just when one understands blogs, early adopter colleagues point out real simple syndication (RSS). Now water-cooler talk revolves around wikis, which can provide PR firms with internal communications enhancements; make writing press releases and communiques more of a team effort; and provide new opportunities for soft launches, tipping off journalists, and communicating with clients. A wiki is a software product that acts like an intranet and allows multiple users to work on documents and web pages at the same time - from anywhere in the world. Wikis have come to the fore through the development of online wikipedias, like en.wikipedia. org, which allows multiple users to alter "encyclopedia" entries. Constantin Basturea, PR blogger curator of The New PR wiki, www.thenewpr.com, says deploying wikis now can give firms a competitive edge. "A wiki is putting everyone on the same page, literally, and it allows people 'to share' the wiki's space, plans, documents, ideas, comments, which is, in fact, the meaning of 'communication,'" Basturea says via e-mail. His wiki is geared toward new media edification for his PR comrades. Ross Mayfield, founder and CEO of Socialtext, a provider of enterprise wikis, says PR pros are starting to get the technology. Socialtext has been in existence since 2002 and had 50 customers, including Disney and Kodak. "We really were the first company to productize wikis as tools for broad business uses," Mayfield says, adding that several undisclosed PR agencies use the firm's products. Voce Communications, the AOR for application wiki provider JotSpot and newly minted Socialtext competitor, uses its new client's wiki at its 30-person firm. "It's become our intranet of sorts, and we're using it as an intranet for our clients," says Mike Manuel, a senior client executive at Voce. Socialtext wiki products come in different forms, but the general platform pricing is on a per-user, per-month basis and starts at $995 for five users for one year. It then costs $30 per additional user per month, with volume discounts for 20 users, 50 users, and more. JotSpot is still in beta mode and is offering free trials. Manual says the firm is contemplating charging $5 per month per user. "The unstructured nature of wikis keeps it simple and easy to use, allowing users to communicate at a low cost," Mayfield says, adding that wikis change communication from point-to-point to hub-and-spoke. Primarily, wikis allow people to collaborate on documents. This could include press releases, mission statements, crisis communications strategies, media lists, blogs, internal company communiques, and a whole slew of other documents. Melissa Walia, JotSpot's PR director, says that wikis are incredibly useful for collaborating on press releases. With an intranet, she says, you have to track down the person who created the document, rather than changing an error instantaneously on a wiki. "PR is such a timely business, so it can be a huge benefit," Walia says. Mayfield says that the PR firm could draft a wiki page that reads like a statement of work for the client. The home page of that wiki can be that document, and each paragraph can link to other pages that point out where that step had been fulfilled. PR firms can also use wikis for market research and issue tracking, especially with Google news alerts, RSS feeds, and blogs making it much easier to know what stakeholders are saying about your product. "It's a great way to track buzz for a client and communicate what your analysis [of that buzz] is," Mayfield says. Conversely, it's also an easy way to stave off negative buzz from blogs and participatory journalism. "The greatest hedge against crisis communications is the participation of a larger and more diverse group," Mayfield says. PR pros can create private client spaces and integrated weblogs, and can maintain consistent communication with a client. It also allows organizations to cut down on e-mail. Mayfield cites as a general business benefit of wikis the case study of customer Ziff Davis Media, which says that a group of 50 employees who got 100 group messages a day saved the company $1 million a year in soft costs, such as time and bandwidth issues, by switching those communications to wikis. Signs you might want to consider a wiki
  • A press release went out with an error because the deadline was approaching and a change wasn't implemented
  • Your clients look for you to be an early adopter of networking and social technology coming through the pipeline
  • You often have projects that require the constant feedback of multiple users in different countries
  • You've deleted the 20th office-wide e-mail by noon, and not one has had information pertaining to you
  • Your intranet is too bulky and expensive for your needs

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