How Wikipedia’s New Social Network Could Impact Social Marketing

Facebook is no stranger to controversy. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to numerous revelations regarding abuse and misappropriation of user data,  it seems as though the social network perpetually has egg on its face. Not surprisingly, people are getting fed up.

According to Edison Research, the number of American Facebook users closing their accounts is now in the millions. People are leaving the social network in droves – at least, they’re trying to. Given Facebook’s sheer ubiquity, quitting it is something that’s easier said than done. 

“The costs of leaving Facebook are huge,” artist Jillian Clemmons told Market Watch. “So much of social life is tied to Facebook, I can’t even get the location information I need for an event I RSVP-ed to for next weekend, since it’s solely on Facebook.”

Amidst all this, an alternative has appeared, courtesy of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Known as Wikitribune Social, it will be supported in the same fashion as Wikipedia. Rather than relying on a data-driven model and ad monetization, Wikitribune will run entirely on user donations.

In creating this social network, Wales hopes to both combat the spread of fake news and provide users who want to once again claim ownership over their data with a social network that will enable them to do so. 

“The business model of social network companies, pure advertising, is problematic,” Wales said in an interview with The Financial Times. “It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content…People are fed up with all the junk that’s around.”

Indeed, directly on the landing page for the site, WT Social makes the assertion that it will never sell user data, and mentions the issues of fake news and the hollowness of engagement algorithms. It is, at its core, a social network about user empowerment. Perhaps most interestingly, it allows anyone to edit content about anyone else – something Wales has himself admitted may be problematic, though he expressed faith that the community will largely police itself. 

He has also acknowledged that it will not be profitable. It will simply be sustainable. And maybe, someday, it’ll change social media as a whole. 

At this point, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with marketing and business. After all, WT Social by its very nature seems entirely incompatible with any sort of revenue model. And it’s true, it is – but that’s not where its value lies from a marketing perspective. 

On a social network like WT Social, you’d have the opportunity to truly interact with your audience. To understand who they are, what they want, and what interests them. Absent of any sales or advertising pressure, you can gain a better understanding of them than might ever be possible elsewhere.

This is, of course, assuming WT Social takes off and other social networks begin following its lead. At the time of writing, it has only 200,000 users.  If and when it grows larger, it could bring about real change elsewhere in the social media ecosystem.

But even until then, it’s something that’s well worth paying attention to.