Lately we’ve received a spate of client inquiries about Wikipedia.
“Can we create our own entry? Can we edit our entry? How do you find the line between promotion and fact? Why is Wikipedia so important in the first place?”
Here are some answers.
When you think about your old Britannica, the encyclopedias of yesteryear only included “major” subjects, those that would be of wide interest to the majority of people. Wikipedia, however, has a stunning breadth that matches the interests of a diverse, global population. It is an encyclopedia by the people, for the people.
And Wikipedia’s influence has skyrocketed in recent years. It is constantly linked to by bloggers, and is constantly being updated: as a result, Wikipedia entries rank quite high in Google search results – which only adds to the site’s power.
There’s a “dark side” to Wikipedia’s popularity, influence and openness.
Marketers have been known to try to take advantage, by adding or editing entries about their companies, competitors or industries: they know that Wikipedia is viewed as an authoritative resource, so if they can “sneak” some salutary edits into the system, it could benefit their reputation.
Having been burned numerous times on this front, Wikipedia now has strict guidelines to block organizations from writing their own profiles. From the site: “Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion, or a vanity press.”
Wikipedia has “Conflict of Interest” rules, to discourage self-promotion. One of the ways they test if an organization is “worthy” of its own entry is to see how many reliable, independent, secondary sources are already talking about the topic and/or organization.
This is definitely a frustration for many people, who complain that Wikipedia has an established culture and format and that its top editors can seem (arbitrarily) fastidious. And it is particularly tough for marketers to swallow. “Why is Wikipedia is open to all … except to business people?” (Because they tend to abuse the privilege, that’s why.)
So, should you try to create a Wikipedia entry about your company or product, or for that new Three-Letter-Acronym you just created?
The answer is, “Maybe.” You need to understand the “rules of the road” – and even then (to extend the car analogy), “your mileage may vary.”
If you do decide to create or edit an entry in Wikipedia, you need to strip your content of all marketing language or plaudits. Just the facts.
Ask yourself whether you already have enough PR clout to warrant a Wikipedia listing. If you’re a start-up or a local pizzeria, it’s not likely you need (or deserve) a Wikipedia entry.
Ask yourself if Wikipedia is going to offer more content to people than what you’d offer on your own website. If the answer is, “No, but Wikipedia has better Google juice,” then sheathe your keyboard.
Wikipedia is a place for official data points that could add context about your industry, as well as to catalog significant events (good and bad). Wikipedia is not a place for promotion or tomfoolery. Keep in mind that even if your edits slip past the official wiki cops, some troublemaker (or competitor!) could use WikiScanner to call you out for manipulation.
And what if your company already has a Wikipedia entry – and you don’t like it?
According to Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, speaking at a Direct Marketing Association event, the course is clear:
- Don’t just change the page. You will look like you are trying to manipulate it unethically (even if you aren’t).
- Every Wikipedia page has a “Discussion” tab. Enter your questions, additions, and complaints here.
- The editors will read them and address them.
- Most important: It demonstrates that you, the business, understand correct Wikipedia etiquette.
Over time, you may also want to encourage third-party resources (happy customers?) to work on the entry, if possible. But, again, they’d need to keep their assistance neutral, transparent, and factual.
Whatever you do, don’t ask your PR firm to get involved directly in the editing. The agency can help gut-check the content’s quality and tone, but PR types are not welcome on Wikipedia. (We can’t even edit the entry on Public Relations! – But that’s another post.)
Hope this helps. If it did, maybe you could share it with your pals? And subscribe to PR-Squared? Thanks!
Posted on: November 12, 2008 at 11:33 am By Todd Defren