Wikipedia for Marketers: The Last Word

This is a guest post by David King, a Wikipedia expert who respectfully disagrees with our agency’s policies, and asked if he could make his case. Since I am a lifelong student, a mensch (and looking for some fresh blog content), I agreed.  Take it away, David…

Wikipedia-logo-jpgSHIFT Communications gets Wikipedia. The holy waters of neutrality. The feverish protection against marketers. The religious fanaticism for verification. They even acknowledge a history of misbehavior by marketers, something not many are willing to swallow.

And it’s true that as an industry we’ve done terrible things to Wikipedia. We’ve censored content, posted advert and introduced bias. In the headlines you see complex conspiracies exposed, but Wikipedia deals with our inadequacies every day.

We spam external links because we didn’t know about Wikipedia’s rules on official links. We create articles on companies that haven’t earned them because we didn’t read Wikipedia’s criteria for notability of companies. We edit anonymously, even though Wikipedia urges us to disclose our identity.

Editing Wikipedia is easy and tempting, but being a good Wikipedian is hard.

It’s about time we take up the challenge. We can’t improve Wikipedia with a hands-off policy like SHIFT’s, nor with this form of a hands-on policy nor by pushing for broader editing privileges we haven’t earned. We can atone for marketers’ past misdeeds by becoming students, creating experts and making Wikipedia a better place because we were there.

Too Big to Ignore
Wikipedia is the sixth largest website on Alexa. It’s been ranked as the most influential website in the world. Articles from the site top 96.6% of Google searches. According to data from the Pew Internet & American Life survey, about 25 percent of Wikipedia readers have post-graduate degrees and 56 percent of adult internet users read Wikipedia. No social media platform has more educated, adult, online readers than Wikipedia. The first thing we can do to make it up to Wikipedia, is give it the respect, time and attention it deserves.

Why It’s Hard
In a world accustomed to 140 character answers and 500 word DIY (do-it-yourself) blog posts, Wikipedia’s 200+ policies and guidelines are some heavy reading material.

You may be looking for “three quick tips” to become an overnight Wikipedian, but the only golden rule you’ll ever get is “it depends.”

Wikipedia is complicated for good reasons – but then again, there are plain and simple guides like this one, which is only read 15 times a month. Wikipedians have spent a lot of time putting together instructions for us. It’s about time we read them.

What Everyone Should Know
As long as you’re civil, patient, non-argumentative and don’t engage in canvassing or votestacking, Talk pages and noticeboards will always be safe.

There are a few things everyone should know and be comfortable doing themselves.

• Request edits. Instead of editing articles directly, use {{request edit}} on the Talk page to request a neutral editor to evaluate your proposed edits and implement them on your behalf.

• Discuss it. Even volunteer editors are encouraged to discuss controversial issues on the Talk page before making edits.

• Ask Questions: The COI Noticeboard isn’t just a place to report bad actors. The COI guideline actually encourages you to ask questions there. There’s also a new Paid Editor Help Page I started as part of Wikiproject Cooperation.

• Grammar and Facts (with exceptions): You’re allowed to make grammatical fixes, revert vandalism, and make certain factual corrections, but be careful, many Wikipedians feel this is a slippery slope.

• Disclosure: Disclose your identity on your user page and on every page you edit, but if the username itself is named after your company, you’ll be banned for violating username policy.

Drawing the Line
Every SEO, digital marketing or PR professional or firm needs to decide what they can comfortably do themselves, without putting reputations at risk, and where to draw the line.

Following the advice above you can flag issues, make corrections, fix grammar, and update information, but, volunteer contributors won’t create an article on your behalf or make one that is substantially more complete. That’s where I suggest most draw the line, unless you’re willing to make a large, long-term commitment to earning your Wikipedia stripes.

Uploading images, creating company information boxes, handling tricky ethical situations, and making compliant content belongs in the hands of an expert that can reflect on case stories of criticized paid editing, consult on copyright rules and follow content guidelines.

Just like companies trust knowledgeable SEO firms to avoid blackhat SEO, companies need to have experts they can trust to be a guardian of ethics. I have no monopoly on this knowledge.

David kingDavid King (@David44357) is a marketing professional that specializes in Wikipedia. He is a regular speaker and workshop leader that raises awareness for the importance of Wikipedia and how to participate ethically. King works with politicians, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, mid-sized organizations and others to make compliant, neutral, encyclopedic improvements to Wikipedia on their behalf, following ethical best practices.

Posted on: February 13, 2012 at 9:30 am By Todd Defren
10 Responses to “Wikipedia for Marketers: The Last Word”


  • whitney Jones says:

    I agree with everything you have to say. Wikipedia has been hit hard for providing false, inaccurate information. In order to improve the site’s reputation then users need to follow the guidelines about “What Everyone Should Know.” If you are working for a company, and see something on the Wikipedia site that needs to be edited be sure to do follow the appropriate steps to do so. I learned that PR professionals need to be more open to using the Wikipedia site, because they are working to make it more credible. As a student, I have been warned frequently about the use of Wikipedia, although I do find the site resourceful. If you question what Wikipedia has to say then you have the right to submit an edit. For the most part, Wikipedia has been haunted by bad PR, but hopefully this post will help people learn more, and rethink their ideas about Wikipedia.

  • This post makes a great point, professionals are going into Wikipedia to edit an entry without taking a look at the instructions. Wikipedia has the opportunity right now to work with PR and marketing professionals in creating a better understanding of what each sides needs are. I’m curious to know, is Wikipedia less likely to accept an edit request when it is a PR professional or marketer requesting the change? This is such a hot topic right now, and I am learning more about Wikipedia than I ever thought I would.

    • David King says:

      Tagmyer. I would suspect in most cases our edits will be scrutinized under a closer magnifying glass, because we have a greater COI. When someone wants to update the Sierra Club article and they declare their COI as a member of the organization, that’s world’s apart from us.

      That being said, we can’t forget that they are only forcing us to create the content readers want. These Wikipedia articles are read by more people than their corresponding About Us, Executive bios and product pages. An incredible degree of neutrality is one of the reasons readers come to the site.

  • I think this is a fantastic article about the things Wikipedia really does for us that we don’t really look into. There are a lot of things these editors don’t get credit for since everybody believes “anyone can edit these articles” but I don’t think people really notice just how quickly those anonymous comments are deleted and edited back. Wikipedia has bad “PR” if you will because people do not seem to recognize just how accurate most of the information is.

    • David King says:

      Everyone thinks Wikipedia is “the place for college students cheating on their homework” because of the media craze about schools banning Wikipedia as a source. But Wikipedia’s readers have more college degrees by volume than any other social media site and a huge number of PhDs. Frustrated PR people will call Wikipedia admins “nazis” but these rules and overseers are why the site is so good.

  • Cassie Bates says:

    Professionals should be using the information Wikipedia provides. Is there a logical excuse not to and could it be considered a lack of due-diligence? Failing to disclose information about your identity is unethical and will most likely come back to bite you. Possibly resulting in a lack of trust for the company, brand or you as an individual.

    • David King says:

      It is already established best practice to always identify yourself online when representing a commercial interest. Many organizations simply don’t know (or haven’t thought of) how this translates to Wikipedia. For most PR/digital marketing/SEO/branding departments, Wikipedia is an afterthought, so they aren’t even aware there are instructions. We need to change that.

  • Tim Davenport says:

    On target advice.

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