When it comes to Wikipedia, a huge gap exists between what the company's executives and marketers expect and what the Wikipedia community actually allows. Wikipedia articles are often created to demonstrate the perceived importance of a company or individual, and because they often rank highly in Google search results, their subjects frequently try to assert control of their Wikipedia pages.
As a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, however, Wikipedia can’t be controlled. Instead, volunteer Wiki editors and administrators govern the site, and they're quick to uphold its many rules and guidelines in an effort to maintain, among other things, a neutral tone. Not even Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's cofounder, has control over his own bio. Wales caught heat in 2005 when he edited his own Wikipedia article and declared himself the sole founder. As a result, Wales's Wikipedia bio now includes a subsection entitled, "Controversy regarding Wales's status as cofounder."
[Related: The 12 commandments of Wikipedia ]
The "reality distortion field" that surrounds the site often inspires marketers and PR managers to edit Wikipedia pages with little or no prior experience — and many of them quickly find themselves in hot water. So if you're thinking of creating or editing a Wikipedia article, or hiring an outsider to do it, the following advice could help you avoid some serious missteps.
Make sure you understand Wikipedia's definition of 'notable'
Wikipedia is not a marketing tool, so don’t treat it like one, says Samuel Smith, creative director, Limitless Interactive. "There are countless marketing vehicles out there that you can leverage to build brand awareness and communicate your message to customers, employees, and shareholders." Wikipedia isn't one of them, he says.
The first step in creating a new Wikipedia article is to make sure the article's subject meets Wikipedia's notability guidelines. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a directory. And a topic needs to be notable to warrant its own article. So the question is not why you want a Wikipedia article; it's why you deserve one — and more importantly: Can you prove you deserve one?
"Just because you think you're notable doesn't mean Wikipedia's community will agree," Smith says. "Winning a local business award from your Chamber of Commerce isn't notable. Receiving an honor from the White House usually is."
When multiple, credible media outlets write about a company, it's usually a good indicator of notability and should help a Wikipedia article get accepted by the community. "If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject, it is presumed to be suitable for a standalone article or list," according to Wikipedia's guidelines.
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"Reliable sources" could include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, TechCrunch.com, and Computerworld.com, as opposed to an individual's blog, for example. "If no reliable third-party sources can be found on a topic, then it should not have a separate article," according to Wikipedia.
David King, owner of Ethical Wiki, says he contributes to Wikipedia "ethically and transparently" on behalf of clients. "[I]n almost 100 percent of cases when someone wants to create a new Wikipedia page, the person or organization doesn't meet Wikipedia's requirements to qualify for a page," he says.
Do not write or edit your own Wikipedia article
If you believe your company passes the notability test, but Wiki volunteers have not yet created an article for your organization, you may be tempted to take matters into your own hands. The DIY approach to Wikipedia, however, is usually a bad idea. Such DIY Wikipedia contributions also sometimes come from people with little or no prior Wikipedia editing experience, and that can raise red flags in the Wiki community.
Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest (COI) guidelines are designed to maintain an objective, "just-the-facts" tone. When companies and individuals create or contribute to their own Wikipedia articles, their goals are often to serve specific interests, instead of making Wikipedia a more valuable resource. The results can be subjective, if not downright promotional — a major no-no on Wikipedia.
Richard Heby, head of content for Hokku PR, says he's worked with a number or clients who wanted to write their own Wikipedia entries. "Their pages immediately got flagged for not having enough research. They didn't get taken down, but I had to go in there to fix things up, find the research, and cite it correctly. These ultimately were successful pages, but they began as glorified press releases. Again, this is what can happen when you write about yourself."
In other words, you're better off hiring an experienced editor to create or edit your Wikipedia article. But this approach also comes with caveats.
Disclose paid edits and conflicts of interest
Wikipedia's conflict of interest guidelines state: "Editors with a financial conflict of interest, including paid editors, are advised not to edit affected articles."
And if you seek additional advice on how to properly manage a Wikipedia page, read "The 12 commandments of Wikipedia."