7 Things Every Marketer Should Know about PR and Wikipedia

While dining at a Twin Cities restaurant recently, an evening special was cioppino. Not knowing what this was, I promptly pulled out my phone and Googled the word. What appeared was a Wikipedia page telling me that cioppino is a fish stew originating in San Francisco.

Of course I wasn't so brave as to order the fishy stew, but I was reminded of the efficient one-two punch of Google and Wikipedia. And, I'm not alone. Consumers these days are programmed to use Wikipedia as a primary, or in rare occasions secondary, research tool and for good reason. Wikipedia pages rank in the top 10 search results 95 percent of the time, according to Social Fresh. Further, Facebook, the second most trafficked site in the world, uses content directly from Wikipedia to feed its community pages. Acknowledging these SEO and social media benefits means that your company's Wikipedia page, too, is likely one of your biggest PR assets.

How to Navigate Wikipedia 

  1. Search yourself. First and foremost, make sure you're aware of any presence your company or brand may already have. You'll set yourself apart, as a full 25 percent of communicators surveyed in a recent Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) study were not familiar with their own Wikipedia pages. 
  2. Monitor. Secondly, make sure to monitor your company's page several times a year to ensure it's not hijacked by inaccurate information. 
  3. Always follow the rules! Our rule of thumb is to proceed with extreme caution when doing anything with Wikipedia. Take a close look at the rules defined by Wikipedia. The Wikipedia foundation believes employees, supporters and publicity agents (e.g. PR professionals) have conflicts of interest in creating or modifying articles and thus should not do so. 
  4. Make edits... cautiously. According to that same PRSA Wikipedia survey, 60 percent of corporate and agency PR professionals saw factual errors in their Wikipedia pages. The gold standard for remedying this is to ask Wikipedia editors to do so. You can share content suggestions or corrections though the Talk page at the upper left hand side of any Wikipedia article. Though, it may take several days to hear a response. 
  5. Talk like a Wiki-God. "Be aware that PR copy is almost always inappropriate in tone for Wikipedia," states the Organization page on Wikipedia. The site is founded on principles of verifiability and neutral point of view. For example, facts are almost always cited by a third-party website or news article and the community is generally self-policing. So, be sure to suggest sources for all of your requested content edits and provide neutral, non-partisan content.
  6. Know the risks. If you don't follow the rules at all, you might be blackballed. Because Wikipedia monitors editors through IP addresses, the site quickly outted Pepsi for wiping paragraphs about its negative health effects. Similarly, SeaWorld received bad press in 2007 for making secretive updates to its SeaWorld Wikipedia page. The SeaWorld representative, who changed "orcas" to "killer whales" and removed a sentence critical of the ocean theme park, was discovered because he/she was using a computer at Anheuser-Busch (SeaWorld’s owner). 
  7. Protest, if you want to. Through all of this, you might feel as though your hands are tied. There's a whole undercurrent of pressure to make Wikipedia's rules crisper and cleaner for corporate communications people and other company representatives. PRSA admits that clear, consistent rules for making factual corrections are needed. Further, California-based PR professional Phil Gomes created a Facebook group this time last year dedicated to corporate representatives for ethical Wikipedia engagement (CREWE). Join the discussion.  

Bottom Line

On January 15, Wikipedia will celebrate 12 years of providing free encyclopedic content. If you find your corporation or brand needs to improve its Wikipedia strategy, here are a few considerations: Acknowledge the importance of your page by monitoring it from time to time. Resist the urge to pull a Pepsi or SeaWorld; let the community police your page. If you can't sit still, use the Talk page. Be transparent.  


Image Sources: Wikipedia Public Relations Society of America

About the Author

Christina Milanowski

Christina Milanowski is a former Maccabeast.

Topics:  Social Media Marketing

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