Wikipedia. The fifth most visited website in the U.S. with over a billion monthly visits. Supplier of answers to Google’s knowledge panels and People also ask questions. Relied on by smart assistants like Siri and Alexa. Home to millions of articles about everything under the sun.
In summary, the online encyclopedia is highly visible and highly influential.
Its status and reputation make it an important part of a company’s online reputation, and yet it lies outside of a company’s control. It isn’t untouchable, per say, but it is governed by its own rules, guidelines, idiosyncrasies – and thousands of unknown editors.
For these reasons, managing a page isn’t for the uninformed or those who aren’t strategically-minded. It takes a fair amount of patience, wisdom, and resourcefulness to successfully engage with Wikipedia, and those who can call themselves experts didn’t earn the title lightly. Trust us, we know.
Table of Contents
Here’s what we’ve learned managing pages for Fortune 500 companies.
Wikipedia Pages Like the Spotlight
Pages have a way of making their way around important places. News articles reference them; prospects bring them up during sales situations; investors, and prospective and current employees all read them; CEOs review them; and competitors look for ways to leverage them.
This makes pages a priority for your digital, social media, content, brand, comms, PR, investor relations, and HR teams.
Pages are Dynamic
What you see today, may be gone tomorrow, and then – just to make things fun – it might come back two days later. Nothing is permanent.
This is both a positive and a negative. On the negative side, it means that pages are likely to degrade over time. This might be because source links die, the page isn’t updated regularly, and/or desired content is removed.
However, on the positive side, negative content might be updated with more positive or neutral content; and any account issues (such as a banned account or a locked page due to many unscrupulous edits) can be remediated. You need to constantly pay attention to your page (we offer an alert tool) and have contingency plans galore.
With time, patience, and good relationship building, we’ve successfully resolved some very extreme situations.
Having Wiki-Appropriate Sourcing Is Essential
While Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia of everything, there are rules in place determining which topics merit a page, and which don’t. Mainly, this requires that a topic meet notability requirements. If a topic is the main focus of 3-5 pieces of content from reputable, third-party sources, it qualifies for a short, stub page. The more usable sources, the longer the possible page (although there are no guarantees as to page length).
The source rule also holds true when someone wants to add content to an existing page – the content must come from reputable, third-party sources, and be relevant enough that it’s necessary for someone to comprehensively understand the page’s topic.
Just Because You Can Edit, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Follow Wikipedia’s guidelines and don’t edit your page yourself. This is in order to avoid being called out for a COI, something that can result in:
- Your edits reverted
- A COI tag added to the top of your page
- Your account suspended or banned
- Your page recommended for deletion
Editors are skilled at spotting company attempts to edit a page and will call you out. In order to avoid this, you can instead post a request for content addition or removal on your article’s Talk page (tab on the upper left). When you make your request, you need to state your COI, provide an explanation for what you want changed on the page, and include reputable, third-party sources to back you up.
Some Editors have Biases Against Companies
It’s a fact that some editors automatically think that companies are trying to turn Wikipedia into a promotional advertising platform. Unfortunately, this bias is reinforced by companies that are trying to do this, either because they don’t understand how Wikipedia works, or because they don’t particularly care about the encyclopedia’s purpose.
What this means is that there are editors frequently reviewing company pages with the clear, and sometimes stated, objective of defending the encyclopedia from any content they find to be phrased from a marketing standpoint or promotional in any sense.
How do you manage this?
In addition to not writing promotionally, understand who you’re working with. Review your page’s history (tab on the upper right) and take the time to see who frequently edits your page. Click on their username and you’ll be taken to their user account. Read over it and see what they’re like. You can also click on “contribs” next to their name when you’re on the “View history” page to see all the pages they’ve edited and all the edits they’ve made. Are they a deletionist who always thinks less is more? Do they have their own agenda? Are they genuinely interested in the topic and trying to help all related pages?
Having this information lets you know the right approach to take when you request changes to your page. A surefire way to get nowhere fast is to have little or no understanding of Wikipedia, or a feigned sense of knowledge, and then start a conversation with an editor known for being a stickler for the rules; or to request that paragraphs and paragraphs of copy be added, when your page is normally reviewed by a deletionist.
Knowing Wikipedia’s Guidelines is Critical
We’re sure this is no surprise after reading through some of our other lessons learned, but it’s important enough that it requires its own section. If you want to succeed on Wikipedia, it is extremely important that you know Wikipedia’s written and unwritten guidelines.
This means that you spend time on the site before doing anything else. Review other pages, review their talk tabs and their histories, and study Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines. As with anything else, you’ll learn more as you gain experience, but don’t think you can jump in after only reading one how-to article. Do your homework and prepare, otherwise you risk causing a lot of trouble for yourself by breaking guidelines that you didn’t even know existed.
Wikipedia has no Firm Rules and There is No Supreme Court
As we mentioned above, knowing the written and unwritten guidelines is critical, but they are only guidelines, not rules.
Wikipedia is governed by five fundamental principles, one of which is:
- Wikipedia has no firm rules: Wikipedia has policies and guidelines, but they are not carved in stone; their content and interpretation can evolve over time. The principles and spirit matter more than literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making exceptions.
While Wikipedia’s guidelines are very detailed, interpreting them is still done on an editor-by-editor basis. Everyone has their own interpretation of the guidelines and of a given circumstance, so you can see guidelines applied differently dozens of times. This can be frustrating, but it’s the way it is. Sometimes multiple editors at a time are called in to help resolve a disagreement, but you never know which editors you’re going to get, and decisions aren’t cut and dry.
Prepare yourself, be respectful when you talk to other editors, and have contingencies in place if things don’t go your way.
Wikipedia isn’t an Equitable Platform
Two companies that are of relatively equal stature can have entirely different pages and be treated differently by editors.
This is because page creation and keep-up depends on the sources available, the number of editors interested in the page, and those editors’ biases.
There is no such thing as a template for a Fortune 500 company page, and you can’t expect anything based on your competitors’ pages – or even on pages for other companies that you own.
Time Moves Slowly
Wikipedia is a long-game. Fast responses are measured in weeks, not days; and slow changes are measured in years, not months. For companies, this is often the complete opposite of everything they do, which makes it so important to keep in mind.
Make this lesson a part of your strategy and you will see more success, and fewer frustrations, overall.
The Truth Tends to Win Out
Even with all of its complexities and frustrations, most Wikipedia pages do reflect reality. It isn’t always easy, straightforward, or quick, but it does happen.
Whether you’ve been eyeing your Wikipedia page for a while, or are already knee-deep in a maze of comments and technical discussions, we can help. Call and ask us anything.