Do lawyers and law firms need Wikipedia pages? They do if they want to improve their online reputation and SEO. Wikipedia is the fourth most visited website in the world and is visited by millions of users a day.
Content from Wikipedia pages is used in Google Knowledge Panels, to answer People Also Ask questions, and to answer questions posed to voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. If you don’t have a Wikipedia page, you’re missing out on many opportunities to both reach and educate clients and colleagues.
However, if you do have a page and you ignore Wikipedia’s many guidelines, you will quickly find yourself in trouble. This post will help you avoid the pitfalls of the uninformed or misguided. It is specifically for:
- Law firms that would like a Wikipedia page
- Law firms that have a current page that needs to be updated/changed/deleted to sound more like their marketing material
- Law firms that have a current page that needs to be updated immediately
If you’re here, you likely work in communications or marketing and want quick, actionable information. After reading this, email us, schedule a quick strategy call, or look at one of our recorded webinars, and we’ll help you sort through all of your questions right away.
Index of this article:
- Manage upward, Managing expectations
- Why is Wikipedia important?
- What are the official Wikipedia rules?
- Can I just go update the page? Anyone can edit Wikipedia right?
- What are all the different parts to a Wikipedia article?
- What are the official Wikipedia rules – and how do they work in the real world?
- What can go wrong, and what are some challenges with Wikipedia?
- Let’s look at some examples
- Final thoughts
Managing Upward, Managing Expectations.
You are not the sole controller of your Wikipedia page. Anyone with internet access can edit the page at any time. This means that you’re not going to have a Wikipedia page that looks exactly like your ideal. Not for long anyway. A lot of the things that you’d have in a company produced profile, like adjectives or long lists of awards, aren’t going to be in there either.
Some of the other Wikipedia editors may not like your firm. Or, your firm may have been involved in some controversies. Whatever the reason and like it or not, it can be an ongoing challenge to get what you’ll consider fair or good coverage. The more you can convey this early on in the process, the better off you’ll be.
This is also why you don’t want to add “Wikipedia expert” to your list of responsibilities. Trust me, it’s a complicated platform requiring constant attention. You’re far better off having a resource that you can use, that you can consult, and that can provide you with reports.
Why is Wikipedia Important?
Well, you and your firm have decided it’s important. You want a page, or want information updated and corrected. So, there’s that 🙂
In a vacuum, though:
- It is a definitive source for clients and press
- It’s an “objective” research tool: Google any company and notice the results
- It almost always ranks in the top 3 on Google for any keyword, person or place
- 380+ Million Unique views per DAY
- It takes up the vast majority of the top right side of Google since Google eliminated right side desktop ads
- Wikipedia content populates Knowledge Panels
- Google’s People Also Ask results pull from Wikipedia
- Carousel search results, popular on mobile devices, not only pull data from Wikipedia, but also contain page urls, driving more traffic to the site
- Siri, Alexa, and other smart assistants use Wikipedia articles to answer voice searches
What are the official Wikipedia rules?
- Assume good faith: Work with the assumption that other editors are making edits and comments because they care about a topic and want to see it correctly and comprehensively written as an encyclopedia article. All edits should focus on adding relevant information and correcting errors.
- Neutral Point of View: No adjectives. No best, no only, no world’s first, unless you can prove that’s the case with multiple, nationally recognized, third-party sources.
- Copyrights: Copyright infringement is quickly deleted. This means you can’t copy that carefully crafted verbiage that your firm’s communications team has scrubbed, agonized over, and finally gotten approval to publish. Of course, you also can’t copy it because it would break rule #2.
- Notability: A good rule of thumb is that you need 3-5 reputable, third-party sources to merit a short, stub page on Wikipedia. More than that and you might be able to draft additional content. Less, and you need to focus on generating coverage before you tackle Wikipedia.
- Reliable sources: This means a third-party source. You can’t use your press releases, interviews, your official site, your annual report, or any sponsored posts. Hah.
- Verifiability: Other users must be able to check that the information in the citation comes from a reliable source.
Working within these rules requires you to adopt the mantra “slow and steady wins the race.” Edits will take time and can involve a lot of back-and-forth. This can be challenging when you’re in an organization that is looking for concrete, immediate results but it’s the name of the game when it comes to Wikipedia.
Can I just go update a page?
You can, but it probably won’t go well. Most of the people we talk to, actually, have tried it on their own or had someone in their organization try it on their own, and had it go poorly. There are a variety of Wikipedia rules and norms that are completely counter-intuitive to what a well meaning professional might try. Easy example; your website lists your leadership team. Makes sense, your firm knows the best way to represent its leaders. But, you can’t use your own website as a source.
You also should know that Wikipedia requests that anyone affiliated with a page refrain from editing in order to keep the page as neutral as possible.
“You are discouraged from writing articles about yourself or organizations (including their campaigns, clients, products and services) in which you hold a vested interest. However, if you feel that there is material within an existing article which is incorrect, or not neutral in its tone, you should point this out on the article’s talk page.”
While you can ignore this guideline, you need to know that all page edits are publicly logged and identified by either a user account or an IP address. Wikipedia editors are skilled at not only recognizing corporate accounts, but also on recognizing self-edit patterns. They might also get alerts every time a page is updated. It’s harder than you think to avoid detection.
If you do edit your own page and get caught, you might face account deletion or suspension, have all your edits reverted, or have a COI or other tag added to the top of your page. Depending on the extent of your edits, your entire page could even face deletion.
Yikes. Bottom line – the seeming ease of self-editing usually isn’t worth the headaches that follow.
Breaking down a Wikipedia page, what are the parts?
Here’s your 5 minute crash course.
In addition to the article itself, you’ll find some useful tabs on the top of the page.
The Talk tab is a place for anyone interested in the page to share information. Editors might bring up concerns, ask for opinions, or share updates. This is also where you can ask someone to edit the page for you. To do that, identify yourself and your affiliation with your law firm, share the specific content that you’d like added, edited, or deleted, and include reliable, noteworthy, third-party sources to back yourself up.
Onto the View History tab. Click on this and you will see every single edit ever made on your page. You’ll also see who made the edit (either an account name or IP address), and possibly a description of why the edit was made. You can click on any user identification and see all the edits that they’ve made and the pages they made them on.
Spend some time in this History section and find out:
- When your page was last updated
- How often your page is updated
- If there are any repeat editors
This will help you when you have edits you want made. You’ll have a better sense of how long it might take someone to reply to your edit request, and will also have an understanding of what types of edits successfully stick on a page. History updates? Influential cases? Look and find out.
There are a lot of ways that dealing with Wikipedia can move from a “we’ll get around to that at some point” to a “Code Red Fire drill!!!!”
- Your page can get edited at any time either by someone legitimately trying to make it better, someone biased with a negative opinion, or a troll who only wants to create trouble. There isn’t always something you can do about this. If an edit was written with neutral language and backed up by Wikipedia-friendly sources, it’s there to stay.
- Edit wars – companies like each project to have a final completion date. They’re not set up to handle a nicely crafted Wikipedia page going live, then 45 minutes later one word is changed, and then two weeks later in the middle of the night a paragraph is rewritten, etc. If you undo the changes you don’t like, and then someone quickly undoes your “undo,” you can find yourself in an Edit War. Nothing good is going to come of this. Reach out on the Talk page and ask for mediation.
- Big, big controversies can take over a page – Does this look like fun to manage?
What’s the best way to deal with these challenges?
- Find someone within your firm to serve as a watchperson – or work with an external expert
- If using someone internally, have that person familiarize themselves with Wikipedia’s modus operandi
- Establish monitoring practices
- Create your own Wikipedia processes so that your watchperson knows what to do in the case biased or untrue information is added to the page. For more information, check out Crisis Management: When Wikipedia Turns Against You.
Monitoring a page
There are several different approaches to monitoring a Wikipedia page.
The first is just bookmarking it, and looking at it every once in a while.
There are also the following:
- Wiki alert
- Add an extension in your browser, hook it up to your Watchlist, and every time a page you follow is updated, you’ll get an update in your browser.
- Wikipedia’s email tool
- Get alerted by Wikipedia any time one of your tracked pages is edited. Visually, the Wikipedia tool is more technical, and the pages can only be tracked by one account & one email address.
- The Mather Group’s tool
- The Mather Group tool allows a user to input their email address and track any pages they’d like without being tied to a single Wikipedia account. When one of the tracked pages is edited, an email will be sent containing the visual differences of the page before and after the change.
Let’s look at different firm’s pages.
Learning by example is sometimes best. Let’s see how law firms are represented on Wikipedia.
First, there are several categories for law firms. You can look at law firms by country or law firms by specialty. Here’s a list of U.S. law firms by profits per partner.
At the bottom of every Wikipedia page, are the categories that the particular page belongs to. Adding relevant categories to your page can be a great way to increase your presence on Wikipedia.
The bottom of Davis, Polk & Wardwell’s page shows the following categories:
If you click on each category, you can see what other firms belong to them. For example, a click can take you to a page with a list of intellectual property law firms.
Or, you could look at this list: Law Firms Established in 2000
It’s a great way to see how other firms are represented.
Some law firm examples:
- Kirkland & Ellis: an extensive Talk page
- Holland & Knight – notice the request at the top for more neutral content and the removal of promotional content and inappropriate external links.
- Hunton & Williams – this article needs additional citations. The more approved, third party links you can use in an article, the better.
Law Firm stubs (briefly, not fully built out examples of Wikipedia pages):
- Sadis & Goldberg – this article relies too heavily on self-published and primary sources.
- Hammonds – a stub page that wouldn’t be expected to change much.
If you have a lot of time, you CAN do this yourself. Think about your time though, and look over your calendar. Are there more valuable ways you should be spending your day? If yes, talk to someone who spends a lot of time dealing with Wikipedia to get a realistic view of your situation. We’re happy to chat at any time.