What to do about Wikipedia

We’ve all been there. You’re online to see what people are saying about your brand. You arrive at Wikipedia and... it’s wrong. The page gives financials from two years ago, your last CEO but one is still in charge, the logo is out of date. How best to fix it?You’re a comms professional with your ear to the ground and you know how badly things can turn out if you edit about yourself or your clients (just ask Bell Pottinger or David Coburn).

Wikipedia is a dichotomy. It’s the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, and it’s easy. But it has lots of complicated rules, which can be difficult. It’s definitely not a marketing platform, but equally it is an important source of information about your brand. The numbers alone demonstrate why Wikipedia needs to be taken seriously.

There will soon be five million articles on the English language Wikipedia and about 30 million across 288 languages.It attracts close to 500 million unique visitors every month with around 22 billion page views and has been edited close to two billion times. It has between 75,000- 100,000 active volunteer editors – known as Wikipedians – making at least five edits a month. And it’s the sixth most visited property on the web.

But, beyond the raw numbers, there’s the Google Factor. Google’s algorithm loves Wikipedia. It places the site almost always on the front page of search results and has started pulling content from encyclopedia articles to use in its knowledge graph. It usually won’t appear before your corporate website in the listing, but the chances are it won’t be far behind.

The good news is that it can be pretty straightforward to get articles updated if you are patient, transparent and respect the encyclopedia and the community behind it. The bad news is that if you ignore the rules and the community, it’s easy to get into difficulty. Here’s a breakdown of some things that are important to understand before beginning to interact with Wikipedia.

RESPECT THE EDITING COMMUNITY

It’s really important to remember that Wikipedia is written and curated by volunteers who aren’t paid for their endeavours. Mostly it is a hobby, something that they do to share knowledge about their passions and interests. Understand that many aren’t interested in your company or your chief executive and be patient in your interactions.

Getting a correction on Wikipedia isn’t the same as calling a journalist to let them know there’s a mistake in their article. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because...

PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THE ENCYCLOPEDIA

A knowledge base like Wikipedia doesn’t become significant through indifference. People care about its accuracy and its neutrality enough to want to help. It might not always be their priority to spend time helping comms folks, but there is help available. Remember – the community wants the article to be accurate as well, although...

ACCURATE DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN POSITIVE

This is a fundamental point for those in our industry and one of the trickiest to accept. When your stock-in-trade is reputation and your Wikipedia article contains sections on controversies you’d prefer to be forgotten, clicking the edit button to make it go away is extremely tempting.

Do not do this. Do not think about doing this. Editing about yourself or your brand is seen as a conflict of interest – that one is naturally inclined to be positive rather than neutral. What will happen if you do edit articles about your brand directly is that this will be spotted – maybe not immediately, but eventually, especially if you are a big brand – then reported, then the old news goes back into the article, along with links and references to the new negative coverage.

FAMILIARISE YOURSELF WITH THE CULTURE AND THE RULES

The relationship between communications and PR and Wikipedia hasn’t always been an easy one. However, it is improving as clear rules of engagement become defined and there’s an increased understanding from both sides. A particularly important effort was carried out by the CIPR social media panel, working with Wikimedia UK volunteers, to create a set of guidelines for communications professionals engaging with Wikipedia. I highly recommend spending half an hour reading this. It’s free to download – simply search for CIPR Wikipedia guidelines. This is the best effort I’ve seen at exploring this topic in more detail.

GETTING STARTED

The first thing to do is create an account. There’s a link in the top right corner of every Wikipedia page and the process is self-explanatory. 

Give some thought to your username but reflecting your real identity lends more credibility in the eyes of many Wikipedians and I recommend this, but don’t use your company name. Transparency is important and by being open you are reassuring the community that you are happy to play by its rules.

When you register, you also get a user page. This is your main account page and you can leave messages here, explain who you are, what you’re interested in – anything at all. But like on any website, be cautious about giving away too much personal information.

USING TALK PAGES

Here’s perhaps the most useful piece of information for communications people. Every Wikipedia article has an associated Talk page. You can find this by clicking the Talk tab in the top left corner of the article. This is the place to make suggestions, provide sources to updated information and ask volunteer editors to fix anything that’s incorrect. It’s also worth taking a look at some other Talk pages where communications folks have had success, such as the page about the CIPD or the RICS.

The approach of these two organisations worked really well and are examples of good practice.

NOTICEBOARDS AND OTHER HELP

Sometimes change can be very slow in coming, especially if your article doesn’t attract much traffic. It might also be that Wikipedians aren’t very receptive to your engagement. There are ways in which you can escalate requests for help. The best place for those in our industry to get help on an article they are connected with is the Conflict of Interest Noticeboard. Simply visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest/Noticeboard and leave your comments here and someone will be along to help you. You can also ask for help at the Wikipedia

Teahouse (search WP:Teahouse). This is an area for people new to editing Wikipedia. Many experienced editors are on hand there to answer any and all of your questions.

BECOME A WIKIPEDIAN

One of the best ways to encourage engagement with the community is to join us! Wikipedians are inclined to help each other so if you can show you genuinely want to help the encyclopedia, help might be more forthcoming. If there’s a topic you are especially interested in, or knowledgeable about, try making a few edits. Comms professionals are especially well placed to improve the site because of their skill set. Editing Wikipedia is also a really good way to sharpen other skills, such as digital literacy and research skills. Since other editors can see all of the edits you’ve made, this is an excellent way to build credibility. And we need your help!

LEARN MORE

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes on Wikipedia to make it tick. If you take a click on the community portal on the left of any page, this will open up a whole new area of Wikipedia that most people are unfamiliar with. Take a look ‘under the bonnet’ and you’ll learn a lot very quickly. Free booklets and guides to Wikipedia are available from Wikimedia UK and you can always call the charity for advice.

Visit www.wikimedia.org.uk for more.

 

CASE STUDY

Katy Adalar, corporate communications manager, CIPD

I’d always been very wary of going anywhere near Wikipedia as when I first started out in PR just over ten years ago it was drummed into me that it’s a no-go area for comms professionals.

But then I discovered the Talk pages on every Wikipedia article and realised that other communications managers had successfully engaged with the Wikipedia community to improve the accuracy of articles about the organisations they worked for. The BP example in the CIPR guidelines was the one that really gave me the confidence to get stuck in and have a go – and it really paid off.

Like any community, the best way to engage with it is to become a part of it yourself, and learn first-hand what’s involved in editing an article. So, I registered my profile and became a Wikipedian myself. I started by editing some random articles about Japanese pop songs to improve the spelling and grammar, then went on to introduce myself in the Talk page of the CIPD article, which was in dire need of updating. Take a look at the page yourself to see the approach I took and how a complete stranger (who actually turns out to be a CIPD member) started helping me to whip the article into shape. There’s still some work to do, but a lot of the outdated and irrelevant text has been taken down and replaced with more accurate and up-to-date information.

I’m sure there are so many people out there who don’t know about the Talk pages, and who either get their fingers burned by editing articles directly themselves, or otherwise stay clear altogether and miss an opportunity to protect and enhance their organisation’s brand. I found working with Wikipedians surprisingly easy and productive, and I learnt a lot through the process – so much so that I was inspired to share what I’d learned with the rest of my organisation via the newsroom on our Intranet.

 

SOME DOS AND DON’TS

Do:

• Create an account

• Be transparent about your work

• Suggest changes on the talk page

• Be patient

• Become a Wikipedian

• Search CIPR Wikipedia Guidelines – then read them

Don’t:

• Edit articles about your company

• Edit articles about your executives

• Use flowery or overly positive language

• Get into edit wars

• Expect change immediately

• Ignore the editing community