GUEST POST: Getting Wikipedia Right

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Editor’s note: If you’re an Eastwick client, you’ve probably heard us wax on about Wikipedia. We’re believers, and we’ve helped some of our favorite companies and executives find their way there. It works well for them because we play by the rules. If they’re new to Wikipedia, we’ve helped them create the foundation that keeps their content intact, even in competitive marketplaces. And if they’ve struggled with clarity of content in the past, we’ve helped them scrub things up so their content stays put.

Our collaborator Pete Forsyth is a respected advisor and thought leader on Wikipedia. We see eye-to-eye on best practices and actually like the rules that make this forum challenging for those who would want Wikipedia to be something other than what it is.

His guidelines below frame up the approach we take to shaping our clients’ presence on Wikipedia and hint at some of the complexities and insights inherent in this unique forum. Want a Wikipedia presence, or need to bring one up to par? Let’s talk and help you “notably” claim the place you deserve.


Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies

Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies
Photo by Ellis Christopher

Getting Wikipedia Right

If your goal is to help people understand your business, you’ve probably thought about Wikipedia and its sometimes-mystifying array of opportunities, risks, and conundrums.

As the web’s most visited original content destination – drawing traffic from direct access, Google, Facebook, and countless other sources – Wikipedia’s importance in shaping the public’s understanding of any topic cannot be underestimated.

Famously, Wikipedia bills itself as the “encyclopedia anyone can edit.” And it’s true: with a few clicks, you can make immediate changes to an article that’s accessed tens of thousands of times a day. What’s more, unlike most web sites, you don’t even have to create an account to do so, much less give up personal information or prove who you are.

If you’re part of a business, especially one in a competitive marketplace (and that’s pretty much any business) you might be nervous. Will the next person to influence your reputation be a veteran Wikipedia volunteer? A fan or friend of your business? A competitor?

Take a deep breath. Even though everyone has the technical ability to edit Wikipedia, there are many rules about what can and can’t be posted. So, when a change is made without regard for the rules, it is usually quickly undone (or “reverted”) by one of the site’s dedicated volunteers.

You see, the real trick to Wikipedia is not just how to post content – it’s how to post content that sticks. Information that complies with the rules tends to survive, while hype, spin, untruths, ambiguities, promotion, and conjecture tend to be swiftly reverted.

Are there exceptions? Of course! But on the whole, those who take the time to understand and abide by Wikipedia’s rules will be more successful at making “sticky” edits that last, than those who don’t.

You probably have experience with social media sites like Facebook or Yelp; but on Wikipedia, the rules are different. Wikipedia is not social media. It is driven by an unique consensus-based decision process, where articles are built according to a set of widely accepted principles. Articles have to be based in fact, not opinion or conjecture. They must reflect a neutral point of view. They have to conform to a high standard of sourcing. Wikipedia is better understood as a form of earned media than a form of social media. In fact, getting things done on Wikipedia is more like persuading a reporter to make a story about your company more accurate than it is like updating a Facebook or Twitter feed.

In short: truth and data rule. Hype and spin (either positive or negative) drool.

Wikipedia is a complex project: with 4 million articles in English alone, 300 language editions, and 100,000 contributors around the world, there is no “one size fits all” approach to improving Wikipedia content. So before you take a single step on Wikipedia, if you want to avoid trouble, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the rules. Wikipedia has hundreds, but don’t worry – you don’t need to read them all.

To get started, learn the five pillars of Wikipedia, and the guideline around conflicts of interest (COI), as you plan your Wikipedia path. If you decide to work on an article about your business, be sure to clearly disclose who you are, and make heavy use of the article’s talk page to discuss proposed changes with more experienced editors.

There’s art to this as well as science, and learning from experienced professionals increases the likelihood of achieving good results on Wikipedia, and reduces the possibility of getting off to a bad start.

For best practices and actual hands-on implementation – a process that takes time and may not be best as a “DIY” – talk with your team at Eastwick, or explore the web site of my consulting firm, Wiki Strategies.

Follow Ellen, Eastwick, and Pete on Twitter.

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