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Wikipedia and reputation management

Go on, search for your company. I dare you not to find a Wikipedia entry in the first page of results, if you’re a company of a certain size or significance. Now be honest–are you engaged at all in that Wikipedia article? Or, when you are Googling your paid search terms and your organization name, is the Wikipedia article on the topic one that your eyes carelessly slide past? What are you thinking?


Wikipedia entries consistently rank in the top 10 results for any query (see: A Survival Guide to SEO & Wikipedia). In comparisons with traditional shelved references, Wikipedia is generally found to be more inclusive and no less reliable (see Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica and Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia). Wikipedia isn’t perfectly reliable, it absolutely isn’t. But neither are the traditional reference books. Caveat lector.
If you decide to include Wikipedia in your Web strategy, proceed carefully. Here’s some points to consider:

  • First, understand the editorial policies of Wikipedia.
  • Understand that you are giving away your writing when you write for Wikipedia. Note the text shown below any article’s edit box: “You irrevocably agree to release your contributions under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 License and the GFDL. You agree that a hyperlink or URL is sufficient attribution under the Creative Commons license. See the Terms of Use for details.”
  • Be aware that your contributions may be flagged for potential bias as well. The following text may be appended to your articles: “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view.” This is actually good. This means that 1) you’re not trying to obscure your connection to the topic, and 2) that someone checked out your article. The Wikipedia community favors honest disclosure.
  • There is no undo. Once you submit the article, it is public content. It can be edited, reduced, refined, expanded, diminished, but it is there. So don’t go publishing your quarterly earnings on Wikipedia ahead of the release to the street.

So let’s publish a Wikipedia article to help with our search strategy! Right? Or not? First, before you write the articles that you care deeply about, familiarize yourself with the process:

  • Read the Community Portal for Wikipedia, and edit a few articles that are calling out for it. (The Typo Team is a great place to start.)
  • Make a Wikipedia profile, and make note of any potential sources of bias in your profile.
  • Review existing articles on topics that are similar to any you are seeking to create.
  • Before editing any article, read the talk page for that article to understand any existing edit-wars. You don’t want to walk into a fight without doing some reconnaissance.
  • Please do not bite the newcomers” is a real Wikipedia policy. Understand that you might be barked at, but participation is intended to occur civilly and recourse is available if it isn’t–so you shouldn’t be bitten.
  • If a Wikipedia article is defaming something you care about, has factual errors, or is offending you–first, fix it. If this is a recurring problem, then dispute resolution help is available.

Following these steps should assure you of a fairly decent first article on Wikipedia. But they’re hardly sufficient. A Wikipedia article will need care and feeding over time, so plan to revisit the article occasionally. A good option for reminders is to set up a watchlist, and subscribe to the RSS feed of that watchlist.
I wish I could tell you to sit back and relax once the article is done but, sadly, resting on your laurels is not an option. But when is it ever an option nowadays? Remember: updating Wikipedia is not a one-and-done exercise. You’ll need to plan for some time to stay engaged with the pages you create going forward. To keep yourself motivated, check your analytic tool afterward–when done properly, you’ll likely see some high-quality, lengthy visits showing up on your sites from Wikipedia.  And that can be motivation enough to stay connected to the Wikipedia process, and can provide a significant ROI for the time spent on the article.

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