With humble beginnings of only 218 active participants at the end of its introductory year in 2001, Wikipedia has grown into a juggernaut of information, second only to Google in informational searching. The site now boasts more than 22 million registered users, 71,000 of which are active “Wikipedians” generating more than 31 million articles, to date. Yet despite its longevity and multitude of editors, Wikipedia continues to be shrouded in mystery for companies and professional communicators who try to harness its power to communicate or mitigate reputation damage.
Though anyone is allowed to make edits to any page, meeting relevancy, tone and sourcing requirements are strictly policed by Wikipedia’s 1,400 administrators to maintain the integrity of the site. This can be problematic for companies or individuals trying to earn a coveted spot on this resource. You must be able to prove information seekers outside of your local geography would care enough to search for you. This requirement is partially achieved with a variety of acceptable sources, which must be published, traceable, relevant and authentic (and cannot just be the news release section of your website). Companies and organizations that have most successfully met these tests are those with long-term media relations campaigns, generating numerous published articles written by credible journalists, proving their worth and factual content.
Yet, even with such threshold requirements met, “tone” can make or break the acceptance of a particular page. The tendency to craft content in the form of a marketing bio or “About Us” backgrounder is rampant among those trying to use the site as a more searchable extension of their own websites. But in Wikipedia world, these are deemed too “promotional” and grounds for dismissal. To earn your spot in the Wikipedia community, think about how you wrote reports with source requirements in high school or college. All facts must be sourced, and it’s best to eliminate most of your adjectives. Even if you know informational content to be true, it must be sourced somewhere to make the cut.
Creating your own page is only one side of the equation. Companies need also to be vigilant of pages created by others. Only Wikipedia administrators can delete a page, and if the material is properly sourced, bad news about a company, CEO or president is there to stay, making a crisis communications plan all the more critical. Once someone else has already told one side of your story, the best you can do is seek to add other content to level the playing field. Think about items you can source, factually and neutrally, demonstrating the positives your company is known for and/or achievements and advancements that round out your story.
Whether you are a Wikipedia content creator or editor, know that this process is not something you can simply throw together in an hour. Be prepared to do the exploration, source your facts and triple-check your tone. This potential blessing and possible curse demands proper time, research and effort, just like your senior year capstone project.