by Josh Greene, The Mather Group, LLC
It’s been a long time since Wikipedia was simply a website kids were actually told not to use for their essays and book reports. Now the behemoth encyclopedia is the second most visited website in the U.S. and the third most visited site in the world. It’s become a trusted reference, and is always listed on the first page of Google’s search results – if a page relating to the search term exists, that is; and, with over 6 million English articles, one almost always does.
What does this mean for the world of PR marketing?
In a positive scenario, Wikipedia articles for businesses and individuals promote visibility and drive traffic to a brand’s website, helping create a positive public image. Thanks to Wikipedia’s top billing on Google SERPs, an article can even help to push down any negative press results.
In a negative scenario, outdated Wikipedia articles or articles overtaken by a controversy section drive traffic away from a brand. This is what we all want to avoid.
While complicated, Wikipedia isn’t impossible to navigate. Here’s what you need to know about Wikipedia to leverage its power for good.
While it might seem like anything and everything under the sun has a Wikipedia article, there are guidelines to follow when creating a new one. First and foremost, the article must meet Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. In a nutshell, this means that you must be able to prove that your topic has been significantly covered by trusted, third-party sources. For an article of only a few paragraphs, this means finding 3-5 news sources that devote an entire article to your topic. For a longer article, you’ll need 5+ sources.
If you’re curious about what to include and/or how to organize your article, go and check out some competitors’ articles. Depending on the topic, it’s typical to see sections such as:
- Activities / Areas of Service
- Affiliates / Subsidiaries
- Special Interest Areas (significant charity work, a second career, hosting a well-known podcast, etc.)
You cannot use primary sources, whether creating a new article or editing an existing one. Say goodbye to hopes of copying+pasting your “About Us” page or your favorite press releases and calling it a day. Wikipedia editors will jump all over that and cover your article in flags – if they don’t simply recommend it for a speedy deletion. Flags can alert someone that there’s a suspected COI on the page, or that the page uses too many primary sources, has multiple issues, is written like an advertisement, etc. Flags are at the top of an article and tell everyone that there are concerns about some information in the article.
Editing an Article
Once you’ve gathered your sources, it’s time to draft content. Anything added to the page should be fact-based, neutral in tone, and added with the intent of bringing the page up-to-date and/or correcting errors. The best way to add content is to move slow and steady, so you’ll need to prioritize content in terms of must-have, nice-to-have, and your ultimate wish list.
You can directly edit the article yourself, although Wikipedia prefers that anyone who works at a company/for an individual leaves the editing of that article to someone else. If that’s the case, you can visit the article’s Talk page, share a sentence or two at a time of your drafted content and the applicable sources, and request that another editor make the change.
If you’re drafting a brand new article, the process is similar. Visit Wikipedia’s Request an Article page and share why you think a topic needs its own article, and provide content and sources.
Removing Negative Content (aka the Dreaded Controversies Section)
If you’re a PR professional, this is probably high on your list of priorities. While there isn’t an easy way to strip a page of negative content, there are a few different options.
- You cannot simply delete content, even if it isn’t sourced or it uses non-trusted sources (someone’s blog, for example). If you do want to delete false or misleading information, be sure to include a note in the Talk section of the page as to why the information was inappropriate for a Wikipedia article.
- You can review the content and see if it can be edited in any way so as to minimize the implications – i.e. were claims proven false? Did the controversy happen five years ago and a brand has since gone above and beyond to address the initial issue and create a better path forward?
- You can propose additional info to the page so that the controversies section gets pushed farther down, or gets lost in the middle. Remember that all content must be factual and neutral.
Monitoring an Article
Whatever stage of the process you are in, don’t forget to consistently monitor your Wikipedia article. Articles can be edited at any time and you want to always ensure that your page accurately reflects your brand. There are different monitoring tools available, including:
- Wiki Alert: an extension that can be added to your browser and connected to your Watchlist. You’ll receive an alert every time that an article you follow is updated
- Wikipedia’s Emailing Tool: this allows you to be alerted anytime one of your tracked articles is edited. Each article can only be tracked by one account and one email address.