OK, so that’s an inflamatory headline… I will disclaim up front that I love Wikipedia and definitely don’t endorse anyone trying to use it for shameless self promotion, but as the world’s most popular source of information on pretty much everything, Wikipedia is now an unavoidable part of public relations practice. People trust it as much as they trust the Encyclopedia Britannica and it’s often the first point of reference for anyone doing Internet research; you want to make sure references to your company are balanced. Like anything, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it though; the last thing you want to do is create bad PR for yourself by annoying people, abusing the system or acting in bad faith. If you take the time to learn some basic principles, act in good faith and don’t abuse the system, it will pay off.
Lesson #1 — You Have no Control
Anyone can edit Wikipedia; you probably know this already. It means you can write whatever you want and it also means anyone can change what you wrote. Forget about ever having any semblance of control. You don’t and you won’t. This is the most important thing to understand about Wikipedia. You can influence what is said about your company through intelligent discussion, but you can’t control it.
Lesson #2 — Understand the Community and Know the Rules
Don’t even think about starting to edit an article (or creating one) until you know your way around. Read all about Wikipedia first and make sure you understand what it is and what it is not. Know the rules (namely everything you write must be neutral and verifiable by external sources). If you have any questions, ask them. The best way to learn how to use it is to start by making some small changes, or adding content to a subject you know something about and can easily reference. If you’re a fan of a famous band, or a football club and have some reference material on hand, feel free to add to that topic, making sure you attribute your sources and follow the rules. It’s also a good idea to read and participate in a few ‘discussion’ pages as well (each article has a discussion page associated with it where people can talk about what should be in the article) so you get a feel for the kinds of people who may want to challenge what you have to say. A good start is the McDonald’s discussion page, or if you’re feeling brave, the Scientology discussion page!
Lesson #3 — When You Can and Can’t Create an Article for Your Organisation
These are the rules about what companies can have a page (I’ve extracted them from the guidelines):
- Articles about companies and products are written in an objective and unbiased style. Article topics must be third-party verifiable, so articles about very small “garage” or local companies are typically unacceptable. External links to commercial organizations are acceptable if they identify major organizations associated with a topic (see finishing school for an example).
- An organization is generally considered notable if it has been the subject of significant coverage in reliable, independent secondary sources. Trivial or incidental coverage of a subject by secondary sources (eg. one small article in a local newspaper) is not sufficient to establish notability. All content must be verifiable.
- Organizations are usually notable if the scope of activities are national or international in scale and information can be verified by sources that are reliable and independent of the organization.
- A primary test of notability is whether people independent of the subject itself (or of its manufacturer, creator, or vendor) have actually considered the company, corporation, product or service notable enough that they have written and published non-trivial works that focus upon it.
If you think you fit that criteria and there isn’t currently an article about your company, you can probably now feel free to create one. I won’t go into technical specs, but there’s plenty of info in the Wikipedia help files.
Lesson #4 — Editing an Existing Company Page
If someone else has already created the article and you feel you know your way around Wikipedia well enough, dive right in and edit it, just make sure everything you say has been published somewhere other than Wikipedia, and remain neutral! There are guidelines about conflicts of interests which you should follow too, the main one being “Do not edit Wikipedia to promote your own interests, or those of other individuals, companies, or groups, unless you are certain that the interests of Wikipedia remain paramount.” Obviously it’s a grey line, so if in doubt, ask yourself ‘what would I do if the media were watching me right now’ (chances are, they very well may be!).
Feel free to list company achievements (record companies are notorious for doing this for bands), and if someone has written something nasty and unverified, you can delete it. Just make sure you do everything in good faith and understand that if you stop acting in good faith, it’ll look really bad and the bad PR will far outweigh all your good efforts. If you break the rules, you can also be certain your contribution will be deleted altered soon after you write it, so don’t waste your energy.
Lesson #5 — What to Do if Your Company Doesn’t Qualify for a Wikipedia Article
If other people haven’t written enough about your company for it to qualify for its own legitimate article here are a few ways to get a mention:
- Do some genuinely useful research about a topic that’s related to your company and publish it on your website. You can then reference your site on Wikipedia.
- Read up on the external links policies and see if your company fits the bill. (ie. External links to commercial organizations are acceptable if they identify major organizations associated with a topic (see finishing school for an example)).
Lesson #6 — Wikipedia is Not an SEO Tool
External links from Wikipedia don’t count towards your page’s ranking in Google. It’s as simple as that. If you’re trying to use Wikipedia as a way to get links for SEO reasons, give up. There’s no point!