Last month, Josh Greene, author of “Wikipedia for Business 2021: The Rules & Latest Developments that Businesses & Communicators Need to Know to Succeed,” shared his insights on the ins and outs of Wikipedia in a webinar moderated by Solo PR Pro President, Karen Swim.
In addition to offering practical advice and industry best practices on how PR pros can manage client listings on Wikipedia, Josh also defined what can and cannot be done by an organization or its representatives.
Below are some of the key insights from the webinar.
The purpose behind Wikipedia
The idea behind Wikipedia’s creation was to develop a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, compiling all of the world's knowledge into one easy-to-access space online.
With content being driven by a group of volunteer editors, they founders wanted to ensure all the changes ever made to the “encyclopedia” would be visible, so people could see how pages evolved over time and who had been involved in the editing process.
Today, this free internet-based encyclopedia has become one of the most frequently used objective research tools.
It’s extremely strong search presence—Wikipedia is typically among the top two results on a search engine results page for most search terms—coupled with the sheer breadth of content on the site have made it a powerhouse of information with a potentially huge impact on what people see when they’re looking up a company or individual online.
And people generally trust the information on Wikipedia.
“Most people view Wikipedia as an objective research tool,” explained Josh. “A lot of times you'll go to a company website and then go to Wikipedia to try and get a feel for what the company is really about and has going on right now.”
Using PR best practices to navigate Wikipedia
Much like managing a client’s reputation online through media relations best practices and traditional social listening, PR practitioners should be keeping an eye on, and making use of, the resource that Wikipedia has become.
One of the great things about Wikipedia is that anyone is able to make updates, whether you’re looking to create an entirely new page for a company or individual, or simply looking to make a few edits to an existing page.
In these instances, you can provide all of the content for the page using the visual style editor to ensure all of the formatting is correct, putting in the necessary citations and filling in the relevant sections.
However, Josh recommends always routing suggestions and changes through Wikipedia’s team of editors, rather than trying to make them yourselves whenever possible.
“Making direct Wikipedia edits is generally a rabbit hole that PR people shouldn’t go down,” said Josh. “The best way to get something updated is to submit it to the editors on the ‘talk’ page that can be found linked at the top of each topic page on Wikipedia.”
From there, the suggestion goes through an approval process where one of the 2,500 or so Wikipedia editors will review it and decide whether or not it should be published.
Through this “talk” page on Wikipedia, you can even research editors and communicate with them directly. You have access to things like every edit an editor has ever made to Wikipedia, as well as what types of content they typically work on, so you know who you’re dealing with.
Does this process sound a little familiar?
Most PR practitioners go through some variation of these same steps when pitching the media, beginning with identifying a need for a story, crafting the perfect press release or pitch email, and researching journalists.
When making suggestions or changes on Wikipedia, you should make sure to put on your media relations hat.
Doing your homework, making sure your edits are formatted well and easy to read, and going the extra mile to provide accurate and newsworthy information will all go a long way.
Best practices of using Wikipedia as a PR pro
Aside from the similarities, there are some general rules and best practices when it comes to Wikipedia that may seem a bit contradictory to traditional media relations. Josh outlined some of his best tips and tricks for navigating the platform.
1. Get your feet wet before diving in
Josh suggests that newbies avoid jumping in right away to make edits to a page you care about a lot. Instead, start off small to figure out how things work first.
“If you start out a little slower, there is less risk of your edits being reverted,” Josh said. “You generally have a much greater chance for success if you get a feel for Wikipedia as you're navigating around.”
2. Watch out for those superlatives
It’s also important to remember that Wikipedia is designed to function like an encyclopedia. That means editors need to operate with a neutral point of view.
“Wikipedia is not a fan of adjectives like ‘best’ or ‘world-class’ unless there is actual tangible evidence to support that,” said Josh. “And you need to make sure those sources are well-known and reliable enough to back it up.”
3. Check your sources
Speaking of sources, you need to be very careful about citations from external publications, as Wikipedia takes copyright very seriously.
“If anything is cut and pasted from an external source that’s online, Wikipedia will usually flag it and take it down as a copyright violation,” explained Josh.
This means if you’re pulling source materials from an organization’s website, you’ll likely need to change up the wording to get it approved.
When it comes to sources, notability is also key, especially when it comes to getting a new page published.
But how Wikipedia defines something as noteworthy may differ a bit from what you’re used to.
“In Wikipedia, notability means a bunch of third party articles about a company or individual, not necessarily articles where that company or individual was quoted or interviewed,” said Josh. “If you’ve been on CNN 20 times, that won’t mean as much as if your company has a few objective, third-party profiles online.”
Unfortunately, this could mean that your client’s annual report or that panel the CEO spoke on are likely not going to be a good fit, because Wikipedia considers these examples to be a company or individual speaking about itself.
“As with most things though, there is some gray area,” explained Josh. What might not technically be a reliable source on paper can sometimes slip through the cracks and make it to Wikipedia.
4. Make sure you’re paying attention
The fact that Wikipedia can be edited at any time can be both a blessing and a curse.
“The running joke is the worst time to have a page get edited is about 30 seconds before the CEO happens to check the page and wonders what’s going on,” Josh said.
If there is a Wikipedia page up about your client or notable executives who work there, you should check these pages with some frequency to ensure false and biased information isn’t being published.
If false information does pop up on a client’s Wikipedia page, you can start by contacting a Wikipedia editor through the “talk” page to get someone’s attention.
If that doesn’t work, there’s something called the “tea house” which is like a chat board for editors where you can easily flag changes that need to be made. Just make sure you have the factual information on-hand to support your request!
Do you regularly use Wikipedia? How do you stay up to date on your client’s online presence? Let us know in the comments or on social media using #solopr!
This blog post is based on a webinar conducted for members of the Solo PR Pro community. If you’re interested in watching the recording, click here to become a Solo PR Pro member where you’ll gain access to the webinar + hundreds of other resources, videos and guides.