Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What Your Company Should Know Before Editing Wikipedia

Here’s what you may already know about Wikipedia:

  • Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit.
  • With 9,000,000+ entries in more than 250 languages, Wikipedia is one of the largest reference sites on the Web.
  • Wikipedia ranks highly on the search engines for nearly every topic it has an entry about. Some research indicates that more than 95% of Wikipedia entries rank in the top 10 on Google.

Since its foundation, many marketers have jumped at the chance to use Wikipedia for building links to their Web sites, editing/creating copy about their company or product, and inserting brand references into entries. However, as Wikipedia grows more sophisticated, it is easier for editors to monitor for these abuses. Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, the FBI, Fox News, Coca Cola and even the Vatican are among the many groups which stand accused of making self-interested edits.

Here’s what you need to know before editing Wikipedia articles about yourself or your company:

  • Companies and individuals are strongly discouraged from editing entries about themselves, or placing self-serving content in other entries due to conflict of interest. Companies caught doing so risk having their IP block banned from making further edits, and many have experienced negative PR backlash from Wikipedia or in the media.
  • Wikipedia is not as user-friendly and open as it initially presents itself to be. While it’s true that anyone can edit, there is a user hierarchy. Some users have greater authority and administrative rights based on their prior contributions -- most notably the power to block other users from the site, either temporarily or permanently.
  • All changes and comments are logged for permanent public viewing. According to Wikipedia’s privacy policy, “If you write something, assume that it will be kept forever. This includes articles, user pages and talk pages.”
  • Inappropriate changes are usually removed quickly (although a record of the edit remains), and repeat offenders blocked from editing.
  • User accounts cannot be deleted and are forever linked to their edits via their username and/or IP address. The IP addresses of non-registered contributors are publically listed. For logged in/registered users, administrators have the ability to view IP addresses. Tools are also available to identify edits by corporate IP block. The use of IP-anonymizing tools is controversial and may get you banned from Wikipedia.

Process for Ethically Editing a Wikipedia Entry that’s about Your Company:

Step 1: Choose one person to be your representative on Wikipedia. This person should review the site’s standards and guidelines for editing. Next, register for a user account and add a brief statement to the account’s User Page which explains any conflict of interest. Example: “Please note that I am an employee of [Insert Company Name].”

Step 2: Post a comment on the Talk Pages of the entry which states what revisions you would like to make and why. Be sure to cite relevant sources. While it’s OK to correct vandalism or blatant errors on your own, for major edits and content additions it’s safer to ask the community to make the change for you.

Step 3: If discussing the issue on the Talk Pages does not help, post a complaint to the Open Ticket Request System (OTRS). OTRS volunteers will respond to your query and intervene as appropriate.

Step 4: You may also want to revise company policy to prohibit non-authorized employees from making edits to Wikipedia entries about your company, its representatives and its competitors.

The key is to be open and honest about who you are and how you are trying to improve the entry. Wikipedia’s editors want to make the site the best reference tool it can be and, by playing by the rules and suggesting relevant edits, you can help them work toward that goal.

Have you taken steps to monitor and/or improve your company’s presence on Wikipedia? Has your experience with Wikipedia been a positive or a negative one? Leave a comment to share your insights.

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