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Have you Wikipedia'd your brands today?


Wikipedia is becoming one of the most powerful pieces of media in the world. The time has come that it needs to be a routine part of research and monitoring for brand and corporate communicators at least, and rules of engagement have to be drawn up for contributing or engaging with it.

Three reasons why that statement is not hype:

  • It is one of the top 20 most visited websites in the world
  • It comes above CNN and BBC for searches on recent news stories
  • As it grows ever larger it includes biographies of business leaders and detailed profiles of brands

Shel Holtz discusses Wikipedia in a useful post here. His rule-of-thumb for dealing with Wikipedia is: "Make sure your entry adds value to Wikipedia readers, not just to your client."

It's a helpful tip, and in line with the advice that we give to clients looking at engaging with any kind of social media. Your approach, the content and the language has to be on the terms of the community you are dealing with.

If you are to contribute a point or debate a piece of misinformation you will certainly need to do it openly, as a representative of a brand or individual. Surreptitious behaviour tends to lead to being "outed" by the community, as witnessed by Adam Curry and several US politicians recently (see below).

The risks for brands working with any social medium are significant (ridicule, being made to look foolish, becoming another by-word for insensitivity and corporate disingenuousness) if they are anything less than transparent, humble and honest.

Fact of the matter is that Wikipedia is a public space, a media property that is growing in influence very quickly, and if any communicator doesn't know how to work with it without creating risk, they better start figuring it out.

: : Here's a section from Wikipedia's section on Criticism of Wikipedia on the political scandal recently:

Exposure to political operatives and advocates

While Wikipedia has a policy requiring articles to have a neutral point of view, it is not immune from attempts by outsiders with an agenda to place a spin on articles. In January 2006 it was revealed that several staffers of members of the U.S. House of Representatives had embarked on a campaign to cleanse their respective bosses' biographies on Wikipedia, as well as inserting negative remarks on political opponents. References to a campaign promise by Martin Meehan to surrender his seat in 2000 were deleted by Meehan's staffers, and a congressional staffer inserted a comment in the article on Bill Frist claiming he is "ineffective". Some of the remarks were well outside the usual bounds of fair comment, such as a claim that Eric Cantor, a congressman from Virginia, "smells like cow dung".

In an interview, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales remarked that the changes were "not cool".

Numerous other changes were made from an IP address which is assigned to the House of Representatives.

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This is an unbelievably good idea. Increasingly I'm using Wikipedia as opposed to Googling, particularly when the search term is likely to be an entry.

Prior to Wikipedia, trying to find out what exactly a 'codec' does would have been a nightmare unless you're wholly conversant in techie. Now Wikipedia gives you the snapshot immediately. Consequently it's an absolute must for all brand managers to have on their radar. Good call!

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