Five approaches to corporate Wikipedia policy
Marketing, public relations, legal, HR and other risk management professionals are often in a tug-of-war, when it comes to establishing corporate policy for Wikipedia. Worse still are organizations with no Wikipedia policy, leaving the organization open to misunderstandings that result from employees detected editing the company page at work, creating the appearance of corporate manipulation.
Most internal discussions are focused on whether marketing should edit the page or not and this creates a false dichotomy, as if there are only two choices. In one path, marketing is forced to ignore Wikipedia, one of the most influential websites on the planet. In the other, the company takes the risky, ethically ambiguous and potentially illegal path of editing Wikipedia anonymously, as if they were crowd-sourced volunteer editors.
I've categorized company policy, or really the company's whole approach to Wikipedia, into five buckets that can help you break out of the dichotomy.
- Hands-off: If your client or employer has a negative or mixed reputation in the media not represented in the current article, depending on the circumstances, you may be better off leaving the article alone. Often marketing participation proves counter-productive when adding positive material brings the article to the attention of editors that will balance your work. A hands-off policy is also a good choice for organizations that do not meet Wikipedia's criteria for an article to exist. It is not a good use of your time to attempt to inject an article Wikipedia doesn't want.
- Monitoring & response: Monitoring the article for vandalism, errors and other problems and flagging significant issues that come up is a good approach for a lot of companies. If you don't want to invest the substantial time resources it takes to improve the article yourself, don't think you would be able to be neutral, or if the company decides it is inappropriate to be too heavily involved, this is a way to at least correct errors and other problems.
- Public relations: A PR approach means supporting Wikipedia's editors the same way we would the media, with images, expertise, sources and by answering questions, but not attempting to write the article ourselves. This does not require extensive time-resources or expertise, but is only effective if and when the article attracts the attention of one or more volunteer editors. For companies lucky enough to have devoted, thoughtful, experienced editors take an interest in their page, it's best to activate and assist those editors.
- Content marketing: Content marketing is the most involved approach. It means researching, writing and coding high-quality, neutral content and offering it to Wikipedia's editors for consideration. Developing the content is very time-consuming and it is also a struggle to get internal stakeholders on board with a genuinely neutral article that includes critical or controversial material. It takes time to earn a reputation with Wikipedia's editors that will make them more willing to invest the time to review your work. However, the only way to consistently create high-quality Wikipedia articles is to do the work ourselves and doing so ethically will take a little more elbow grease than taking shortcuts.
- Paid editing: Paid editing refers to someone with a financial connection to the organization, such as a marketing professional, editing the article directly. While it is allowed for clerical edits like grammar and spelling, it is advised against by Wikipedia's guidelines and the Chartered Institute of Public relations. It may even violate disclosure laws that require marketers not act as though they are crowd-sourced participants. It is an easier and faster than any other method of improving the page, and can obtain more favorable content outcomes than available through ethical means, but comes with substantial risks.