Wikipedia is one of the largest and most significant websites. Rumour has it that 40 percent of all of the top-placed search results on Google refer to it. Journalists have long openly admitted to using Wikipedia for getting an initial overview. All that makes the online encyclopaedia of extreme interest to enterprises. Wikipedia itself sees things a bit differently. Being listed has big advantages. First of all, an article lends prestige; secondly, Wikipedia can deliver a great deal of traffic to your own website. Writing about Wikipedia in connection with PR or marketing strategy is problematic, though. And so, a few words beforehand: if any old company would try to get an article in the Brockhaus Britannica, people would find that very strange. You should not forget that Wikipedia is also an encyclopaedia. What is even more revealing is the Wikipedia page on what Wikipedia is not. It includes this sentence:
“Wikipedia is not a directory of people, associations, organisations or companies.”
Manipulation won’t work
It is therefore only right and proper that the community is fussy, particularly about promotional content. Probably nowhere else in the internet is sensitivity to spam and advertising greater than with Wikipedians. Notability – a key concept for working with and on Wikipedia, which you should keep in mind – is always paramount. Even a Google algorithm has not been invented for being manipulated. And yet there exists an entire branch specialised in just that, preparing websites technically and content-wise for such algorithms – the search engine optimisers. In both search engine optimisation as with Wikipedia, it all comes down to working within given guidelines and acting in the spirit of an inventor. That is the way it should be, at least. But first you need to understand what makes Wikipedia tick.
The vision: provide access to knowledge
The “Wikipedia” concept is quite simple: anyone who has internet access can contribute to the global book of facts. Without even having to register. Normally, an author writes a short article on a topic. The article is then jointly expanded, updated and corrected, if necessary, by Wikipedia users. In this way, bits of information and expertise are compiled from around the world in order to create a complete and continuously growing documentation of our knowledge. Free access to that knowledge is the project’s vision.
Control is good, organisation is better
To avoid errors in the articles, Wikipedia relies on the control mechanism of the global community. And that works amazingly well. There are enough jokers out there slipping false information into articles just to see if the controls are functioning. Usually it takes only a few seconds until the false information is deleted. However, it depends on what significance the respective article has. There are far more people keeping an eye on heavily discussed topics and articles of great relevance so that corrections are made more quickly.
Registered members use very easy patrolling tools for that. As soon as an article on the watchlist has been changed, a message is sent and action is taken. Some users are specialised in certain subjects and meticulously scour pertinent articles. The hierarchy of the German Wikipedia has six levels in which you can work your way up from being simply a member to one of around 300 administrators. Active collaboration is key to promotion. You have to be appointed, though, to become an administrator. And then there are the arbitration committees, bureaucrats, stewards, etc. The process is far more structured than what the casual user would think.
“I’m going to write an article”
Since anyone may participate, many companies seem to think it is an easy task to write an article about themselves. After all, anyone can write about anything here. BIG misunderstanding. New articles popping up like that are usually deleted speedily, since all new articles go through the control mechanism described. Wikipedia is very strict when it comes to content – and the German version even more so. There are some 150 rules and guidelines determining user behaviour, above all the legitimacy of content.
The four most important principles
- Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia.
- Articles are to be written in such a way that they comply with the principle of a neutral point of view.
- Applicable law – in particular, copyright law – is to be strictly observed.
- Other users are to be respected and Wikiquette is to be followed.
Neither individuals nor institutions should write about themselves, since this is contrary to the principle of a neutral point of view. Wikipedia, however, does not explicitly forbid writing about oneself as long as the article is kept accordingly neutral.
Relevance is not relative
It can seem virtually impossible to get a stand-alone article. Here, namely, notability again comes into play. That is the lynchpin: only those new articles classified as being “notable” have a chance of being accepted.
Notability is precisely defined in Wikipedia. Companies dreaming of a Wikipedia article should first have a look at the notability criteria. There are special conditions for many branches. For those who cannot find themselves reflected in any of the categories, the notability criteria for commercial enterprises simply apply: “Notable for an article are companies that:
- have a minimum of 1,000 full-time employees or
- can show an annual sales volume of more than 100 million Euro (converted) or
- are traded on the regulated market on a German stock exchange or in a similar stock exchange segment in other countries or
- have a minimum of 20 business premises in terms of Art. 5 OECD-MA DBA (these include own branch offices, production sites, affiliates and retail businesses, but not independent representatives or sales partners) and (the company as a whole) thereby corresponds to at least a large corporation (along the lines of § 267 dHGB – German Commercial Code, §221 öUGB – Austrian Commercial Code) or
- have a dominant position on the market or play an innovative pioneering role (independent source required) for a relevant product group or service or
- historically have fulfilled one of these criteria.”
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability, retrieved on 25 September 2015
Those fulfilling these conditions may write an article about themselves. For everyone else, the effort is probably not worth it. The article will most likely not make it past the admission control, even if the notability criteria is regarded by Wikipedia itself as being “sufficient, yet not the necessary conditions for notability”.
Citing and sources: alternatives to a stand-alone article
Those who cannot have a stand-alone article may have every right to be mentioned in other articles. If a company, for example, holds the patent for a certain technology, that technology could be cited in an article. Who knows? Maybe this citation then encourages someone to draft an article about the company that is considered notable despite having a lack of concrete criteria.
Another way to appear in Wikipedia is through references. All facts, data and information in the articles need to be attributed to sources as far as possible. Those who run a very good, factual blog, regularly publishing on branch topics can be included as a source in subject-related Wikipedia articles. But here, particular caution is advised. Those links are very popular in search engine optimisation, so Wikipedia has a right to keep an eye on them. If you suddenly start linking yourself everywhere as a source, you end up on a spam blacklist. Only absolute top content is considered a source.
Creating a new article: start small
A new Wikipedia article is best begun with a so-called stub: a mini-article in Wikipedia that under certain circumstances contains just a few sentences.
The important thing is that the notability is evident from the text. In a new article about a commercial enterprise, sales volume should be mentioned, for instance, if that is the criteria that determines notability.
It may seem strange, but such mini-articles especially often have a greater chance of not being deleted than a polished piece of 1,500 words. For that is rather denounced by Wikipedians as pure PR. A stub, on the contrary, is a small challenge for the Wikipedia community. It is jointly researched and supplemented until a real article results. And that is the way it should be.
New to Wikipedia: don’t be put off
If you would like to become involved with Wikipedia, take your time and have a look around. Not only is there Wikiquette, but also rather a great deal of terms and expressions that have evolved around the encyclopaedia. Various pages offer help and explanations such as the tutorial or FAQs for newbies. Still, as a new-comer you may sometimes get the feeling that the Wikipedia community is not waiting to greet you with open arms. Even the tiniest and correct amendment to an existing article is simply reverted – out of pure mistrust. That is why it is important to create a name for yourself. The best thing is to look for subjects that you know quite well and add relevant information to corresponding articles.
Companies should act openly
It is best for companies to work as registered users. All activities are then accountable. Especially when PR departments edit a company article, it is absolutely recommended to do so openly. The PR department of the company Hochtief does that in Wikipedia. In the user account, the authors clearly profess adherence to Wikipedia guidelines: “We would like to contribute to the information about our company being up-to-date and correct. We wish to refrain from any surreptitious advertising or other things not well looked-upon in Wikipedia.”
Transparency creates trust – that applies to Wikipedia, too.