Why Wikipedia Needs Marketers

by David King on Nov 28, 2011

Wikipedia’s About page says articles are written by anonymous internet volunteers “without pay”.

Yet salaried marketers with the right policies, guidance and expertise can fill a crucial content gap for Wikipedia.

Consider some data about Wikipedia

Wikipedia is attracting fewer new contributors.

The number of active contributors is dropping.

But the number of articles is growing.

And so is the size of those articles.

The volume of content is growing, but the active contributors to maintain, update and police those articles is shrinking. As this trend continues, vandalism, bias, outdated information and blatant factual errors will run even more rampant.

Marketers are the most motivated to maintain Wikis on subjects important to them and invest the time in providing quality, well-verified content. We can fill this gap if we can learn to support Wikipedia’s encyclopedic goals and follow the rules.

Bad Blood

The community doesn’t like us and it’s our fault. We didn’t read the rules, we didn’t disclose our conflict of interest, we ignored legal’s consult. We were in a hurry and we reposted marketing content to Wikipedia. We had egos and we fought with Wikipedia admins that know more than us. We set expectations that couldn’t be met and most of all, we didn’t take our time to learn.

After thousands of unorganized, independent skirmishes between marketers and Wikipedia’s editors; after gallons of venom has been spit between both sides; and after Wikipedia’s gatekeepers have spent countless hours reverting, reporting, banning and fighting with persistent marketers, we’ve lost the community’s good faith. A good faith offered by Wikipedia’s own community policies, yet we never deserved it and both sides need us to earn back.

Peace not War

We all know wars are expensive, costly and ineffective. One marketer uses rotating IP addresses, wifi hotspots and what’s called sockpuppet accounts to make secret contributions to Wikipedia. That’s like hiring the CIA instead of sending a diplomat.

Marketers often interpret Wikipedia’s Conflict of Interest policy as something that blocks all marketers from ever touching a Wiki. It’s actually more about WHAT you contribute than WHO contributes it, but as a group, marketers make poor edits. Individuals with a conflict of interest are more likely to vandalize a Wikipedia article than protect and improve it.

Wikipedia doesn’t have anything against marketers, just against marketing content. They don’t have a problem with conflict of interest writers, just bias content. There’s no problem with newcomers, just ones that run in like a bull in a China shop posting whatever they want.

The Conflict of Interest policies are written to ward off the vast majority of editors who are most likely to make inappropriate edits.

Appeal to Marketers

For marketers my appeal is similar to the prior post on handling disputes on Wikipedia. Be humble, learn, listen and follow the rules. Take your time. Invest in Wikipedia. Earn our good faith back.

Stop warring and seek peace. Mend the divide and prove to the community that we can contribute great well-verified, encyclopedic content that the community, Wikipedia’s readers and your boss can all appreciate. We can contribute images, neutralize bias and protect Wikis from vandalism, serving the community and our business.

Appeal to Wikipedia & Jimmy Wales

Conflict of Interest editing is like selling digital goods (like video game accounts). At some point the market learned to stop banning it, and instead legitimize it, oversee it, regulate it. There has to be a better way to institutionalize COI contributions in a way that allows more widespread positive contributions from marketers while reducing the burden and drama caused by inappropriate edits done by amateur COI Wikipedians.

Facilitate a certification program, ask marketers to sign behavioral agreements, designate admins to oversee assigned paid-for writers that help. You could even charge annual fees to certified COI Wikipedians that contribute to the donation pool. Wikipedia gets so many inquiries from marketers; why not send frustrated marketers to someone who can help? Someone who can help build bridges, be diplomats, consult and provide quality contributions, instead of feeding the hungry war machine.

By actually encouraging COI contributions in a well guided process with oversight, Wikipedia can tap the most knowledgeable and motivated group of contributors.

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Post Author

David King is the founder of Ethical Wiki, a professional services organization that helps companies improve Wikipedia ethically by offering content, requesting corrections and discussing controversies. Learn more at ethicalwiki.com or read our eBook on Wikipedia & marketing....

  • Faye Merrideth

    I appreciated seeing you at Internet Summit 2011, David.  You should speak at the next one. As you’ve said, “Wikipedia is one of the older, more established and more important social media channels and
    yet utterly ignored because marketers lack the skillset, knowledge and
    expertise to contribute.”  You can help by presenting.

  • http://twitter.com/David44357 David King

    You bet! I speak from time to time when invited. I was really hoping there would be some knowledgeable Wikipedians at the Internet Summit, that we had made some progress, but it wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. The event was fantastic though.

  • Steve Virgin

    Sensible thinking – as Wikimedia Chapters ‘mature’ one of their jobs is to train and educate everyone on how best to engage with Wikipedia and the rest of its set of projects (Wikimedia Commons being the obvious one of immediate benefit to the marketing/PR community).

  • Philippe Beaudette

    I like the way you’re thinking.  The Foundation, of course, doesn’t control policy, but this is the sort of discussion that I love seeing.  I hope other Wikimedians will read and pay attention. 

  • FT2 (wikipedia admin)

    Would a proposal like this work for marketers?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:FT2/Commercial_and_paid_editing

    The aim would be to set out Wikipedia’s criteria, standards, and explicit expectations on behavior and approach, for anyone on the marketing or client side who wishes to edit on their client/employer’s behalf.

    Thinking behind this:

    Those who wish to edit without regard for Wikipedia’s standing as a neutral reference work (rather than a platform for promotion) will probably do so anyway. But a lot of businesses have professional marketers who want to act to a high standard because it best benefits their client/employer. The latter, if explained explicitly what is needed to be learned to do so, will probably go right ahead and do it, treating it as an employable skill they have developed, and acting to a high standard, benefiting both sides.

  • David King

    Yes, your post is like a duplicate of my statement of ethics. Is this something that’s going to be proposed as a new guideline, policy or essay as part of the COI policy?

    I want to help.

    The way I was thinking of it was more like a certification program. That could be done through special Wikis, noticeboards, and volunteer admins or through actual in-person training like what Wikimedia is doing (or both).

    If COI Wikipedians are motivated to maintain their certification, that gives Wikipedia more means to enforce identification, watch, track, etc. and a means to drive customers to COI Wikipedians they know will follow the rules.

    Paid-for COI Wikipedians that break the rules, lose their certification. Certification entails oversight and identification.

    This could improve COI contributions 100x.

    -David King

  • David King

    I’ve heard about these. There’s also a guy Wikimedia refers people to that does training, especially in academics. Forget his name atm.

    I disagree in the kindest and most respectful way possible on the portrayal of Wikimedia as the primary channel for marketing. I see Wikipedia/Wikimedia as a whole channel just like Twitter or Facebook with Wikimedia as the multimedia component.

    Wikipedia encourages COI editors to stick to the Talk page

  • David King

    I’ve heard about these. There’s also a guy Wikimedia refers people to that does training, especially in academics. Forget his name atm.
     
    I disagree in the kindest and most respectful way possible on the portrayal of Wikimedia as the primary channel for marketing. I see Wikipedia/Wikimedia as a whole channel just like Twitter or Facebook spanning SEO, crisis communications, product marketing, branding with Wikimedia as the multimedia component.

    At least for larger companies. I spend equal parts telling notable organizations to enforce Wikipedia’s own policies on thier Wikis as I do telling others to stop what they’re doing and step away from the keyboard. Nothing here for SMBs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thekohser Gregory Kohs

    David, while your ideas are interesting, they will never work in implementation.  Reason?  It’s not really “marketers” at fault for the bad blood that exists between them and the “volunteer” Wikipedians.  It is the volunteer Wikipedians (and the paid Wikimedia Foundation staff) who routinely lie about their purposes, cover up their own wrong-doing, and deflect serious proposals that would improve substantially the quality of content on the site.  My enterprise, MyWikiBiz (yes, it has its own Wikipedia article) already tested in 2006 the “above board, fully disclosed, disinfecting sunlight” approach.  Jimmy Wales nuked the experiment when he mistook a non-paid article (which the community found to be quite “bland” as a corporate description) for a paid one, and banned and disparaged MyWikiBiz up and down.  (Two years later, he did quietly apologize for his behavior, but on the seldom-viewed “Talk page” of the article he had deleted two years prior.)

    I really need to finish my book ( http://mywikibiz.com/Directory:Your_Business_and_Wikipedia ) that will advise businesses on how to correctly interact with Wikipedia.  The “above board and certified” approach only leads to anguish for the business, and I’m afraid the more you get yourself involved in this genuine idea of yours, the more pitiful is going to be your eventual dismissal by the “volunteer” Wikipedia community, who like quite much, thank you very much, their current platform of anonymous and unaccountable libel and defamation of public individuals and corporations.

    P.S. By the way, when you mention the “marketer [who] uses rotating IP addresses, wifi hotspots and what’s called sockpuppet accounts to make secret contributions to Wikipedia”, were you talking about me? I’m not a “marketer”. I help write a publicly-edited encyclopedia. And technically, I don’t use “sockpuppets” — they’re “alternate accounts”, or in some cases, “meatpuppets”. Sockpuppets are when the same person uses different accounts to influence content on the same article.

  • David King

    I disagree. You say it doesn’t work, but this is what I do. It works.

    Not talking about you specifically, but sounds like you fit the profile.

    I interpret covert contributions as:
    - Potentially illegal given FTC’s rules about identifying yourself online when you represent a commercial interest

    - Very risky given the chance of widespread media coverage on corporate attempts for spin or coverup

    - In violation of many corporate ethical policies that require we obide by community policies.

    A while back a marketing firm was shut down by the government for being in the business of writing fake reviews for mobile apps without identifying their commercial interest.

    A prospective client knew it was seedy, filed a complaint with the FTC here:
    https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/FTC_Wizard.aspx?Lang=en and next thing you know they’re in big trouble.

    Aren’t you afraid something like that could happen? You just admitted to a similar activity right here in the comments. What if I reported you? (I won’t). What if a reader decides to report you (suppose it’s possible).

    It’s not acceptable for a corporation to enter into an activity where the ethical and legal considerations are open to interpretation.

    Then again, I’m the Wikipedian often brought in by legal rather than PR ;-)

    I’m no lawyer, but I don’t want to be in the position of needing one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thekohser Gregory Kohs

    David, did you just delete a comment of yours that was just here? You had some intriguing concerns there — maybe we should take the discussion offline. I’d love to hear from you.

    Be that as it may, I would be very interested in seeing how the FTC and/or the SEC and/or the Attorney General would prosecute a case where the “crime” is that a company paid someone with a Wikipedia account in good standing to add factual information and/or remove content that is false, libelous, or improperly-referenced-per-Wikipedia’s-own-guidelines, given that Wikipedia is an openly edited interface that not only allows but encourages publication by pseudonyms, and even has a “Reward Board” set up for cash transactions for content.

    David, I’m curious — what is your primary Wikipedia user account, by which you’ve edited or entered discussions at the request of paying clients?  Do you disclose that account’s identity?

  • David King

    FT2 I’ve posted on the Talk page. I have mountains to contribute on this topic if my participation is welcomed.

  • David King

    Not sure why the comment disappeared. You may be right. I wonder how the FTC would rule on it. I don’t want to be the one to find out.

    There’s a reward board on Wikipedia itself for cash projects??

  • David King

    I disagree. You say it doesn’t work, but this is what I do. It works.

    Not talking about you specifically, but sounds like you fit the profile.

    I interpret covert contributions as:
    - Potentially illegal given FTC’s rules about identifying yourself online when you represent a commercial interest

    - Very risky given the chance of widespread media coverage on corporate attempts for spin or coverup

    - In violation of many corporate ethical policies that require we obide by community policies.

    A while back a marketing firm was shut down by the government for
    being in the business of writing fake reviews for mobile apps without
    identifying their commercial interest.

    A prospective client knew it was seedy, filed a complaint with the FTC. Next thing you know they’re in big trouble. Aren’t you afraid something like that could happen? You just admitted to a similar activity right here in the comments.

    It’s not acceptable for a corporation to enter into an activity where
    the ethical and legal considerations are open to interpretation.

    Then again, I’m the Wikipedian often brought in by legal rather than PR ;-)

    I’m no lawyer, but I don’t want to be in the position of needing one.

  • http://twitter.com/HstryQT Lori Phillips

    This is a great post that should be thoughtfully considered by marketers & Wikimedians alike. I personally come from a museum background, serving as one of a handful of Wikipedians-in-Residence in a cultural institution. I have some background and interest in museum communication/marketing generally and I’m highly interested in how to help these organizations update their articles (&, in a broader sense, share their expertise) in an appropriate way. All these details to say –that’s why I found this post inspiring. 

    I have piloted a project with the Indianapolis Museum of Art which you may be interested in checking out. Case study: http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/GLAM/Case_studies/Indianapolis_Museum_of_Art

    Either way, I’m interested in following where this leads, as well as the ideas presented by User:FT2.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thekohser Gregory Kohs

    Reward Board:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:REWARD

    Back in the day, it was largely dedicated to cash payments.  Now, it seems that barnstars rule the day, and little gets done.  Here’s an example of an article I paid to have written for Wikipedia, via the Reward Board:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reward_board_fulfilled_requests#Bob_Welch_songs

    Notice how Wikipedia did not come tumbling down because I paid someone $35?  Also note — no FTC investigation.  ;-)

  • David King

    “This user has been blocked indefinitely from editing Wikipedia.”
    “Previously banned under username User:MyWikiBiz”

    I prefer my way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thekohser Gregory Kohs

    You probably don’t know half the story of why that account was “banned” from editing Wikipedia.  It wasn’t for paid editing — that’s your first hint.  The Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t tolerate criticism of their governance practices, and they get extremely uncomfortable when questions are asked why they spend only 46 cents of every donated dollar on the charitable program services they’re supposed to uphold — that’s your second hint.

    (Actually, at the time I was banned, the Foundation was spending on program services only 34 cents of every dollar received!)

    This is all information readily available in the federally-filed Form 990, but the Foundation doesn’t want critics talking about it on Wikipedia.  So, they call you a “troll”, and ship you off on the next train to Bantown.  “Your way” is fine, too.  It’s just that (I think) you’ll end up gravely disappointed, where I’ve already come to realize the true nature of the Wikipedia community, so I’m rather immune to disappointment.

    Anyway, this has been an intriguing chat… but now I have to go do some Wikipedia-related work for a client who understands and prefers “my way”, because it works, there’s little grief, and Wikipedia is improved in the process.

  • Metasonix metasonix

    Mr. King:

    If you ever need a great example of how Wikipedia fails companies, and how Wikipedia can defame companies, have a look at this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirby_Company

    And this is AFTER someone tried to insert more legitimate, neutral historical information, probably a paid editor. It’s still a horrible, hateful article.

  • David King

    Looks like they’ve cited authoritative sources. Are these allegations untrue? What’s your side of the story?

  • David King

    There appears to already be significant community consensus dating back to 2005 that – while this company has significant controversy that must be included - the Wiki is bias and needs improvement.

    I see that it use to be much worse. How do you know a COI editor was involved? I see an advert complaint that’s usually a good sign.

    Wikipedia’s policies forbid COI editors from touching controversial content, especially well-sourced ones. So there’s little you can do besides hitting the Talk page on some of this, which I find to be generally ineffective.

    However an expert Wikipedian could do much to improve the balance of this article and writer a full story on the company that includes, but is not entirely made up of, the controversy, fulfilling the many requests on the Talk page.

    If you know the person responsible for this at Kirby, would love an introduction.

  • David King

    For anyone that’s interested, this discussion will be continued on SignPost, Wikipedia’s community publication tomorrow with a message from me addressing the Wikipedia volunteer community directly.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:POST

    I’ve also posted on Jimmy Wales’ Wiki page.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Jimbo_Wales#Paid_Editing_Policies

    I think Johnuniq’s comment is particularly good that “we all know that helpful edits are welcome and unhelpful edits are not.” This is why I spend a lot of time educating marketers on the difference between good and bad edits.

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  • Anonymous

    I wrote an introductory guide for marketers like you described.  You can read it here: http://enwp.org/WP:PSCOI.  Cheers

  • David King

    Thanks for sharing Tek! This is a really good guide. I’m sure it was no small effort putting it together. A lot of the most ethical COI contributors (large companies) have only read the general COI policy, which scares them off. I’m going to share this going forward.

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  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Hey, David… they’d really like to have you join WikipediaReview.com. 
    Thing is, you need to sign up with a non-free e-mail address, or
    establish that you are who you say your are by contacting “anticabal
    …at… gmail” (I know, irony — using a Gmail account to establish the
    veracity of a free e-mail address.)  The issue is that Wikipedia Review
    was overrun a couple of years ago by a cross-dressing,
    identity-thieving British statistician who opened half a dozen accounts,
    then used them to support his own positions and torment others. 
    (Sounds like Wikipedia, huh?)

  • David King

    Sounds like the internet. I think Wikipedia does a pretty good job with it all things considering.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    David, it looks like Wikipedia just fitted you with your very own yellow Star of David.  Congratulations!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Herostratus/Wikiproject_Paid_Editing_Watch/Editor_Registry  Wear it with pride.