Offering content to Wikipedia’s editorial community is different than traditional content marketing.
The content is rule-bound. The editors are thorough. And we must produce neutral content about the company, rather than a thought-leadership subject.
Some companies have such strong opinions about themselves and certain controversies they are involved in, it can be an emotional process to write neutrally on it.
Recently I’ve seen many public relations professionals following the best practices established by Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Jimmy Wales, and PR associations around the globe to offer content and other suggestions on the Talk page and allow impartial volunteer Wikipedians that serve the reader’s best interest make editorial decisions for their readers.
This is how it should work.
This is also what is legal for us (marketers) to do, after a court found that editing Wikipedia anonymously was an illegal form of astroturfing.
But the success of these projects are mild at best. I thought it would be helpful to write on the three components that best establish whether a company will be successful on Wikipedia or not.
1. Aligned outcomes
To be successful on Wikipedia, your organization needs to want the same thing Wikipedia does – an article compliant with Wikipedia’s policies. If your organization has a negative reputation in the press or doesn’t meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements, there may not be any way to simultaneously serve your client or employer and improve Wikipedia.
Most neutral articles include some things that are sensitive to internal stakeholders. The software is glitchy, the organization was engaged in a lawsuit, or they had layoffs years ago. We pursue product reviews even knowing they will be fair and balanced, but it is more difficult for us to be fair and balanced for ourselves – to write our own product reviews and have the company see value in it.
First, consider if a wiki-compliant article will make stakeholders happy.
2. Wiki Know-how
You need to know (or be willing to learn) how to edit Wikipedia in the general sense. Most of Wikipedia’s new editors do not do well and new editors acting in a PR role do even worse.
According to one editor I talked to “it is almost impossible for a ‘social media expert’ to just come along here and immediately write anything worth keeping.”
The Wikipedia community is constantly urging public relations professionals to edit Wikipedia in a general way before attempting to improve articles where they have a conflict of interest, but most struggle to justify the time investment.
Besides using a vendor like us, PR agencies and large companies can assign one person in their marketing team to become an expert who is willing to devote the time to learn.
3. An advocate for ethics
For most companies that want to do content marketing on Wikipedia, there will come a time in the process that will challenge your ethics. Questions will be raised like, “will Wikipedians notice XYZ is missing?” or “would we get away with positioning it this way?”
There needs to be a voice in the process to persuade the team to be fair and honest.