This post is part of our series on Wikipedia for Marketing
My biz-dev counterpart in California has discovered quite a few companies in the last few weeks that have established policies set by corporate legal, governance or communications teams against making edits to articles on Wikipedia for which the company has a Conflict of Interest.
The policy isn’t entirely un-warranted, but is usually made without a true and comprehensive understanding of Wikipedia’s community policies, the risks, best practices or any of the information and understanding you’d get with an expert Wikipedian by your side.
My hope is that this FAQ will foster more educated conversations between the teams involved in large corporations and allow balanced policies that address risk without hindering the business.
Isn’t editing our own article against Wikipedia’s community policies?
Yes and no. Wikipedia’s Conflict of Interest guideline makes a pretty clear statement, but it’s full of language about exceptions, common sense, and it being a “behavioral guideline.”
Essays represent the community’s consensus on the understood interpretation of guidelines and many essays provide instructions for editors with a Conflict of Interest (COI). Even the Assume Good Faith guideline theoretically protects COI editors from being mistreated by the community for their affiliation and IAR (ignore all rules) compells editors to ignore any rule that prevents them from making an improvement to the Wiki.
It’s not so much about who is making edits, but about what edits they make. Since the vast majority of marketers don’t make edits the community would consider as an improvement, marketers as a group are strongly discouraged from participation.
What does Wikipedia Consider an Improvement?
For an editor with a Conflict of Interest to edit Wikis in a way that is considered an acceptable improvement entails a deep understanding of Wikipedia’s rules on Neutral Point of View, Verification, Notability, No Original Research, as well as Wikipedia’s Five Pillars and many other rules.
Often times it means writing your own criticism section or leaving negative content. Wikipedia also suggests editors with a Conflict of Interest identify themselves and work to implement community consensus rather than exercising excessive control over the article or babysitting it.
In theory this means marketing can review and understand these guidelines. Live them, learn to love them and gain the expertise to get involved in Wikipedia without putting the company at risk.
However, over half our business comes from supporting Wikipedia efforts after repeated failed attempts. So the risk associated with marketing getting involved on Wikipedia depends on the level of expertise they have access to and the commitment level to enforcing Wikipedia’s rules.
What are the Risks?
In most cases banned usernames, removed Wikis and a bad reputation within the Wikipedia community are the only common risks. The real-world risks that a legal or governance team would be most concerned with come in three forms:
- Being exposed publicly for making self-serving edits to controversial Wikis
- Libel suits (frivolous or justified) for edits made on Wikipedia
- Copyright policies
Lets take these one at a time:
1. Being exposed publicly for making self-serving edits to controversial Wikis
This will become an issue if (a) the contributor did not clearly identify themselves and their conflict of interest and (b) the contributor edits highly controversial material. Wikipedia’s guidelines forbid editors with a conflict of interest from editing highly controversial material and strongly recommends they identify their Conflict of Interest while making edits. Both are easy to address and any marketing organization with Wikipedia expertise should consider these common sense.
2. Libel Suits
Libel suits for slanderous, inaccurate information on Wikipedia have been known to pop up. This is also easy to prevent by not posting negative information on competitor Wikis.
Wikipedia has a complex array of copyright options for images and all the text is freely licensed under a Creative Commons license. This isn’t something I can help you navigate in a sentence, but at the very least a team involved in Wikipedia must understand that they can’t copy/paste images or text even from assets the company owns.
Should we Really Take the Risk?
The business need is compelling. In most cases the company article is the top third party result on a Google search for the company. Right under www.mycompanyname.com is www.wikipedia.com/mycompanyname. Also, with the right expertise, commitment and an educated understanding of the risks, there shouldn’t be any significant risk at all.
- Restrict the general employee population to using Talk pages on Wikipedia to express any wanted changes
- Restrict any employees from editing controversial materials or Wikis on competitors and their products
- Allow some form of Wikipedia editing if you feel confident in the marketing team’s expertise and commitment to following the rules.
I hope this FAQ is helpful and fosters a more informed communication between marketing and legal to create educated policies.
Questions? Post them below.
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