Stop Trying to Beat Wikipedia


wikiass

Because you can’t.

It seems like every few weeks I get an inquiry about Wikipedia from a client. Usually they are upset about their entry. Most of the time they want to delete negative portions of the entry and infuse it with their marketing messages.

My response is always the same.

Leave it alone.

In fact, the policy at my agency is that we won’t touch Wikipedia and we always recommend our clients heed by our policy.

Why?

Because it violates Wikipedia’s terms of service for a representative of a brand to change or alter the brand’s Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia is an independent, crowd-sourced encyclopedia and the entry does not belong to the brand. Any one with a conflict of interest is forbidden from altering entries.

There’s also a penalty for doing so. Brands and their representatives who mess with the entries can be banned from Wikipedia.

To put an exclamation point on this point of view, Wikipedia this week is threatening to sue Wiki-PR, a firm that specializes in cleaning up Wikipedia entries by allegedly creating fake accounts and altering entries without disclosing its conflict of interest. To be fair, Wiki-PR denies the charge.

According to Wikipedia’s lawyers in a cease and desist letter to Wiki-PR:

“When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creating or allowing false, unauthorized or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia’s reputation is harmed. Sockpuppetry and meatpuppetry are especially harmful when used to disguise secret works of advocacy.”

I have to agree. Paid submissions are fake and against the spirit of how Wikipedia works.

Brands should focus on the content they can control – their own websites, microsites, blogs and social media channels. Stressing about a Wikipedia entry is a generally a sign of unsophisticated content marketers and an unfamiliarity with the digital landscape.

Move on. Don’t get tangled up with Wikipedia.

Just like you can’t change a bad newspaper article or magazine feature once it is published you can’t change a Wikipedia entry – without a whole lot of potential damage and lots of frustration.

What do you think of Wikipedia threat to sue Wiki-PR? And what is your own brand policy for Wikipedia?

Links:

Wikipedia Rattles its Saber at Wiki-PR (via MediaPost)

Why Wikipedia Should Shoulder Blame for Violations

4 Responses to “Stop Trying to Beat Wikipedia”

  1. Great post. I agree, Wikipedia needs to be left alone. To me changing a clients Wikipedia page can be somewhat unethical similar to posting fake/made up reviews on behalf of a client. The fact that Wikipedia’s terms of service makes it even worse. If a PR practitioner is as good as he or she says to be, Wikipedia doesn’t even need to be messed with.

  2. Uploading false info on Wikipedia or elsewhere is wrong, but it shall not be confused with legitimate Wikipedia visibility services.

    If some lawyer were caught committing fraud on the court, nobody would argue that all legal services shall be prohibited nationwide. Similarly, sockpuppeting and faking sources is NOT what legitimate Wikipedia visibility services are about.

    Wikipedia traffic is commerce-dominated nowadays. 21 out of the 25 highest-traffic articles on Wikipedia are related to commercial subjects: corporations, movies, books, TV series, etc. A Wikipedia profile can add or detract tens of millions of dollars from the value of a brand or market cap of a company, so it’s to be expected that companies seek to participate in shaping their Wikipedia profiles.

    It comes as a surprise to many, but: paid editing is NOT prohibited on Wikipedia; all efforts to ban it have failed, see the FAILED policy proposal at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Paid_editing_%28policy%29

    Not only it’s not prohibited, it’s massive: in a recent study conducted by the Public Relations Society of America, 40% of PR professionals admitted to having edited Wikipedia.(http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/study-wikipedia-errors-damage-brands-reputations_b73200) In other words, hundreds of thousands of PR pros do Wikipedia visibility work.

    The study also showed that “24% of company pages were created by a PR team”. I suspect that the true percentage is much higher, as many companies and PR pros do not admit editing Wikipedia fearing the backlash from those who equate PR with spreading lies. At WikiExperts, we have done ethical Wikipedia visibility work for some of the largest corporations in the world, never violating any Wikipedia rule.

  3. Hi Alex:
    Good comments. Wikipedia may not be able to ban paid posting, but it certainly runs against the spirit of the what the company is trying to do. So you’re splitting hairs saying what you are doing isn’t technically illegal. It is borderline unethical at best. The reason PR companies want to edit the entries is to control the content – and refine the message. That runs contrary to Wikipedia policies and degrades the value of the service and content.

  4. George, I strongly disagree. I find it unethical to discriminate against businesses, depriving them a right be be represented in a de-facto public forum, where they profiles are edited by their competitors and other biased party. I also consider it hypocritical to try to impose a rule which is ignored even by the founder of Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales famously whitewashed his profile, removing true and well-referenced facts he disliked.)

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