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ONLINE BUSINESS

Use Wikipedia as a Marketing Tool

In the age of social media, you can use Wikipedia -- the world's online encyclopedia –- as a marketing tool. Small businesses are find that getting a listing in Wikipedia can help validate their existence and more.
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Only eight years old, Wikipedia, 'the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit' already has more than three million articles in English alone, covering nearly all major companies and a lot of minor ones as well. Should yours be among them?

'If you're consumer-facing, it's important to be in Wikipedia,' says Sharon Nieuwenhuis, account manager at RLM PR, a public relations firm that offers Wikipedia placement and article correction among its services. 'It's a way of proving legitimacy, and not being in there has become something of a stigma. People go to Wikipedia to find basic information about your organization, and if they don't find it, they think, ‘Why should I pay attention to you?''

Appearing in Wikipedia can contribute to the bottom line. 'If our potential customers want to learn about something, they either go to a vendor company's website or Wikipedia, or to Google,' says Steve Goodman, CEO of PacketTrap, which provides network management software and is the subject of a Wikipedia article. And Google search results often lead right back to Wikipedia, he notes. 'We track where our customers come from, and there is no question that Wikipedia is a driver.'

Getting into Wikipedia

If getting into Wikipedia is highly desirable, it also seems close to impossible to many companies who've tried it -- including PacketTrap. 'We went about it the wrong way,' Goodman says. 'Three months after launching, we began persistently putting up pages about ourselves and the feedback we got was that it wasn't relevant, and that you are not supposed to create an article about your own company. We were called a ‘candidate for speedy deletion.'' In fact, PacketTrap executives never succeeded in getting into Wikipedia -- they merely stopped trying. About six months later, an article about PacketTrap appeared, and Goodman still doesn't know who put it there.

'Wikipedia is a complex culture, and sometimes it can feel like the free encyclopedia everyone can edit -- except me,' acknowledges Jay Walsh, a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees Wikipedia. He notes that Wikimedia has only about 30 paid staff, and that Wikipedia is edited by a huge number of volunteers. And he says, though it's not an absolute rule, people are strongly discouraged from creating articles about themselves or their organizations because the site strives for neutrality.

If you want your organization to be listed in Wikipedia, Walsh and others who've succeeded recommend the following steps:

  1. Begin with a general PR campaign. The more mentions you have in the press, and the more visibility you have in social media and blogs, the more likely you are to seem legitimate and 'notable' -- a precondition for inclusion. Make sure your website is up-to-date, and offers complete information on your company too. Goodman says reaching out to the blogosphere is likely what got his company in.
  2. Volunteer for Wikipedia. Most Wikipedia volunteers write on many different subjects, and may look unkindly on you if your only goal is to promote your company or products. Spend a little time adding information to those subjects where you have expertise, which can include things like your school, your home town, and your industry. Or spend a little time fixing the grammar on an existing entry. This will both win friends and give you a valuable inside view of how Wikipedia works.
  3. Search your company name on Wikipedia. 'It may seem obvious, but not everyone checks to see if they're in there already,' Walsh says. You may find that your company is mentioned in a different article, rather than having an article of its own. If it is, he suggests adding information to that article rather than starting a whole new one.
  4. Find out if you have in-house expertise. Check to see if anyone already working at your company is a Wikipedia volunteer. If so, that person can be a valuable resource to help you find your best strategy for getting included.
  5. Learn from Wikipedia itself. There are many hundreds of articles in Wikipedia -- as well as a wizard -- telling users how to create articles and what the rules are. If you still have questions, Walsh recommends sending them to info@wikimedia.org, making your inquiry as clear and detailed as possible and bearing in mind that the responder will likely be a volunteer. You can also ask for help on the discussion page that goes with the article you are trying to create. 'The first time I tried to create a Wikipedia article I had a hell of a time,' Nieuwenhuis says. 'But then I saw that you can ask to have people adopt you. It's like having someone look over your shoulder and either making corrections for you or letting you know if you're likely to be flagged for any reason.'
  6. Start with a stub. 'Don't write 500 or 1,000-word article right out of the gate -- it will be removed almost instantaneously,' Walsh warns. Instead, start with a 'stub' -- an article only a sentence or two long. 'Wikipedians see a stub as a challenge,' he says, and they may seek out information or images to add. 'It's almost always the better approach.'
  7. Include links to third-party sites. Remember that everything you put into a Wikipedia article should be referenced to a previous publication and Wikipedians will look for links to articles about you or other references beyond your own company website. In fact, it's probably a good idea to include these external links first, and consider not including your company's website, at least initially.
  8. Use the discussion page. Every Wikipedia article comes with a discussion page, and Nieuwenhuis suggests using this liberally to explain, for instance, that you'll be adding more information or links, as well as asking for advice. She also advises setting aside a chunk of time once you post your article, as Wikipedians will likely find it and edit it quickly, and you want to respond right away to any concerns.
  9. Grow a thick skin. Remember that anyone can write anything about you on Wikipedia, and they may. If faced with an unwarranted attack, your best strategy is to appeal to the Wikipedia community for help, Walsh advises. Editing the article yourself can look like an attempt at censorship. 'There's an absolute policy of mine arrived at after months of hard-headedness,' Goodman says. 'No matter what, no one from our company, including our marketing staff, is allowed to touch our Wikipedia entry.'
Last updated: Jan 18, 2010

MINDA ZETLIN is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
@MindaZetlin




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