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So You Want a Wikipedia Page?

April 30th, 2014 / - filed under Digital Marketing

Clients often ask about Wikipedia. Prospects often ask about Wikipedia. We could suggest everyone just visit Wikipedia to learn more about Wikipedia. But the truth is, Wikipedia is surprisingly nuanced and it’s crucial for law firms to understand these nuances before surging forward.

The benefits are pretty significant. If brand recognition matters, Wikipedia is a go-to source. Google “IBM,” “Barack Obama” or “penicillin”—Google anything really—and, chances are, Wikipedia will land in the top 3 items of your search. This means that Wikipedia is an influencer of the highest caliber. Given the fact that it’s also free, this makes for a pretty attractive advertising proposition.

But Wikipedia isn’t about advertising, it’s about information…and this is where things start to get tricky.

You Don’t Own Your Content
Anyone can submit information. And a whole lot of people do. Theoretically, if an individual or entity is notable, eventually someone will draft a Wikipedia entry. Because it’s an open source, others will edit and revise and edit and revise ad infinitum. A Wikipedia entry is an organic thing that belongs to the whole universe. As such, the site demands a great deal of editorial honor and integrity and it guards both fiercely. Nevertheless, bad things can and do happen. If libelous trolls use Wikipedia to defame a person or entity, they will be blacklisted. If your entry is prey to such trolls, you can request a moratorium on edits. But this may take time.

Just the Facts Ma’am
While we talk about Wikipedia in the context of digital marketing, the site is decidedly opposed to fluff, puff and spin. This is not the place for sweeping statements, fancy adjectives or endless accolades. Just facts. Lawyers generally appreciate this more than the average bear. Statements must be cited, preferably by third-party sources, both credible and verifiable. You can’t say We have expert project finance lawyers. You can say The firm’s project finance team, recognized among the finest in the nation by x and y (cite rankings, surveys, etc), negotiated three of the largest energy deals to close in 2013 (cite league tables, news stories etc).

Who Says
So who does the submission? Also tricky. A firm can wait and wait and wait in the hopes that some person somewhere will spend their Sunday crafting an entry. Or the firm can take charge. But here’s the deal: If you author your own submission, you run the risk of being too partial. If you outsource the submission to a pr firm, you run into Wikipedia’s strong conflict of interest policy. The site is justifiably suspicious of paid advocates. Both self-authored entries and those generated by outside agencies can be successful, but both require rigorous discipline. Keep it simple and stick to facts and stats that are credible and verifiable. If there is a controversy, better to call it out in the interest of editorial integrity than to risk no entry at all, or worse, an entry “corrected” by someone with an axe to grind. Ultimately, when it comes to drafting or correcting an entry, you go through the editorial team and every edit to a page is tracked and visible to the entire galaxy.

Next Steps
Practically speaking, after sending a submission to a Wiki editor, it generally takes three weeks or so to go from receipt to live post. Still, don’t let the excitement or efficiency of the process take hold. When it comes to open sources, proceed with caution. Once you’re out there, you’re out there forever and you don’t dictate messaging, only the facts can. So do your homework. Weigh the risks and rewards. Ask basic questions — Do we need a Wikipedia page? Why? Is name recognition a challenge for our firm? Will this support our client develop efforts? Will this support our recruitment efforts? Are we looking at our web presence and activity strategically?

Wikipedia has categorically changed how we access information and how we share it. And, like any communications vehicle, it has its benefits and its risks. Understanding how the site functions and its editorial policies can help to determine if and how Wikipedia should be a part of your firm’s digital strategy.