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Wikipedia for Reputation Management [Part 2]

December 22, 2015 Charlie Pownall

How can organisations best build trust with Wikipedia editors? How can they know which Wikipedia editors to build a relationship with? Is it possible or even advisable to build 'offline' relationships with Wikipedia editors?

If you show respect for Wikipedia's project of building an encyclopedia, and demonstrate that you can help support that goal by out making small suggestions that are obviously helpful, Wikipedia editors will be more motivated to help you out with bigger changes later on. Of course, one won't always be working with the same volunteer editor, but anyone can see the list of contributions you make, and if the suggestions are helpful, and if you seem to know what you are doing, you have a better chance of getting a positive response. Creating a user page for your account that mentions where you work also helps to communicate that you take Wikipedia seriously, and that goes a long way.

Transparency underpins the editing of Wikipedia, but there are different forms of disclosure. What are the pros and cons of the many different options for corporates?

The more forthcoming one is willing to be, the better of one will be. Likewise, the larger and more recognizable an organization one represent, it's more advisable to use real-life identifiers. A real first name or initials should be the minimum standard, but if an editor can search your name and find that, indeed, you work for this organization, that's going to be the best. It's worth noting that Wikipedia allows pseudonyms, currently even for company representatives, but if one operates under a pseudonym while contributing to an entry about a client or employer, participating under one's own name communicates trustworthiness very effectively.

Are organisations best advised to edit their own Wikipedia pages? If not, or they do not feel comfortable doing this themselves directly, to whom should they assign this role?

In almost every circumstance, companies, institutions and any kind of organization should avoid making direct edits to the Wikipedia articles about them. This isn't to say that one should avoid having any involvement at all, though. An organization should certainly consider designating an employee, or engaging a specialist, to serve as a representative to the Wikipedia community. This person can and should point out errors, omissions, and other issues with entries related to their organization.

Are there any circumstances in which organisations can directly edit their pages/references to them on Wikipedia without needing approval from Wikipedia editors?

Technically, direct editing of articles is not prohibited—the phrase in Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline is "strongly discouraged". Meanwhile, the same guideline identifies "non-controversial edits" that anyone can make, such as removing vandalism, fixing spelling errors, or adding reliable sources to an article. Nevertheless, I think most organizations are better served to be patient and ask volunteer editors to double-check their suggestions. The main reason is because Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's co-founder, takes an opposite view: that organizations should never edit their entry, under any circumstance. Not all editors agree with it, and this view is very unlikely to become official policy, but so long as there is confusion on the issue, it's better to ask instead.

Are there any circumstances in which an organisation should NOT change their page(s)?

Deciding whether to get involved with the Wikipedia article about one's own organization is simply a cost-benefit calculation. In theory, there's no reason that anyone can't offer useful input on the article about them. In practice, there may be factors that may dissuade you. If you can't find a source to verify a suggestion, or you object to something that other editors tell you is compatible with Wikipedia's guidelines, I'd say let it go. Another interesting circumstance is where an article may be unsatisfactory, but a significant controversy is not currently mentioned in the article. Should you risk stirring the hornet's nest? Should you suggest its inclusion so you can have a hand in making sure it's described in neutral terms? That's a value judgment organizations will have to make for themselves.

How can organisations best track/monitor changes to Wikipedia?

Keeping track of edits on Wikipedia is actually fairly simple. After creating a user account, one can add pages to a watchlist by clicking on the star at the top of a given page. Then all subsequent edits will appear in the user's watchlist. By default, it only shows the latest edit, but the list behavior can be customized in the preferences pane associated with the account.

How effective/timely are Wikipedia's various complaint escalation and dispute resolution procedures?

The principal challenge with following Wikipedia's recognized procedures is that one can't really guarantee changes will be made on any particular schedule. If you are lucky, and if you have a minor issue, and you can find a helpful editor, perhaps you can get something changed within the same day. But if the suggested change is more complex, if it requires some explaining and some additional reading by the reviewing editor, then it can take significantly longer. In our client engagements, the shortest time period we're willing to consider for most projects is several weeks. If we're writing a new entry, or rebuilding an existing one, then we'll advise that it can take several months. Wikipedia has an unofficial rule called "There is no deadline" which says: Wikipedia editors are volunteers who contribute as they are able to do so.

Finally, does Wikipedia editing fall under national laws covering marketing/advertising disclosure?

In the US, there has been some discussion about whether anonymous edits of entries about one's employer or client may violate FTC rules prohibiting undisclosed marketing activities, which until now has focused on issues like manipulation of user reviews on sites like Yelp or Amazon, or promotional blog posts where the writer does not indicate they were compensated to write something. I think it's probable that Wikipedia edits should be considered subject to these rules, although at present it's untested. However, we're also starting to see individuals and organizations bringing lawsuits against editors whom they believe have libeled them, so we may see some actual precedents set in the near future.

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