What communicators can learn from Wikipedia


When I reported for a major newspaper we’ll call The Daily Planet, I once dropped by the newsroom library just as a researcher was irritably emailing an editor to complain that a staff writer had cited Wikipedia.

Look! she said. Again! Wikipedia’s not a source.

Editors would agree. Like any good newsroom, The Daily Planet had a policy against sourcing information to Wikipedia, which can be about as reliable as writing, “According to some guy I overhead on the train.”

Yet a database search reveals that the phrase “according to Wikipedia” has sneaked into that newspaper paper 12 times since 2005. Other major news organizations have slipped up as recently as this week. Plus, even when reporters aren’t citing Wikipedia, they often draw their first impressions of your organization there.

What is it about Wikipedia that appeals to information-seekers—and what can you learn from it? Think from the perspective of a frantically Googling reporter who has never heard of your organization, doesn’t know what you produce and has 20 minutes to crank out a brief about a fire at your plant.

Here are some lessons from the site:

1. Wikipedia summarizes essential information.

Yes, you put a lot of thought that “about us” section and its multiple sub-pages, making sure we know about your organization’s commitment to sustainability and niceness. But did you write it with the assumption that everybody knows who you are and what you produce?

I won’t name and shame, but consider a real corporation that goes by an abbreviation. I’ll dub it XYZ Co.

Click on the website’s “about” tab, and you will find this message: “[XYZ] is a critical link that connects consumers with the global marketplace. For more than 160 years, [XYZ] has played a vital role in building and sustaining this nation’s economy.”

Great. So, is it a bank? A shipping company? A telecom with a history dating to the days of the telegraph? True, there are photos of trains and a drop-down subsection on “our railroad,” but reporters need the information in words.

Under “our railroad,” by the way, there are no figures beyond a brief history. The “financial information” drop-down refers to “Forms 10-K, 10-Q and 8-K” but doesn’t mention annual revenue.

By contrast, Wikipedia’s first 116 words reveal that XYZ is one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America and that it has 48,000 employees, more than 8,000 locomotives and 32,500 miles of track in 28 states.

2. Wikipedia doesn’t make reporters click around to different pages.

In fairness, XYZ links to a helpful fact sheet from the right-hand margin of the “about” page, but that is easily overlooked in a list of links.

Likewise, consider the website of Backless Gown Hospital Corp. (not its real name). A reporter on deadline goes to the home page. There it is—the “about” link! The drop-down offers further options. Let’s click through to “About [Backless Gown].” This page offers information on the year in review and how the hospital gives back to the community, but no summary of the organization.

Wait! There’s a newsroom link. Although that leads to some interesting-looking headlines on topics such as the connection between maternal weight and infant death, I’m not finding general information on the hospital.

Back to the drop-down. “Facts and stats”? Scrolling down the page, I find the information I was looking for, but compare the opening of this page with Wikipedia:

  • Company website: “[Backless Gown], a world-renowned health care provider and insurer based in [hometown], is inventing new models of accountable, cost-effective, patient-centered care.”
  • Wikipedia. “[Backless Gown] is a $ 10 billion integrated global nonprofit health enterprise that has more than 62,000 employees, 21 hospitals with more than 5,100 licensed beds, 400 clinical locations including outpatient sites and doctors’ offices, a 2.3 million-member health insurance division, as well as commercial and international ventures.”

3. Wikipedia gets updated.

Unreliable though it may be, the Wikipedia page for any major organization gets a lot of scrutiny—not only from fans and critics, but from communicators themselves. I know of one chief executive who would phone communicators at home and ask them to change the Wikipedia entry when an error cropped up (a practice Wikipedia frowns on). Clearly, some executives and PR pros watch what the website says about them.

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By contrast, how often does the CEO check your own “about us” page? As a reporter I once had to correct outdated information I got from an organization’s own “about us” page. Yes, you’re right—I should have called to double-check. Still, this raises the question of why the company thinks journalists should consider its website more reliable than Wikipedia.

4. Wikipedia makes it easy to find further experts.

Even knowing that Wikipedia is unreliable, reporters often use it to dig deeper into a topic.

If a Wikipedia contributor offers an interesting fact, you can click on the footnote and check out the source, whether it’s a newspaper article or academic study. This often leads reporters to industry experts or people with advanced degrees in a given subject area.

How easy is it for a reporter seeking expert sources to find them on your website?

Now, don’t even get me started about that “contact us” form.



The SEO Dangers of Wikipedia and Reputation Management

The SEO Dangers of Wikipedia and Reputation Management

The SEO Dangers of Wikipedia and Reputation Management


Suppressing content with Wikipedia is one of the worse things you can do.

When people contact me wanting to create a Wikipedia for reputation management, I give them one piece of advice…….RUN!

Of all the people who contact me to create a Wikipedia page, there are a few that do so for reputation management purposes. This is one of the worse things that you can do if your goal is to push negative content down the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). While it may seem like an easy way to suppress negative content, it can have negative consequences that will not only cause you frustration, but destroy any reputation management efforts that you have already undertaken.

I previously wrote about this subject for AllBusiness Experts a few years ago, but I still receive many contacts from people wanting to use Wikipedia for reputation management. My advice to anyone wanting to create a page for this reason is to run as far away as you can.

“Wikipedia can actually harm your reputation management efforts. Despite appearing on page one of Google, it will cause negative information to appear right along with it.”

What is the ultimate goal of reputation management?

Reputation management has two purposes.

The first is to maintain a good reputation on the Internet. This is done by monitoring search results and publishing as much positive information as you possibly can. Saturating the SERPs with positive press will help you create and maintain a positive image. Protima Tiwary had a great post on Social Media Week back in August that explained ways to maintain your personal brand

The second way to use reputation management (and unfortunately the most common), is to drown out negative information that is showing up in the search results. To do this, you need to strategically create positive press in order to push the negative information to page two of Google and beyond.

The difference between the two is simple. The first is to create and maintain a positive reputation “before” anything bad happens, while the second is a way to help get rid of negative information “after” something bad happens. While the ultimate goals are different, the way you get there is the same (populate the search results with positive press).

People who have done research on reputation management often start right off with trying to create a Wikipedia page. If you have a positive reputation, then creating a Wikipedia page is not going to be an issue. However, many people try to create a page in an effort to push negative content off the first page. This is a bad decision and one that cost them dearly in the end.

Why Wikipedia?

Let’s go beyond the statistics of Wikipedia for a moment. Forget about how it is the 7th most visited website in the world and how popular it is to readers. Focus on its relationship with Google.

“Google gives phenomenal weight to Wikipedia. If there is a page related to the search term, expect to see it on page one.”

Here’s how it works:

A Wikipedia page is created, automatically indexing with Google sometimes within hours of creation. The page will populate the search results for the keyword (or keyword phrase) associated with the content.

Another thing Wikipedia will do is give weight to the links used within the article. You will see many services selling links to Wikipedia (I do NOT recommend buying Wikipedia links – I discontinued doing so a while ago).

A link from Wikipedia can do wonders for your website, which is why this next part you really need to pay attention to.

Negative articles and the Wikipedia slingshot effect.

As stated above, Google gives heavy weight to links from Wikipedia. Once your article is posted, people are going to see it and eventually add information to it. This includes the negative information that you are trying to keep out. The negative press that you have worked so hard to push down (and paid so much money to a reputation management company) will begin to rise again in the SERPs.

Since the negative information is linked from Wikipedia, Google will give it heavier weight and start to bring it back to the top. So, links to your negative press are going to basically slingshot higher on the back of the Wikipedia page. This is the opposite of what you want.

Once the Wikipedia slingshot effect kicks in, you are going to regret every thinking about creating a Wikipedia page.

But can’t I control which articles are used in the Wikipedia page?

Absolutely. In the beginning!

“Wikipedia is open source and anyone can edit. This means that although you may create a Wikipedia page with all the information you want, it is subject to review and change by anyone editing the site. What you initially write can and will be changed.”

Wikipedia has editorial guidelines that must be followed. Although you may create a page with all the positive links about you (leaving out the negative), someone is ultimately going to come along and add them. This is how Wikipedia is designed to work.

Once someone adds the negative press, the Wikipedia slingshot effect will kick in, bringing those negative pages back to the top of Google.

What can be done once this happens?

I would like to give you good news, but at this point you are beyond getting things back to where they were. Deletion of the Wikipedia page is the best option as it will remove all the links once the page is deleted. However, if the page is notable, the likelihood of it being deleted are slim.

In fact, if the page was not notable, it would have likely been recommended for deletion already instead of people adding content to it. If you are unsure of what constitutes notability, I offer a free guide that will help you better understand the process.

Alternative reputation management techniques.

Reputation management is nothing new. You can find dozens of techniques that will likely help you suppress content in the search results. Some of my favorites include articles written by journalists and website building. Not all methods work the same for each person so obtain a thorough evaluation of your online reputation prior to jumping into using any method.

Hopefully you are reading this prior to creating a Wikipedia page. Deciding to create a Wikipedia page is a decision you should discuss with your reputation management company first. If you are simply maintaining your positive reputation, then a Wikipedia page can be a good thing. However, suppressing content with Wikipedia can be a nightmare if trying to restore your reputation.

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