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10 Ethical Ways to Manage Brand on Wikipedia

Wikipedia is heralded as the world's most important online reference platform. This year Wikipedia celebrates #Wikipedia15, its 15th Anniversary. Wikipedia represents the holy grail of search engine optimzation. Google implicitly trusts Wikipedia content. High search result rankings and prominence in the Google Knowledge Graph sidebar are examples of much Google favors Wikipedia. Google does not validate content for accuracy, thus leaving it up to the reader to validate content.

For communications, branding, legal, and marketing executives, Wikipedia is a taboo topic namely because there is no definitive nor simple way for corporate representatives (or its agents) to edit the company page on Wikipedia. As of June 2014, Wikipedia updated its Terms of Use to require users to disclose corporate affiliation and employment. Known as Conflict of Interest (COI) disclosure, Wikipedia revised its Terms of Use as a response to the increase of corporate page edits disguised as undisclosed and anonymous revisions. Yet, corporations, PR firms, and other branding consultancies still operate under the assumption "anyone can edit" Wikipedia.

We understand our peers within corporations and agencies may cringe at the thought of reviewing Wikipedia's 200+ policies. The more frightening thought is the possibility of reputational damage from being outed by the media (e.g., BP). We created this list of ten ethical ways to manage brand on Wikipedia.

1. Create a Workforce Policy

Wikipedia enforces its Terms of Use by tracking anonymous edits from IP addresses. Corporations benefit from creating a workforce policy because it gives employees and their families insight to the consequences of editing the company Wikipedia article. Wikipedia has the right to block access from IP addresses with a pattern of edits to the same Wikipedia article. Workforce policy should encourage good faith edits on Wikipedia, with the exception of company, competitor, product and executive pages.

2. One user. One username.

Wikipedia tracks user edits by username and IP address. Combined tracking helps identify Sock Puppets and Meat Puppets. Sock Puppets are users who create multiple usernames or have a username shared with other users. Meat Puppets are users who pose as a volunteer or collude with colleagues to influence a specific perspective. Corporate representatives and PR agents are encouraged to create one username per person. Wikipedia defines user as "a person, not a corporation or entity."

3. Disclose Conflict of Interest

Conflict of Interest (COI) disclosure is no longer voluntary, it is required. Disclose corporate affiliation on the corporate Wikipedia article and your userpage. Avoid username deletion, IP Address block, and prevent content banners from appearing on the corporate Wikipedia article.

4. Share Reliable Sources

Reliable sources are third-party media references. These are required to support the conent. Self-authored content such as press releases and company blog are not qualified references. Use Talk pages to post URLs to support encyclopedic content on the company Wikipedia article. Trust Wikipedians to help with updating out of date financial figures, executive officers, and board of directors.

5. Exercise Patience. Gently nurture.

Wikipedia enforces a "No rush" policy also known as "There is no deadline". Corporate representatives are known to post multiple Edit Requests on Talk pages and other noticeboards. The Wikipedia community likens this behavior to spamming. Gently nurture your edit requests by posting once a week coupled with inviting other Wikipedians to collaborate. Long lasting Wikipedia content is achieved through collaboration and consensus.

6. Don't Start An Edit War

Edit wars occur when two or more editors disagree on content. They go back and forth inserting and reverting content. Not only is this behavior not productive, the Wikipedia community considers it to be hugely disruptive. Even if you are confident in your edit, the other editor is confident with his edit too. If the content in dispute follows Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and is supported by third-party media references, take the issue up with Third Opinion to help mediate your disagreement, or post on the Dispute Resolution Noticeboard to try to settle the matter calmly.

7. Assume Good Faith

One of the core tenets of Wikipedia is to Assume Good Faith, or AGF. It's the Wiki-version of the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. While there are volunteer editors who will refuse to believe you are anything more than a corporate mouthpiece, they are acting in the way they believe best benefits Wikipedia as a whole.

Even when interacting with editors whose values align with your own, misunderstandings can arise. Don't forget: all of your interactions are limited to text. A lot can get lost in writing that would be easily conveyed verbally.

8. Follow The Rules

Although the lines can get blurred between what is a hard and fast rule and what is a guideline, editors should always strive to follow the 200+ policies to the best of their ability. Start with understanding The Five Pillars of Wikipedia. Disclose your willingness to learn and remind folks you will make mistakes along the way. This fosters good will amongst other editors, who will in turn help you accomplish your goals, and even defend your reputation should it come into question.

9. Build Credibility

Credibility as an editor helps the community trust you are there to improve Wikipedia, not just manage brand. One of the easiest ways to build credibility within the community is to voluntarily work on articles that need attention. Practice helps you become more comfortable with using the Wikipedia user interface. One place to help out is Wikipedia articles needing copy edit.

10. Ask For Help

Wikipedia has many guides on how to edit as it does actual articles. It can be overwhelming. So don't be afraid to ask for help! The Teahouse is a common starting place for editors to get assistance learning the inner workings of Wikipedia. Wikiprojects are a great place to ask for help when you have questions about a particular subject. If all of that is too much, find a Mentor! Some editors offer to take you under their wing and give you in-depth knowledge on how to navigate your way through Wikipedia. If you ever get lost, just ask for directions!

Brand management on Wikipedia is an integration and collaboration of communications, branding, marketing, and legal. Evergreen programs focus on building credibility and establishing trust within the Wikipedia community. Conflict of Interest disclosure, good faith collaboration, sharing reliable third-party media sources, policy compliance and patience go a long way to disprove the theory corporate representatives are unable to present content in neutral point of view (NPOV).


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