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Why Wikipedia is (not) Social Media

In marketing and communications program strategy, it’s natural to want to control the message through original content or “conversation.” Where does Wikipedia fit? Because there is no clear way of attributing Wikipedia to traditional metrics, it is de-prioritized in the overall marketing mix. As a consequence, Wikipedia is lumped as part of social media. However, this fails to account for the robustness of Wikipedia as a platform. Wikipedia is overlooked because it is invisible in our search experience. Wikipedia is a better fit in brand management because in brand management, great brand experiences are ubiquitous. For example, Google is to search as Kleenex is to facial tissue and Band-Aid is to bandage. While it’s easy to perceive Wikipedia as a media platform (social or otherwise), it is first and foremost an encyclopedia. It does not report on the news, but rather informs the reader of an encyclopedic account of a person, event, topic, or company. More importantly, it’s reassuring to know the most sustainable Wikipedia content is not original content: it’s content supported by secondary sources.

Verifiability is one of Wikipedia’s best attributes. Strict sourcing policies, including the requirement of quality references to support any content, establish some implicit trust in the material. Though it is perhaps counterintuitive in crisis management cases, the transparency of the origins of the content empowers the reader to validate the information and feel comfortable processing the material as it is. This invites the reader to organically learn, rather than accept an agenda pushed through a platform. Whereas with social media the boundaries can blur, Wikipedia policies, guidelines, and active community of editors further establish credibility in your brand’s story.

Conversations on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and social media platforms support creativity and originality, which is beneficial for brand storytelling, customer service, marketing, and sales. The feature to disable or delete comments is so powerful on those social media platforms offers control over the "conversation". To be fair, community engagement is part of the process to improve the brand story on Wikipedia. However, the difference on Wikipedia is the user activity log is evergreen. Moreover, the act of deleting a conversation on Wikipedia can be considered an overt attempt to delete a discussion because it's not going the way that is preferred.

Additionally, content on social media platforms are not cited by digital assistants such as Siri, Google, or Alexa. Therefore, is it worth noting Wikipedia extends your brand’s reach not just through its own platform, but through its citation by Google’s Knowledge Graph and digital assistants. That means that a reliable synopsis of your brand’s story is being pushed out on a myriad of search platforms any time someone wants any kind of information relating to it. The perception of Wikipedia as a trustworthy source of information, complemented by its self-monitoring structure creates a congruent paradigm which far surpasses the quality of engagement found on traditional social media platforms.

In the discussions about digital programs, Wikipedia has earned its seat at the table. Wikipedia has effectively shed the misconception of unreliable content by way of strong link authority on search engines and cited as a source by digital assistants. Wikipedia has successfully proven for nearly 20 years; it is the #1 online source for knowledge. On average, well-sourced Wikipedia content persists for over 5 years. This means the overall cost of having a well-sourced brand story on Wikipedia is a fraction of the cost of ongoing social media conversations. So before dismissing Wikipedia by categorizing it as a low priority function in the social media program, consider the difference in value for a reader. Company-created content versus secondary-sourced content. Wikipedia is earned media.

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