Wikipedia publishes reports such as Top 25 Most Accessed Wikipedia Articles and Top 20 Most Edited Wikipedia Articles to offer insights to what Wikipedia articles excite the public and inspire edit activity. Wikipedia data is very useful, especially for drawing correlations. Coupling Wikipedia data with the 2019 Fortune 500 presents a unique story of how company news and brand hype influence a company’s narrative, written by Wikipedia editors.
The table below presents the top 10 companies with the highest number of edits on their Wikipedia article in 2018. Tesla tops the chart with 878 edits. Netflix came in a close second place with 856 edits. Neither Tesla or Netflix have comparable market capitalization or revenue.
We observed a general trend that corroborated our findings in our 2016 Most-Edited Fortune 500 Wikipedia Pages report that the news about the companies inspired the Wikipedia volunteer editors to update the respective Wikipedia articles. Edits on the company Wikipedia articles are correlated with the company’s high frequency of being mentioned in the news. Furthermore, edits are not necessarily correlated with the expansion of content. A high volume of edits can also be the trimming of article content. We also observed some interesting patterns that helped us refine our initial hypothesis to account for the nature of the news stories and whether the edits are additions or removals. All 10 of these companies received considerable coverage in the media and hold a certain status in the public’s consciousness.
In this group, 6 out of 10 companies listed in the Most-Edited 2019 Fortune 500 Wikipedia articles also appeared in our 2016 Most-Edited Fortune 500 Wikipedia Pages report. The standout company is Facebook because it had the largest volume of change in content. Upon further research, the news about Russian influence on the platform as well as ongoing privacy concerns correlated with large spikes in visitor traffic. In fact, on the heels of the news of Russian influence on US political campaigns correlated with a 647% daily traffic spike on January 18, 2018, versus the annual average.
Although traffic spikes generally see a subsequent spike in editing, it’s worthwhile to note that there were a mere five edits in the week following that news; however, following the comparatively smaller spike in visitor traffic correlated to the news of the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal on March 22, there were over 40 edits to the article. It is fair to infer that the nature of the news surrounding the company’s traffic spike rather than the news itself plays a large role in the number of subsequent edits to the article. News stories breaking on April 11 (about improper password storage) and July 26 (about a $120 billion loss in value) also saw a corresponding spike in edits.
On the other end of the spectrum, the company that saw the most content removed from its article was Starbucks. There were 153 edits to the page in 2018, just 22% of its average annual edits. Looking at June 5, the date of the largest traffic spike, (which corresponded with the news of Executive Chairman Howard Schultz’s departure from the company) there were a few edits, one of which reflected the change in corporate leadership. In our observations, content removals rarely correspond to particular traffic spikes or new events unless they concern spin-offs or mergers that would necessitate subsequent spin-offs or mergers of the respective articles. Digging deeper into Starbucks’ edit history, it became apparent that the bulk of the content removal occurred months prior, through the creation of a new article that comprised much of the missing text. The spike on April 18 coincided with the announcement that Starbucks would close temporarily close stores for racial bias training, after an incident where two black men were arrested at a store in Philadelphia. As news of the incident was added to the Starbucks article, one savvy Wikipedian created a new article “Criticism of Starbucks” with the recent content to give the issue enough space to be described thoroughly without diluting the content of the main article.
Two of the companies whose articles that made our top 10 most edited list, The Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox, were perpetually discussed throughout 2018 in the lead up to the latter’s eventual acquisition by the former on March 20, 2019. Edits to the Disney Wikipedia article were pretty much on par with the annual average (577 in 2018 vs. 605.5 annually) while edits to 21st Century Fox doubled (466 in 2018 vs. 227.4 annually). The deviance in 21st Century Fox's annual edits is attributed to the relative difference in each company’s overall history on their respective Wikipedia article. Disney’s 96-year history compared with 21st Century Fox's 7-year history immediately shows the reader the Wikipedia editors put attention to historical narrative if there is a better story to be told. On the Disney Wikipedia article, the acquisition of 21st Century Fox was a single event in the chronology. However, the 21st Century Fox article needed sufficient context about the end of its independent legacy and the specifics of which holdings were acquired by Disney under the terms of the sale. The editor activity confirms company news drives both visitor and editor activity. As it stands, the 21st Century Fox article still exists as a historical ledger because the content is significant enough to merit the preservation of the article.
We confirmed observations from 2016 that news stories drive Wikipedia traffic. Visitor traffic also drives Wikipedia article edit activity also holds true, but with the caveat the edit activity is content additions rather than removals. It’s easy to look at these trends and assume one of the 1,300 Wikipedia super editors will update pages in a timely manner. But that's not the case.
Taking a hands-off approach and deferring to the public is a missed opportunity to help cultivate positive sentiment about the company. Wikipedia data indicates the public goes to Wikipedia to supplement their knowledge after news stories break.
Staying on top of media mentions and new stories are already part of any robust communications and reputation management program. But amongst the Fortune 500, fewer than 10% integrate Wikipedia into their media strategy. Wikipedia is a straightforward way of stretching existing resources into a perpetual online presence that transcends the news cycle.
About Our Methodology
We evaluated data from the following sources: 2019 Fortune 500 list, WikiHistory, and xtools-articleinfo. To qualify on the list, we imposed a rule that the company Wikipedia page had to have a minimum of 20 annual edits. Further entries had to be omitted due to corporate restructuring and subsequent restructuring of the respective Wikipedia articles (most notably DowDuPont), as there was no clear article history to draw from. Download a copy of this report here.
We sourced our data from Fortune Magazine, which ranks public and private companies by total revenue by fiscal year. We used data from the 2019 Fortune 500 list.
WikiHistory and xtools-articleinfo
Historical edit activity was sourced from WikiHistory and xtools-articleinfo, which present and visualize the edit activity of Wikipedia articles. On both sites we input the time period to pull up the data (i.e., January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018).