What Wikipedia Wants from Companies

January 6, 2020

The unpublished list of what the Wikipedia community wants from company representatives is education, understanding, empathy, and reliable secondary sources. The tips offered in StellaResults blog posts are helpful to navigate the Wikipedia landscape, but there is no real substitute for the change in mindset that comes with the experience of contributing to Wikipedia. In the business of Wikipedia consulting, there are few things as rewarding as a client submitting Wikipedia-compliant assets ready to donate. Their contribution is a positive addition to their company Wikipedia article, the larger Wikipedia community, and the Internet.

 

On our team, we each bring our own perspective from our initial training on learning Wikipedia policies, guidelines, and engaging with the Wikipedia community. We frame our work into a three-layer editorial system: our client’s interests, our input, and the Wikipedia editors’ input. In the process we strategize together on how to convey the story on Wikipedia that meets the client’s interests as well as adheres to Wikipedia content policies. Balancing all the interests while also adhering to Wikipedia policies is easy. The difficulty is in winning over Wikipedia editors. Even with nearly a decade of experience amongst us, we still get antagonized by Wikipedia editors. We stick it out, have measured debates (and others quite unmeasured) and after sometimes after several months we successfully collaborate with cooperative Wikipedians who help complete a project.

 

Education and Experience Matters

 

But by shifting from “We need to get this done” to “What does the Wikipedia community need from us?” we have found common ground with other Wikipedians. Consequently, it is win-win. They are successful as volunteer editors and we are successful as paid Conflict of Interest (COI) editors.

The Wikipedia community wants more contributors. Moreover, they prefer contributors who are educated about content policies and guidelines. If it seems difficult to accomplish anything on Wikipedia, the problem stems from both the Wikipedia community and paid COI editors. Since the community mostly comprises volunteers, many of those volunteers resent paid contributors (known as paid COI editors). Furthermore, many paid COI editors have not dedicated enough time to learn 250+ policies and guidelines. COI editors also may not have the time to volunteer on Wikipedia. Their inherent corporate bias is a handicap. Even with good intentions paid COI editors are met with distrust. Volunteer Wikipedians feel they serve the world at large, the Wikipedia community and its readers. They have the agency to ignore requests from corporate representatives. They do not owe anything to anyone. And therein lies the opportunity. 

Wikipedia's plain and simple guide to COI (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Plain_and_simple_conflict_of_interest_guide)

 

Empathy Fosters Goodwill and Wikipedian Collaboration

 

Wikipedia editors are volunteers. They have spent their free time learning the policies for conduct, style, and content. Many contributed hundreds of edits in service of ensuring that Wikipedia remains a reliable and unbiased source of information for the world. Enter the paid COI editor, who persists with requests for help to update content on a company Wikipedia article. For those volunteers who have spent countless hours creating and maintaining encyclopedic content, it’s offensive to be asked to fulfill a request. This is especially true if the content that needs updating has a promotional tone. Is it any wonder that it breeds an air of hostility towards paid COI editors? Imagine trying to pitch a story a media contact. The pitch is focused on ensuring the narrative agreed upon internally at the company is in the story. Therefore, without any appreciation for principles of journalism, the journalist’s beat, their editor, or even their publication, the pitch is vulnerable to rejection or worse, you have been labeled with a reputation of pushy pitches. Although in media and journalist relationships, conversations can be private, by phone, email, or in person, in the Wikipedia community, the forum is only online and public.  

 

Paid COI editors who are successful on Wikipedia have taken the time to familiarize themselves with Wikipedia’s policy on Conflict of Interest and content policies and guidelines. Their COI declaration is in accordance with Wikipedia’s Terms of Use. They also refrain from directly editing the Wikipedia articles they are working on. Furthermore, many pledged, on their userpage the commitment to ethical conduct. That level of commitment is a demonstration of empathy. 

A sample paid COI disclosure on a userpage (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Workweektraffic)

 

While empathy helps with fostering rapport with Wikipedia editors, credibility is established when paid COI editors understand the components of Wikipedia content: reliable secondary sources and free licensed media. 

 

5 Best Practices For Effective Company Wikipedia Programs

 

The list of perennial sources takes the guesswork out of determining if a source is Wikipedia-compliant. Though company-published content is considered the most accurate by company representatives, on Wikipedia verifiability is the policy. This series of comics illustrates the importance of reliability. While this means that things like press releases aren’t usable, there are other internal assets that can provide unexpected value. Archival or even current media (e.g., photos, infographics, or video) help further inform the reader on the article subject. Whether they depict old headquarters, illustrate how new technology works, or show the evolution of a product, media assets go beyond the reach of mere text. Wikipedia (and its sister project Wikimedia Commons) require that all media be licensed for free use. Though it may seem like a big requirement, a free use license is essential to open education. Free license media also limits Wikipedia’s and Wikimedia’s liability from copyright abuses so all of its content can be distributed without restriction. Licensing media for free use is a gesture of good faith (and a valuable “bargaining chip”) to the Wikipedia community and demonstrates a real engagement with and contribution to Wikipedia’s primary goals.

A table of which Creative Commons licenses are usable on Wikimedia Commons (from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing)

 

Wikipedia needs paid COI contributors who represent Wikipedia's interests in at least in equal measure to the company's. The five best practices of a successful Wikipedia program are:

  1. Terms of Use. Failure to adhere to Wikipedia's ToU can result in bans for usernames as well as corporate IP blocks.

  2. Conflict of Interest (COI) disclosure. Failure to disclose a COI is a violation of the ToU. COI disclosure fosters trust among Wikipedians.

  3. Reliable Sources. Content persists for many years on Wikipedia, when supported by reliable secondary sources.

  4. Media. Visual assets complement content across all Wikimedia entities including Wikipedia. The more multimedia and visual media on Wikimedia Commons, the better it is for open education and knowledge and company brand visibility. 

  5. Licensing. Media on Wikimedia entities have a Creative Commons license assigned by the donor. The donation of educational or otherwise informative media demonstrates good faith that you want to contribute in a positive manner.

The keys to being a responsible and ethical paid COI editor on Wikipedia are immersion in Wikipedia’s principles and policies, engagement and gentle rapport development with Wikipedia editors. Success with Wikipedia begins and ends with understanding what it needs to sustain its presence as the “sum of all human knowledge.”

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