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Wikipedia as a Parallel Platform

When it comes to Wikipedia in branding and communications, it can be challenging to justify the spend on a project, let alone a full program. Projects could be on the corporate article or an executive’s biography. A full program encompasses brand management across the company’s brand and products. Still, the rationale behind the hesitance is often the same: won’t Wikipedia divert traffic away from the official website?

The trouble with that perspective is it assumes Wikipedia visitor traffic and pageviews are a zero-sum game. If a reader gets a satisfactory level of information from Wikipedia, why would they then go to the company website? However, consider the advent of social media. Does a Facebook page or Twitter account divert traffic? The perception is those impressions occurring outside the official ecosystem are lost, when in reality, Wikipedia functions as a parallel platform.

Increasingly users seek information from Wikipedia rather than from a company’s website. The idea is reflected in Wikipedia’s own policies: a secondary source is more reliable than a primary source. Additionally, Wikipedia’s rules against promotional tone and content further drive the sentiment that information found there is more trustworthy. There is no marketing-speak to decode when the facts are laid out in an understandable narrative.

Furthermore, Wikipedia’s unified style (while far from being truly cohesive) makes it easier for the user to find the relevant information. Need some quick facts about the company? The CEO, headquarters location and foundation date are all right there in the infobox at the top of the article. Rather than making three individual queries on a search engine or having to navigate and click through a “Corporate Leadership” page, an “About” page, and a “History” page, it’s all available at first glance.

Visitors who visit Wikipedia first are different because they actively seek out this information. They haven’t been coerced or click baited into following links outside of their purview. They can thus be leveraged in new ways, like targeting Wikipedia articles on topics related to products and specific markets. Consider the case of “Smart Grid in China.”

In its infancy, the article on Smart Grid in China was a skeleton compared to the article for Smart Grid, in desperate need of supplemental information and cleanup. Bringing the Wikipedia article up to par for quality called for more research and copyediting. The Smart Grid in China Wikipedia article became a platform to describe the client’s pilot project in the area. Although adding coverage on both the deployment and subsequent model didn't lead to a significant increase in traffic to the client’s product page, conversions from those clickthroughs into sales increased sizably.

There are other hidden benefits to adopting Wikipedia as a parallel platform to the official website and other media channels. Wikidata (a sister project to Wikipedia nested under the Wikimedia Foundation) works in tandem with Wikipedia to parse information into more scrapable data. In the way the Wikipedia is easy for a human user to read, Wikidata is the equivalent for machines. It stores structured data in such a way that it can be licensed freely for other sites and services such as Wikipedia, Amazon Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. Notably, Google’s Knowledgegraph uses Wikidata to present data and information alongside the results of a search query. Automated data scraping of public corporate data is becoming widely accepted. It becomes more prudent to ensure the information is accurate at the source: Wikipedia and Wikidata. So long as the data remains freely licensable, there is little reason for companies like Google to seek alternative sources.

A robust Wikipedia program doesn’t have to compete with an existing digital branding program. While it certainly requires capital and human resources allocation, when done correctly, a Wikipedia program complements the digital strategy. Wikipedia reaches new specific audiences and extends the brand’s reach beyond traditional channels.

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