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Wikipedia's 1% Bad for Brand Management

The Credit Suisse 8th Global Wealth Report determined 50% of the world’s wealth is owned by the richest 1%. The data is not all that surprising. But on the world’s #1 online reference site, what does 1% represent? A study revealed nearly 80% of Wikipedia content is written by 1% of Wikipedia’s 132,000 volunteer editors. This means a mere 1300 people write and monitor content read by close to 1 billion people.

Sorin Matei, Director of the Purdue University Data Storytelling Network, and his colleague Brian Britt, assistant professor of journalism at South Dakota State University ran an algorithm to parse through Wikipedia’s public edit logs.

"Wikipedia is like any other organization," Matei said in an interview with digital publication Motherboard. "Leaders matter tremendously. They invested so much of their time and seeded the collaboration process."

The data casts serious doubt on the idea that “anyone can edit”. The reality is there is a shortage of people on Wikipedia to update 46 million English language encyclopedic entries. Consequently, some Wikipedia articles have a lot of activity, whereas others are neglected. More importantly, all Wikipedia pages rank Top 10 in Google search results. Company profiles on Wikipedia have enhanced visibility on the Google Knowledgegraph.

Wikipedia’s 1% can hurt brand presence and perception. With 547 active Wikipedia administrators among 1300 editors, that leaves millions of Wikipedia articles without regular attention. This shortage of editors is an opportunity for brand and communications executives to set up a Wikipedia program to ensure their company brand encyclopedic presence is up to date, factual, and well-sourced.

Bringing together stakeholders across archives, legal, branding, communications, and marketing helps start the conversation with self-evaluation. Consider these questions:

  • We monitor our brand presence across a media spectrum (digital, print, social): what grade do we give ourselves in managing our brand on Wikipedia?

  • How representative is our brand story on Wikipedia?

  • How does our Wikipedia article compare to our competitors’ Wikipedia presence?

  • What is our crisis communications plan for responding to vandalism on our Wikipedia article?

  • How familiar are we with the Wikipedia Conflict of Interest (COI) policy?

  • What are the reputational implications for our brand if we interact directly with the Wikipedia community?

  • What is our company-wide workforce policy on editing Wikipedia?

Another benefit of proactive brand management on Wikipedia is building a positive reputation as an ethical contributor in the Wikipedia community. The online encyclopedia is 100% volunteer-operated. Given that 1% of the community contributes 80% of the content, Wikipedians have limited time and knowledge on where to access high quality third-party media references that are required to support new encyclopedic content. Rather than directly edit Wikipedia articles, curate the third-party media articles for the Wikipedia community at large, so they can update content, and in doing so help diversify and decentralize the perspectives on Wikipedia.


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