The Wikipedia Secret

imagesWhat are the three most effective social-media tools for online marketing? I recently posed that question to a full-time practitioner of marketing via social media, and I wasn’t surprised when she said the top two are Twitter and Facebook. But I didn’t expect her to mention the one she put in third place. It’s not Digg or StumbleUpon or Reddit or It’s Wikipedia.

Everyone knows Wikipedia as a reference source of gargantuan dimensions, and a site that routinely ranks near the top in Google searches. It is famously an open-source medium: its content is generated and updated by its users, and that’s the key. If you can document your edits through Web links or other citations, you – like any user – can edit an existing entry or put up a new one. The resulting click-throughs compared to other social media are said to be impressive.

This isn’t even a new idea. Back in 2006 a British blogger named Simon Collister wrote, “According to research carried out by search engine marketing firm Spannerworks, social media site Wikipedia appears in Google’s first 20 results for 88% of the top 100 global brands…. [O]rganisations that think Wikipedia is just a handy reference tool are overlooking its vast SEO potential.” SEO is search-engine optimization, and Collister is saying that Wikipedia’s high rank in searches is a golden opportunity for exposure.

Wikipedia’s open-source, citation-dependent character makes it very different from Twitter and Facebook. You control 100% of the content of your Tweets, and you decide what goes on your Facebook page. On Wikipedia, however, any content you post is subject to editing or removal by someone else.

What’s more, since its content is intended to be verifiable, you can’t submit an entry that describes your organization as, say, “the pre-eminent Jewish communal organizational of the Western United States.” Value judgments run counter to Wikipedia’s mission as a source of objective information, and their volunteer editors and automated edit-bots will come after you if violate that basic rule. This can be a challenge for marketing people who are used to writing about “exciting new programs,” “innovative approaches,” “record-breaking attendance,” and the like, but accepting the distinction is crucial to success with Wikipedia.

In general, keep in mind these dos and don’ts.

  • First, consult Wikipedia’s guide to contributing articles to understand its policies about content and its process for editorial management.
  • Wikipedia’s value lies in users’ respect for its credibility. Make sure that your Wikipedia entry is accurate and objective, and free of language that touts your virtues. Use Wikipedia to build awareness and educate your publics about you, not to sell them something.
  • Wikipedia wants articles written by disinterested third parties to help ensure objectivity. If you write about your own organization the article may get deleted because of a conflict of interest.
  • Be sure your entry cites sources, preferably ones that are readily available online so they can be easily checked. Don’t include information that is new to the public; Wikipedia is not intended to be a medium to publish new findings or introduce original information.
  • Link to copyright material you want to cite, but don’t include it within your article. If the material (text or image) is reproduced within your Wikipedia entry it may be removed because of possible infringement.
  • As with any successful strategy, be prepared to invest in it on an ongoing basis. Stay involved and keep on top of Wikipedia’s technical and editorial tools, and use them to edit any articles where you can add useful information. Don’t upload a single article and then walk away.

Bob Goldfarb is the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and an author of Wikipedia content. A regular contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy, Bob lives in Jerusalem.