Scandal! That’s what erupted within the Wikipedia editing world when journalist Jack Craver and, later, The New York Times, revealed that national public relations firm Sunshine Sachs had been covertly embellishing entries of many of its celebrity clients.
Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow were among the updated exaggerated client articles.
This misuse raised the issue of covert polishing of articles — via paid editors removing negative information — which is strictly prohibited by Wikipedia’s rules. But it also revealed the emerging importance Wikipedia is to celebs like Farrow and Campbell, and their P.R. firm.
Why millions search Wikipedia first
Why would someone want to distort their Wikipedia entry? Because, beyond wanting to remove well-documented unfavorable info, roughly 15 million people worldwide turn daily to Wikipedia for an objective take on what they’re searching for. With thousands of well-written and well-sourced articles in the world’s premier online encyclopedia, most people not only trust Wikipedia, but use it as their only source of information on many topics.
Athletes, actors, models, and musicians are just the tip of who benefit from covert editing.
If negative facts are added to the Wikipedia article of a specific company, damage to its reputation is just the beginning. Consumers would stop buying from them, stop recommending them, start writing negative reviews, start reporting to the Better Business Bureau, lawsuits might be filed, and stocks could plummet.
Companies successfully using influence marketing understand the role Wikipedia articles play in their marketing strategies. They know the general public trusts what they read in Wikipedia.
Putting trust in Wikipedia
Unlike a company website, a Wikipedia article is supposed to be free of marketing language. It is viewed as a compendium of important facts about the company. And it’s where a reader can conduct personal research — to support decision-making about whether to buy a product or service, to invest in a company’s stock, or become a “fan” of the company.
Also, unlike the company website, Wikipedia entries are outside the complete control of every company. Anyone with a Wikipedia account can edit the page. (An exception is if a user has had their account blocked.) That’s why companies need to have a thoughtful strategy for evaluating and influencing the content of a related Wikipedia article.
As an influencer company, you want your Wikipedia presence to be credible, easy to read and to understand, and supportive of your brand’s marketing objectives without sounding like an extension of your website.
But you also don’t want to get into the mess Sunshine Sachs found itself in by secretly editing pages to give them a more positive spin. There is a way to proceed that adheres to ethical standards and still benefits your company.
Stayed tuned for our next post, Your Five-Point Wikipedia Influencer Strategy.