If you were in doubt about the potential of digital to drive the news agenda the front pages of The Mirror and The Guardian should provide the final evidence you need. I am going to stay out of the debate about whether the Wikipedia user ‘Contribsx’ was Grant Snapps or ‘or someone acting on his behalf’ to the army of volunteer editors on the platform. However, I hope the few points below will help you navigate Wikipedia and avoid a similar fate.
But first, why should I care about Wikipedia?
For me the most interesting part of the story so far is that no one has raised the issue of why anyone would care about what is said about them, an issue they care about, or their company on Wikipedia. Perhaps this shows just how much digital has become part of the mainstream communications picture. Still not convinced? Well, consider this. Wikipedia is the go-to source of information for the internet-literate generation - according to stats from the US-based Pew Internet Research Centre by May 2010 53% of American internet users look for information on Wikipedia, up from 36% in February 2007.
Some do's and don'ts
Do understand that Wikipedia is a community:
This is perhaps the most important point. Unlike sites like the BBC and The Times Online, Wikipedia articles are created, edited and policed by an army of unpaid volunteers. According to Wikipedia as of 22 April its 4,856,488 articles, 36,083,272 pages have been created by 24,852,916 registered users and edited and policed by 1,355 administrators. Wikipedia itself only has a small central staff of around 100 people.
This means that when you engage in editing and creating articles you are engaging in a community of people. People who have more time than you and people who can help and support you if you treat them and the community with respect. Equally, you disrespect them at your risk!
Don’t hide - embrace transparency:
All edits are public on the site. This means that those administrators and self-appointed editors will be looking for activity which could be regarded a suspicious or against the spirit of the platform. If they do the pages you want to contribute to will be put under protection. So rather than trying to go under the radar create an account and use a name which can be linked back to you or your company. You can help do this by creating a user page where you should mention who you are working for.
Do read the conflict of interest guidelines:
Wikipedia has as its aim ‘to produce a neutral, reliable encyclopedia’. If you are making edits that go against this then you run the risk of having your account suspended and a backlash against you. So read the Conflict of Interest guidance Wikipedia has created.
Don’t make bad edits - follow the house style:
Although Wikipedia is created by hundreds and thousands of people around the world, it has a house style guide. Read it, learn it and follow it. This will not only help, your contribution to the platform fit better it will put you in a better place with the community on the site who will reward you with helpful edits and support.
Do take time to contribute to the wider community:
An important way to improve your reputation with the community on Wikipedia is getting involved elsewhere. So, within the guidelines of Wikipedia, find other pages that you can improve with edits that are well researched and well-thought through.
Don’t miss out the facts:
As stated earlier Wikipedia’s aim is to ‘produce a neutral, reliable encyclopedia’. This rules out self- (or company) promotion. Those Wikipedia editors and administrators are watching for this and will come down on you like a tonne of bricks for doing this. Given this, it is best not to edit your own or your company’s page unless they are to correct small factual errors which you back up with links to trusted third parties. Examples of this could be a link to an old company website. Even then, remember that the goal of Wikipedia is that it should be a ‘neutral’ encyclopedia.
Do ask the community to help:
If you want to see more significant changes to pages on Wikipedia it is best to encourage third parties to help. Alternatively, you can post in the editorsforum and ask for their help. Again, remember the central objective of Wikipedia, and don’t do anything which could be considered as heavy handed.
Wikipedia isn’t the wild west – it is a community and like any community it has rules and norms. If you follow them you will prosper, but if you don’t, you will end up like Contribsx, who ever they are.