Social Media

Wikipedia, Transparency, and Your Brand's Reputation Online

Wikipedia has come to epitomize the Web 2.0 movement, with all its benefits and pitfalls. Small wonder then that many organizations have tried to harness the power of Wikipedia for their own ends. But the recent release of WikiScanner and the ensuing response show how Wikipedia’s apparent transparency and neutrality can have the opposite effect of what companies intended.
First, a look at some data: Wikipedia is the second most visited site from Google searches, and Google itself makes up a massive percentage of the total number of searches conducted in the United States. It therefore makes complete sense that a company would want its Wikipedia entry to paint a positive portrait; many people arrive at a company’s Wikipedia entry when using the company name as a search term.
The recent release of WikiScanner allowed people to easily see where Wikipedia edits originated from. It’s important to note that even though WikiScanner allows you to see what company an edit came from, one can’t know whether the edit was approved/requested by a company representative or if it was just an employee using a company computer on his own time. However, given the nature of the edits, it’s certainly not hard to imagine the former over the latter.
dc wikiscanner Wikipedia, Transparency, and Your Brand's Reputation Online
I don’t think it surprised people that company employees had edited their Wikipedia entries from company computers, but what may have been more shocking is the number of companies and the extent of the edits they made. For example, Dow Chemical removed information on the Bhopal chemical disaster, and Exxon changed information on the Exxon Valdez oil spill to make itself look more compassionate. The public response to the companies and to Wikipedia has not been kind (see comments here, here, and here)
Consumers like it when they think companies are being transparent. They also like to believe Wikipedia is a reliable source of information (whether either of these preferences is realistic or not is a whole different post). The recent WikiScanner debacle undermined both of these notions. Although the benefits of transparency in this day and age have been made obvious, some companies apparently didn’t think the trail of breadcrumbs that Wikipedia leaves would be significant. In the future, companies should think twice about taking advantage of Wikipedia’s liberal editing system. Unfortunately, rather than contemplate how to improve their products, services, or effects on the environment, and thus allow positive edits to come from outside the company, they may just make the edits from their home computers instead.

You Might Also Like

Comments are closed.

6 thoughts on “Wikipedia, Transparency, and Your Brand's Reputation Online

  1. Fantastic article, David. Thanks! As a brand implementation company, we’ve been telling our clients for ages now that they’ve got to be actively enforcing their brand through social web technologies. Thanks for giving me a great article to forward on to them!

  2. David Its good that people can monitor this and investigate but there are some draw backs. The publics imagination for conspiracy can be over the top. For instance I have worked for the US military for 15 years and frequently edit military related articles I have first hand experience with. Some people look at the record see an edit from a military IP and automatically assume some sort of cover up. This mindset sad really because this sort of thinking hinders the people most qualified to make an accurate article from contributing.

  3. I believe you mean, “given the nature of the edits of the handful of entries I reviewed,” no?
    Having worked at a Fortune 5 company, I assure you that very few have on their radar Wikipedia, let alone official policies regarding how to approach it. Companies embroiled in controversy, perhaps, but unless you have some actual data or numbers to support your claims, best to steer clear or at least be transparent about that which you are basing your wild suppositions upon (lest you compromise your OWN brand).

  4. ANP,
    Whether or not the companies explicitly authorized the edits, the fact of the matter is some of the edits that were flattering to the company were made from company computers. To the public, this reflects poorly on the company, regardless of who made the edits, and it is bad for their brand.
    To be fair, according to the Wired article which I linked to in the post, the majority of edits were not suspicious. But when someone at the Diebold office removes a portion of Diebold’s Wikipedia entry dealing with the security of their voting machines, it is bound to cause controversy and make Diebold look bad.

  5. As a Wikipedia administrator who’s handled these types of investigations for a long time I have a few observations. Right now two circumstances operate to the PR professionals’ advantage:
    1. The WikiScanner has revealed policy violations by so many different organizations that the story is rather dilute.
    2. Unregistered IP edits are somewhat explainable as the actions of an intern or a mailroom employee goofing off.
    Advertising and PR professionals who contemplate doing the same thing from a home computer, be advised: it looks a lot worse to get caught deliberately gaming Wikipedia’s system. Site volunteers have been foiling that and several other rather obvious exploits for a long time. Usually we’ve handled these cases rather quietly, but our investigations are public information and the press is interested in this kind of story. That’s a big risk to take for a rather minor benefit.
    Wikipedia offers several legitimate options for reputation management professionals who want to correct inaccuracies or balance coverage. I’ve published some of these methods at another website and I’ll gladly answer queries from the business community. I can be contacted through Wikipedia as User:Durova.

  6. I think you make some great points. My take on this is almost the same as yours:
    1) Only fix errors on your company . product information.
    2) It’s better to go to the talk section and get some agreement on what you want done from the community/editors.
    3) Don’t try to cover your tracks.
    But if your trying to add an external link go ahead, its a great way to get traffic, but be sure that the link is not to a marketing page but to a page that is neural in content and purpose.
    Also your company profile might not be great, but you can submit a stub on a product or service that is factual to gain links and traffic.