How to change your Wikipedia entry, ethically

by David Spark on August 20, 2007

A lot of companies came under a lot of heat recently for clandestinely editing their Wikipedia entries. Most of this behavior was discovered thanks to WikiScanner, a site that translates IP addresses to business locations of all edits. The blogosphere and the NY Times have jumped on this story with essentially the message, “Ha ha, we caught you.”

Listen to the Spark Minute (John Scott and David Spark from Green 960 in San Francisco, CA). Yes, you can update you or your company’s Wikipedia entry without looking like a weasel. The key is to be transparent in your behavior (Run time: 7:43).

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But this is a real problem for companies and individuals who see incorrect information being posted about them on Wikipedia. Right or not, many in the general public view Wikipedia as an editorially sound reference and it’s often the first and only stop for information. Wikipedia’s popularity definitely trumps that of any individual or corporation. Knowing that, everyone wants to make sure the information being said about them is correct. So what do you do if you see something wrong about you or your company and you want to change it? Here’s my advice.

  • Know how to edit in Wikipedia – It’s an obvious first step. If you want to make a change to your Wikipedia entry, chances are it’s going to be your first time doing it. Lifehacker has a great “how to” guide to creating and editing entries in Wikipedia.
  • Ask yourself, “What kind of edit do I want to make?” – Do you want to edit something that’s factual that can be supported through another source, or do you want to edit what you perceive is an incorrect opinion of your business? What type of edit you want to make will play heavily into how you should handle the edit of your entry.
  • You’re going to get heat for whatever edit you make – Web readers love reading headlines and the first paragraph of any story. After that, the rest of the information doesn’t matter. If you did something innocuous like change the founding date of your company, the headline in the blogosphere could read, “Company X Pulls a Fast One and Changes its Wikipedia Entry.” And that could launch into a tirade about how corporations are evil and they’re trying to control information online. You need to be prepared for the heat. The way you do that is be completely transparent about what you’re doing. Don’t wait for WikiScanner to discover you. Announce that you’ve made the change. There are two ways to do that.
  • Post to the discussion area and identify yourself – Whether you made a change to your entry, or you want a change to be made, identify who you are in the discussion area and link to your blog where you can talk about it some more. You want to be transparent in your behavior. You don’t want to be “discovered” by a tool like WikiScanner and get written up in the NYTimes even if what you edited was completely innocuous.
  • Post your change on your blog – Hopefully, your business has some sort of corporate blog where employees can post to it. If you don’t, get one. As always, I highly recommend using WordPress. If you made a change to Wikipedia or if you didn’t change it but you still want to bring up an issue about your entry on Wikipedia, post the information to your blog. If you made the edit, explain what you did (show before and after) and why you changed it (link to supporting information). If you didn’t make the edit because its an arguable point, explain your side of the story. In both cases, provide a link back to the Wikipedia entry.
  • Make your contact information easily available – If someone wants to challenge you on your change, let them know you’re open and willing to discuss. Post your email address and phone number on your blog. Most people are too scared to do anything like this. That’s why most people don’t do it. But doing something bold like that shows that you have nothing to hide.
  • Don’t pay or beg someone to edit the entry for you – Microsoft got in some heat when they offered money to some industry influencers to make changes to some Wikipedia entries. That was the headline. The truth of the matter is they explained their side of the story and approached influencers and asked if they would make the change. And, understanding their time was valuable, they said if they agreed with Microsoft, they would pay them for their time to make the edit. That seems reasonable, but the problem is that’s not how the headlines read and the press and blogosphere jumped down Microsoft’s throat. Simply make your case. Tell the influencers. Point to the entry and leave it at that. The community will make the changes without you asking or offering money. DISCLOSURE: Microsoft is a client of Spark Media Solutions.
  • Controversial issues are for the discussion section – I was alluding to this with my other posts, but Phil Faulconer made it more clear in his comment. If you want to debate an issue, it is not appropriate for your Wikipedia entry. It’s appropriate for your Wikipedia entry’s discussion section and your blog.
  • Create a watchlist – Once you have an account on Wikipedia, you can create a watchlist for any Wikipedia entry and you’ll be alerted any time there’s an edit made to that entry, and you can check it for its accuracy.
  • Use Wikipedia as a resource to help you – If you have continued problems with vandalism or spam, Wikipedia has resources to help you out. First is the Counter Vandalism Unit which offers tools and human support for vandalism. Durova, an administrator for Wikipedia, offered these helpful resources on Search Engine Land:

Sources: Search Engine Land, “The Right Way to Fix Inaccurate Wikipedia Articles.”

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