PR Wars Podcast: Strategy for Wikipedia

Is Wikipedia in your communication plan? On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk with Josh Greene, CEO of The Mather Group about strategies to make the world’s largest reference site work for you.

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A.I. generated show transcript: 

Show open: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hey, everyone, welcome to PR wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Look it up on Wikipedia. I mean, how many times a day do I say that to myself when I’m searching? Chances are if someone wants to learn about your brand, the likely take a look at your Wikipedia page. It’s the largest reference site in the world. It attracts 1.7 billion unique visitors a month. In many cases, Wikipedia is completely ignored in public relations and communication plans. Well, that stops today. Our guest on today’s PR Wars is the leader of a digital marketing agency. And, one of its specialties is Wikipedia. So welcome to the show, the CEO of the Mather Group. Josh Greene, thanks for joining PR Wars today.

Josh Greene
Chris, thanks for having me.

Chris Shigas
This is something I’m really excited about. Because I’ve been in public relations for decades. And this is probably the most important marketing tool for your brand. That is usually completely ignored. Wikipedia. I mean, that’s the first place people go when they want to learn about you, there’s so much mystery around the proper ways to strategically position your Wikipedia page. Or even if you can, or should influence your Wikipedia page. So so so tell me you have a great Wikipedia program at your agency and tell me where do you start with clients who are looking for counsel,

Josh Greene
usually, it’s an education process, before we do anything in terms of here’s what’s possible, here’s what’s not possible, and here’s a reasonable expectation of what you might be able to achieve with your page. And for a lot of clients, they just want to get to neutral. They know Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It’s not designed to list the 43 industry awards that you’ve won, okay, and they just want to have it be balanced and neutral. And most of the time, if we’re talking to them, that’s probably not what’s going on with their page. So, you know, a big driving factor for a lot of people is just how do we deal with this? What can we do? And what can we expect? Because oftentimes, it’s an internal messaging problem, as much as it is an external facing problem.

Chris Shigas
So I assume I can’t just write an advertisement give it to you, and you’re going to post it on my Wikipedia page.

Josh Greene
No, no, that wouldn’t work, and would probably lead to a lot of disappointment on your end.

Chris Shigas
All right. So so so as far as level setting, and getting those expectations, right, what, what should I expect out of my Wikipedia page?

Josh Greene
And what part can I control? The first thing to keep in mind is Wikipedia is designed to be very transparent. So you can see who’s editing a page. And all the citations that a page relies upon should be visible. So you can go back and see, say, each of the 19, citations or footnotes that were used to create your page, and make sure they’re legitimate sources, so they should all be legitimate sources, which we can talk about what sources but you should be able to see them, they should be legitimate. And then your expectation generally is you should have a page that’s that’s similar to how it would be written in an encyclopedia, very, very balanced, very neutral. Sort of laying out the facts about your organization, your company, your CEO, whatever the topic might be.

Chris Shigas
So let’s start with who I don’t know if this the right word deserves a Wikipedia page. So maybe you have a new brand. Maybe you have a new product, a new company, maybe you’re a publicist, and you represent a B level C level celebrity or what at what level Do you can you expect that you are worthy of a Wikipedia page?

Josh Greene
So Wikipedia has its own definition, and it’s based on notability. And unfortunately, Wikipedia definition does not line up with anyone’s idea about their own notability. at all in the real world. So Wikipedia definition is you have to have a lot of third party articles written about you. So interesting. That’s what we do in PR. Right? Right. But it needs to be an inner, it needs to be something where it’s not an interview with the subject. So if someone’s interviewing the CEO of a company, that doesn’t count, because it’s viewed as a self serving, generating your own content about yourself. And so that that makes it very challenging. And if you’re quoted in an article, that doesn’t count either, so it needs to be sort of a neutral third party profile. And I think the guideline is, is five or six of those out there. And then there’s an approval process as well. So actually getting a new page created from scratch and actually live and published is one of the more challenging things to do on Wikipedia. It’s also partly driven by the fact that many of the people who gravitate towards a free crowd sourced encyclopedia are not the biggest fans of companies. So that that adds a degree of difficulty to getting a page set up as well. There’s a little bit of a negative feeling towards companies setting up new Wikipedia pages, I see,

Chris Shigas
I see. Let’s just say you either have an existing Wikipedia page, or you go through this process to get yourself a page. Now, obviously, you provide a service for your clients, can companies edit their own Wikipedia page? Or do they need a third party to do that?

Josh Greene
You are not supposed to edit your own page, the absolute white hat role in Wikipedia is there’s a talk page associated with every Wikipedia page. And what you’re supposed to do is go to that page declare your conflict of interest. I am Josh green of company x. And I would like these three sentences change to the following our number of employees is now two x our revenue for 2020 versus 2018. And then the theory is that a Wikipedia editor will come across your request, make those edits, evaluate them, and publish them to the page. As you can probably see any system relying on the kindness of the internet to get you to where you want to go, is not designed for long term success. So there’s, there’s some challenges going that route. But that is that is how Wikipedia as an entity feels companies should engage and sort of post on the talk page and make requests for edits.

Chris Shigas
So when, when a brand or a company is looking at its page, at a minimum, what would you expect them that they should expect that they should be able to accomplish with your help or the help of an agency? Or what should they expect to be able to use strategically that Wikipedia page for their business?

Josh Greene
I think the most important strategic thing is keeping in mind that the first two sentences of your Wikipedia page gets syndicated all over the internet. They’re the first two lines when Wikipedia is in your search results. There the first two lines in the knowledge panel on the top right of a Google search when you see that, and Google’s even integrating it into some other areas of their products. So if you’ve got those first two sentences, they should describe what your company does, as opposed to you know, company x is located in the Dulles tech corridor near Dulles Airport, 30 miles from Washington DC, versus you know, company x is a leading provider of home automation systems. One of those is a lot more helpful to have show up in a lot of different places. Absolutely. The other thing companies should expect is usually there’s an info box on the right side, that sort of a just the facts type of place, revenue employees do. And then there’s usually a table of contents that sort of shows you how the page has been organized over time. And that’s something that you can take a look at usually and get a feel for whether or not there are issues that you might need to address. For example, if in the table of contents, you see something titled executive compensation, that’s probably negative there. There very few Wikipedia pages that highlight how fairly companies pay their executives. So when you when you sort of browse through that you can get a feel for, you know how Wikipedia is, is as an entity treating your page at the moment. And then you can sort of dig into the specifics of different editors who might be involved in your page. Now,

Chris Shigas
now, this next question, I think, is intriguing. Because, you know, I just learned talking with you that really managing a Wikipedia page is really a process. It’s not, my original impression was, you write a piece, it looks like an About Us page on your website, you post it, and then you forget about it, and you live there forever. But But there’s more to it than that, and why you might need some professional assistance, can you tell me about some of the process of maintaining a page?

Josh Greene
Yeah, the biggest, the biggest challenge with a page is that it can get edited at any time by any Wikipedia editor, of whom they’re 2030 40,000, maybe many more. And while sometimes those edits can get reverted right away, other edits can stick around a long time. So the challenge is, many people in PR are used to, you know, hammering out a press release, you go through 17 rounds of revisions, you finally got everyone more or less comfortable, or you just run into a deadline and have to put it out. The challenge with this is your final project, or product can change at the whim of a bunch of people on the internet. So it’s important to think about this as something even if you’re not actively adding a ton of content as sort of a living document that can get changed. And you need to be aware of that. So a lot of times companies will say, I just want to update my page, or, you know, I just want to publish the page and like you said, be done with it. The question then becomes what happens if someone changes it when you’re done? Like, you know, are you going to be happy about that, or not happy about that. Most of the time, we talk to people who are not happy about that. Because something has sort of changed on the page. They don’t like for whatever reason,

Chris Shigas
lots of PR people are used to having to deal with crisis issues and crisis comms and from time to time, a company may be engaged in a controversy. And then Hello, it’s on their Wikipedia page. I come to Josh and I say, Josh, how do I get this off my page,

Josh Greene
usually, the first thing that we’ll say is, you’re not going to be able to get it off your page, unless it’s completely incorrect. So it’s much like crisis comes Something happened, the important thing is how you reacted to it. So there’s opportunities to explain what the company did to rectify the situation, there’s generally an ability to get rid of inflammatory language around it. Or disproportionately long coverage, oftentimes, you’ll get huge blocks of text from someone who’s clearly been affected by something. So most of the time, you can work towards getting it towards, you know, a reasonable standpoint, you know, that there’s an example of United dragged a passenger off a plane, you know, you can say, a passenger was removed, or you can reference it as a self immolation of Sterling proportions, which was on their page for a while, you know, there was an incident, you can’t really pretend there wasn’t, but you also don’t need to have that degree of negativity around it. So a lot of times, if it’s crisis comms, you’re sort of Wikipedia is trailing after that. Versus in some cases, if someone’s Wikipedia page gets edited in a vacuum, that can be the crisis sort of unto itself.

Chris Shigas
If I’m a work for a PR agency, or I’m in corporate comms for business, and I go over to my client or to my company’s Wikipedia page, what should I look for? To determine whether or not we need help? The easy rule of thumb is if you wins when you see any payment, that’s right, that’s usually a good sign.

Josh Greene
You know, or the other one is if your client CEO says, Hey, this needs to be fixed, that’s that’s the other sign you’ve got a problem. Yeah. But usually, it’s not a judgment call in that it’s usually a pretty obvious if you’ve got some kind of situation. You need to Do with when Wikipedia editors are ticked off? They’re not very subtle. So it’s gonna be pretty obvious if you look at a page and go, Wow, that’s, that’s rough. Yeah, that’s that’s probably a sign. There’s something there that maybe shouldn’t be there.

Chris Shigas
You got any special secret tips for helping win over a Wikipedia editor?

Josh Greene
I wish I knew. However, you know, the thing that that’s really important to keep in mind is there are 10s of 1000s of editors editing pages at any one time. So a mistake I see a lot of companies make is sort of saying, Yeah, we tried to update Wikipedia two years ago, it didn’t work. And they just sort of assume they’re done. And in reality, that was one editor on one day, you know, said no, or said something negative. And they might have gotten a totally different answer the next day, that editor might not have known a role that would have let them publish something. So that’s, I think, one one, maybe not secret, but something that that oftentimes gets overlooked. And then the other thing is, there is a talk page, where you can address editors, and there are rules that Wikipedia will follow, even if it eventually takes a while to get there. So I would say just, unemotional discussion tends to do much better than then pulling in, you know, sort of the passion around a particular issue.

Chris Shigas
Great. Well, hey, Josh Greene, CEO of the Mather Group. Thank you so much for joining us on PR wars

Josh Greene
today. Thanks for having me.

Chris Shigas
You can join us every Sunday night at 8pm eastern for a new episode a PR wars. And make sure you come talk to us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. So on behalf of the PR Wars team, I want to thank Josh Greene CEO of the Mather Group, and do me a favor. Don’t abandon your Wikipedia page. Make sure Wikipedia is part of your communication plan. You’re the caretaker of your brand. So make sure it’s in good hands. Now, go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2021 by Feedspot.

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