If you Google a well-known company one of the first results is likely to be a Wikipedia page.

Most startups look at this and think: how do I get a bit of that action?

The holy grail

Quite rightly so.

Wikipedia is influential. It is the sixth most popular website in the world according to web information firm Alexa: beaten only by Facebook, Google, YouTube, Yahoo and Baidu.com.

But the key thing to remember is Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia.

It is not a media-publishing house nor is it an online business directory.

It is a community of enthusiasts who are contributing to an open wiki because they feel passionate about a subject.

According to longstanding Wikipedia Tom Morris, “Wikipedians didn’t turn up to help manage a business directory written by PR and advertising folk, they were attracted to Wikipedia for some far less worldly subject: philosophy, in my case, or military history or whatever it might be.”

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Conflict of interest

This presents a challenge for most startups who are working on new technologies or concepts.

Typically, it is hard to find Wikipedians that are generally enthused or interested in these areas, which sometimes leads to entrepreneurs taking matters into their own hands and creating a Wikipedia entry on their company or editing an existing page about their company.

Wikipedia’s ‘rules’, the content policy of the community, clearly states that anyone with a conflict of interest should not directly edit Wikipedia.

People who work for startups and any associated paid for advocates have a conflict of interest.

Context is everything

This begs the question: ‘If I am a startup how do I get a Wikipedia page’.

The answer? You must be patient and respect the community’s way of working.

Just as you wouldn’t expect to be given access to the production environment of a news organisation to make changes to online articles you can’t jump onto Wikipedia and expect to be able to start hacking the content.

It is important that companies respect and engage with communities just as they do media outlets and journalists.

Seven ways to use Wikipedia properly

Here are my top tips on how to engage with the Wikipedian community:

  1. Understand how the community works. Become a Wikipedian in your own right and edit pages that relate to your hobbies interests.

  2. Be open and transparent. Always disclose your conflict of interests when talking to Wikipedians online and in your username profile.

  3. Look at the bigger picture. A Wikipedia page is likely to be a bi-product of great work and an established reputation. Not the other way around.

  4. Suggest a Wikipedia entry at the page ‘Articles for Creation’. This allows you to recommend pages for Wikipedians to write.

  1. Remember that Wikipedia keeps a record of everything you do. Anyone can see who is editing a Wikipedia page, so don’t try to hide or spin things.

  1. Engage with Wikipedians via the Talkpages. Don’t edit any page you have a conflict of interest on, except to remove vandalism. Head to the Talk page for the Wikipedia article concerned, draft your response and discuss with the people who regularly edit the page. If you don’t get a response then raise it on the relevant noticeboard.

  1. Escalate with kindness and don’t be an idiot. When faced with a situation where you have a choice to be an idiot or not be an idiot, choose to not be an idiot.  Following this rule will mean you will very rarely get into difficult situations.

See CIPR’s best practice document for further guidance.

Stephen Waddington is Chair of the CIPR Social Media Panel and European Social & Digital Director, Ketchum.

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