Public relations for Wikipedia

How to move the dial to “notable”

Companies often want to put something on Wikipedia that has no independent, reliable sources to back it up. For Wikipedia, that’s a non-starter; no matter how many press releases or social media posts you issue, Wikipedia policy is unmoved. Sources must be independent to carry weight; and no, publishing a story on a content farm like Business Insider or the Examiner won’t work any better. So if there is important information about your company that you want covered, you need to do exactly what you would have done before the Internet existed: persuade qualified news reporters that it’s important enough to cover.

Executing a public relations campaign to support an article on Wikipedia is a very different practice from most current public relations strategies. Today, the field relies heavily on a social media componentmentions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, relevant blogs and so on. Yet social media “mentions” are of little use when attempting to meet the notability standards of Wikipedia, either to begin a new article on Wikipedia or to add information to an existing one. Wikipedia standards demand that information to be included in an article must be published by third party, noteworthy media.  In a sense, the strategy is a back-to-basics public relations plan that targets newspapers, magazines and television networks.

One would assume that start-up ventures would have the most difficulty meeting notability standards. While that is often the case, we  have worked with clients who have been successfully operating a business for a decade or more, and whose significance is well established, but have nevertheless had their attempts at creating  a Wikipedia article rebuffed by volunteer editors who tell them they are “not notable.”  When they ask us how that can be, we do a media audit of the coverage the company has received. Inevitably, our research shows that these companies have earned little coverage in traditional, respected media outlets. As far as Wikipedia is concerned, they are not notable, no matter how many millions of widgets they have sold, or how many scores of satisfied customers have sung their praises.

These companies have had the Wikipedia “Ah-HA! moment.” In their early days, earning media coverage was a low priority; they understood their niche, and successfully built their business accordingly. They were succeeding without earned media. But once years have passed, thin media coverage becomes a problem; a more mature company has a legitimate interest in having a lasting record of its impact. Difficulty in getting a comprehensive Wikipedia article can be the most significant manifestation of this deeper problem, and can be what brings it to light. If your business isn’t on Wikipedia, customers, staff, potential investors and business partners may wonder what is wrong with the company. Certain businesses can get away with ignoring earned media for a while, but over time, it becomes a problem.

To move the dial from “not notable” to “notable,” a company must earn media coverage of  a certain type. Wikipedia public relations is not slick, and not particularly excitingbut it’s important. If a company has already made an impact, it may be time to get started generating news coverage:

  • Determine what basic information a Wikipedia entry would ideally include. For a corporation, this might include headquarters and satellite office locations, year founded, key events in company history, current leadership, and products and services offered.
  • Ensure that those bits of information are liberally scattered throughout all company content: press releases, videos, speeches by executives, website content, etc. Following this practice consistently will tend to lead to those facts being included in news coverage.
  • Ensure that the written materials, and the way key executives talk about the company, its products, services and mission, are consistent and include, whenever possible, the basic information to be found in a good Wikipedia article.

The time-honored press release offers an excellent platform for working on consistent Wikipedia article supporting messaging. Here are some press release basics for supporting a Wikipedia article:

  • It must be written in AP style and crafted so that when a reporter copies and pastes portions of it, the content can stand alone as a story as though a reporter had written it. It must have a strong lead paragraph, followed by the important information that it is intended to impart, and it must include quotes from one or two high-level company executives.
  • Quotes from company executives must say something that adds to the content. No throw-away quotes; make sure they advance the article.
  • The quotes should also include specific, relevant details about the company. For instance: “As an employer of 500 people that provides medical care, we are concerned about the pending legislation.” This quote, if a news outlet fact-checks it and includes it in an article, will offer a potential Wikipedia citation for the company’s size, number of employees and industry segment.
  • The press release needs a boilerplate description at the bottom with the subhead: About [company name]. It should explain, in layman’s terms, what the company does again, including specific facts. If this is too jargony, the reporter will not use it.
  • International, national, and local, and industry-specific versions: If the news release includes information intended for various regional audiences, the releases should include different information  and quotes in order to maximize the amount of information that a single piece of news can generate toward citations for a Wikipedia article.

A Wikipedia public relations campaign is, in a way, nothing newit’s basic Public Relations. A press release needs to include the “who what when where and how” that reporters were once mercilessly schooled on by grizzled editors. In this day of high-tech PR fueled by the latest social media platforms designed to make something out of nothing, basic PR techniques are often skipped. But Wikipedia’s unbending and shamelessly old-school standards keep the techniques relevant. If you want something on Wikipedia, it must first be in traditional media.

So if it’s notability you lack, and notability you want, you could do worse than follow the rigid discipline of TV’s fictional police detective, Sgt. Friday. In each episode of Dragnet, the poker-faced Friday would advise a potential witness, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” The facts are what you need to establish, if you want to move the dial to “notable” and get your business mentioned on Wikipedia.

About Dan Cook

Dan Cook has been a journalist for many years. His Wikipedia experience dates back to 2008. He has been working regularly with Wiki Strategies since February 2014. He also works for a range of clients doing communications consulting.
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