John Green, author of that four-hanky tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars once said, “Oh, Wikipedia, with your tension between those who would share knowledge and those who would destroy it.” It’s probably the purest description I’ve heard of the conundrum that defines Wikipedia to this day.
In the first two instalments in this Master Class (1 and 2), we explored Wikipedia’s continued relevancy for brands. We also dug into identifying whether your brand or organization is ready for an article, how to get started on the platform, the article creation and editing process, and a good bit of nuts ‘n bolts how-to action.
And as promised in Part II, today’s instalment addresses Wikipedia’s Golden Rules… and what happens if you break them.
The Struggle is Real
So, why would I open with a quote about the fundamental struggle for Wikipedia’s soul? Because the site needs ethical stewardship. It requires a dedicated community of editors that are committed to upholding its founding principles. This is especially true for brands seeking to harness its global influence and reach. Without brands’ commitment to abiding by Wikipedia’s neutrality and notability guidelines, the site is nothing more than just another marketing vehicle, an online ad cloaked in a thin façade of impartiality. And if that happens, the very users brands seek to connect with will be the first to abandon ship, consigning Wikipedia to some cobwebbed corner of the ‘net where it’ll languish in dusty irrelevance.
Staving off this dystopian future has become a top priority for Wikipedia’s leadership and its army of volunteer editors. To that end, it has created its extensive manual of style, and developed The Five Pillars. Think of them as Wikipedia’s Golden Rules that every editor, volunteer or professional, should strive to live by when creating or editing articles.
The Five Pillars – Wikipedia’s Rules of the Road
The Five Pillars are Wikipedia’s core principles. They’re a set of rules that every editor agrees to abide by when contributing to the site:
- Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.
- Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view.
- Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute.
- Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility.
- Wikipedia has no firm rules.
In case you’re in need of some additional context, here’s my interpretation of the Five Pillars:
- Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It’s not a marketing brochure or an extension of your website. You can’t post (or even link to) your product catalog, your latest sizzle reel, or your prize collection of customer testimonials. In case you’re in need of some additional context, here’s my interpretation of the Five Pillars:
- When brands think about Wikipedia, they often forget about Pillar number two, aka the “adjectives are evil” Pillar. You can’t write your Wikipedia article using the same language you’d use in a press release, advertisement, or Facebook post. Wikipedia articles are …well, dry. They’re factual, with no marketing zing. Any statements you make must be verifiable. So, if you say your widget is the best widget in the world, you’d better be able to back that up with hard data from third-party sources (original research is not acceptable for multiple reasons, but citing respected sources where extensive research was used is highly encouraged).
- Wikipedia changed the game forever by democratizing, localizing, and crowdsourcing information. Anyone can contribute to or edit Wikipedia in their own language. And as long as you meet the right requirements, anyone can have their own Wikipedia article. It belongs to everybody and anybody. How powerful is that?
- Because Wikipedia is open to anyone and everyone (and given humans’ tendency for squabbling amongst themselves), it’s not uncommon to see disagreements break out between editors. It’s okay to agree to disagree, as long as you do so politely.
- Pillar number five says there are no firm rules but (spoiler!) yes, there are. Ironic, no? While these rules aren’t carved into stone, as a seasoned Wikipedia editor, I advise you to ignore them at your own risk. If you’re going to be productive, successful contributor to Wikipedia, you must learn to live within its editorial guidelines.
Now that you know the Five Pillars, let’s talk a bit about what happens when you ignore them.
Don’t Be That Brand
Where do brands go wrong with Wikipedia? Why do so many find it hard to establish a positive bond with the volunteer editing community? Too often, it’s because brands want to reshape Wikipedia into their vision of what they think it should be, rather than recognizing it for what it is: an encyclopedia.
Brands that fail on Wikipedia do so because they ignore the Five Pillars, instead choosing to write blatantly self-promotional articles. They go into it thinking of volunteer editors as the enemy. And in their quest to have their Wikipedia article convey the messaging they want it to, they fall into bad behaviors like sock puppetry, meat puppetry, vandalism, and Undisclosed Paid Professional Editing (UPPE).
So what happens when you misbehave on Wikipedia? Nothing good, let me tell you. Your article could end up with a big warning flag across the top, your edits could be reverted as if they never happened at all, or your article might just disappear altogether. In the very worst case, your IP address could be banned from editing entirely for an indefinite period of time. Wikipedia also doesn’t allow editing through proxies like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or The Onion Router (Tor), so getting around the platform’s ban hammer is difficult at best.
It’s not impossible for brands to be positive, productive, and accepted members of the editing community. But, they must be willing to accept Wikipedia as-is. By being transparent and playing by the rules, brands will find that Wikipedia is a welcoming place to be.
Th-Th-That’s All Folks (Almost)
We’ve come far in this journey through this Master Class, you and I. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. In our next and final instalment, we’ll summarize everything you’ve learned so far, and cover a few final tips on becoming a true Wikipedian. See you again soon.