How Can a Small Business Get on Wikipedia?

by Phil Hall on January 11, 2011
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Now celebrating its tenth year online, Wikipedia exists as both a highly popular reference source and a current news media outlet. Many people view having their own Wikipedia article as evidence of credibility for themselves and their work. Not surprisingly, many small businesses are eager to see themselves on Wikipedia. But getting your company on the site can be difficult and stressful.

“Many years ago, we had tremendous success advising clients on Wikipedia listings that drove highly targeted traffic,” says Kent Lewis, president of Anvil Media in Portland, Ore. “In one particular case, we created significant amounts of content around their industry – useful information that provided value from an objective perspective – which was embraced by Wikipedia. Unfortunately, when our case study was published by MarketingSherpa, a reader alerted the Wikipedia editors and they immediately deleted the client’s page, related pages, and then systematically worked down our client list and removed any other client-related pages (even though we hadn’t touched most of them).”

So how can a small business get itself included in the Wikipedia article mix? Gregory Kohs, a Philadelphia-based research practitioner with a Fortune 100 company who also consults with individuals and organizations about Wikipedia, offers several somewhat controversial tips. Be advised, as Kohs explains it, getting your business on Wikipedia is not an endeavor for the faint of heart.

“Create an account from a new IP address not tied to your identity – don’t try this at home or at the office,” he says. “A perfect spot is the public library or the corner coffee shop with Wi-Fi access. Build up a reputation for authentic, altruistic editing contributions – you’ll want to constructively edit at least ten different articles over several days, not directly related to your ultimate self-promotional article topic.

“Then, have your article fully prepared in advance, complete with properly formatted reference citations, and include an information box to lend the topic an aura of credibility,” he continues. “Over the course of about 30 to 45 minutes, you should publish small sections of the prepared article, piece by piece, so it looks like you’re really working on this thing as a ‘knowledge-sharing’ process. Then, continue to work on two or three other unrelated articles. Then wait – don’t announce your new Wikipedia article in a blog or press release, and don’t encourage your employees or friends to go check it out. If someone asks you about your Wikipedia article, say, ‘Oh, fancy that!’”

Of course, there is also the possibility that someone else will write about you. Antero Alli, founder of the Berkeley, Calif.-based publishing and production company ParaTheatrical Research, was pleasantly surprised to find himself as the subject of a Wikipedia article – although he takes it with the proverbial grain of salt.

“My Wikipedia page has served as a kind of generic bio that has been useful on occasions when I want to impress someone with the broader range of what I do and have done,” he says. “But it’s still odd. When I look at it and read it, it’s as if I’m reading the story of someone who has already died. I mean, don’t you have to die first before getting listed in an encyclopedia?”

But is Wikipedia a worthwhile target for small business marketing? Lewis views the site with mixed feelings.

“Wikipedia does not help increase organic search rankings, but having a neutral or positive profile can help manage your reputation in search results – credible content on a credible site tends to rank well,” he says. “So if a company can prove it is ‘culturally relevant’ according to the Wikipedia trolls, and they participate actively and regularly on Wikipedia as an editor/contributor and follow the rules, then they may have an opportunity to generate highly targeted traffic. Unfortunately most small companies do not fit this criteria and are better off sticking to proven online marketing strategies: search engine marketing, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click advertising.”

Kohs, for his part, runs an alternative free site called MyWikiBiz, which allows people and enterprises to fashion their own Wikipedia-style content without facing the editorial chaos that often surrounds internal Wikipedia operations. “It’s not just free web hosting,” he says of MyWikiBiz. “It is pay-yourself web hosting.”

For more on Wikipedia, please see our follow-up story.

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