I can now add one more skill to my bag of tricks: working with Wikipedia.
I have to confess that, like so many other people I know, I access Wikipedia on a pretty regular basis. I know it’s not always accurate and it does have some flaws, but if you want to know an answer to something and want that answer quickly, there’s nothing like putting “What is …” in Google and having Wikipedia pop up at the top of the page.
However, I wasn’t really very familiar with how Wikipedia worked. I knew it was driven by real people who could make changes to entries. In fact, I saw a rerun just the other day of “The Big Bang Theory” in which Sheldon found delight in making bogus changes to various Wikipedia entries – just for fun. As amusing as that sounds, working with Wikipedia to try and post something was anything BUT fun.
I have a client who asked me to work with him to get his company listed on Wikipedia. After all, competitors had their companies listed, so he naturally also wanted to be listed – and totally understood the value of being found on Google and Bing. To make this long story short, or try to make it short, we submitted, rewrote, resubmitted and did the same thing again and again until we went through five rounds of copy. It seems that each time, Wikipedia’s editors wrote back to tell us that the entry was not “encyclopedic enough” for their standards and did not contain enough third-party, non-biased references.
Finally, we just gave up. Defeated, yes – and still a bit in the dark as to why the entries were rejected.
In the middle of the revisions, I received a survey from PR News asking me my opinions as to the influence of public relations on Wikipedia. In other words, what role should PR play in refining and promoting Wikipedia entries? Now that I’ve been through round after round of rejection – I felt like a wallflower at the prom – I can truthfully say that I think PR would help Wikipedia better realize its potential, not in the “spin” people think PR is, but in the way PR professionals can maintain a strategic eye for their clients to help them produce a factual entry that would make a difference in either a professional or personal capacity.
I’m sure neither all Wikipedia aficionados nor PR professionals would agree with me. Yet, I felt I was able to demonstrate my PR acumen by having my client understand how to write a Wikipedia entry so it 1) gained attention, 2) was factual and not smoke & mirrors, and 3) made some kind of impact.
It’s a shame we gave up; I’m not one to give up easily for anything, but sometimes you have to redirect energy elsewhere. I hope I have the challenge again with this client or another one, in a PR capacity, to help them get listed and get the word out. It’s worth the effort.