Wikipedia, a Major Threat to the Reputation of Businesses and Brands

Wikipedia is the world’s leading source of information. Handled poorly, it can do huge amounts of damage to your business and brand.

With 400 million unique monthly visits and 3,000 consultations per second, Wikipedia is the world’s leading source of information. The platform has become a staple of the inquiry process for consumers, businesses and students alike.

WikiExperts, a Wikipedia visibility and monitoring service, recently released a report delving into the world of Wikipedia in specific relation to the companies of the Fortune 500. The findings: the Wikipedia profiles of 97% of Fortune 500 companies show up within the first 10 results for searches about them on Google.

So Wikipedia is a pretty big deal, and the world’s top corporations, to a certain extent, know it. Dig a bit deeper, though, and it looks like they’re not paying as much attention as they should.

WikiExperts found that one third of Fortune 500 companies have brand-damaging warnings on their Wikipedia profiles that indicate that the content may be biased, inaccurate, poorly written or unreliable. Wikipedia, in turn, becomes a ticking time bomb for their reputations. The report reads:

Notwithstanding the substantial impact of Wikipedia visibility on the brand value and business of major corporations, even the most experienced public relations organizations often fail to navigate Wikipedia’s notoriously complex rules.

Here are more of the report’s highlights:

  • The Wikipedia profiles of 50 Fortune 500 companies include the warning, “This article appears to be written as an advertisement,” undermining the profile’s credibility.
  • Ninety-four Fortune 500 companies had their profiles flagged for unverified information with the warning, “This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.”
  • Forty-two of the Wikipedia profiles reviewed were cited as not neutral or possibly written by a primary resource or someone with a close connection to the primary resource.
  • Two Fortune 500 companies, MRC Global and Susser Holdings Corporation, do not have Wikipedia profiles.

Alex Konanykhin, Founder and CEO of WikiExperts, explained to PulsoSocial how Wikipedia can damage a company’s reputation.

Clarisa Herrera: Does Wikipedia have editors to supervise content as it is updated, or is that a misconception?

Alex Konanykhin: Wikipedia has collaborators who fill distinct roles; among them are researchers, editors and administrators. However, all of the contributors are volunteers who write about issues their passionate about – they’re not necessarily experts. They write following the complex rules of Wikipedia, which require that information have a certain format, be entirely neutral and comply with the platform’s notoriety requirements, meaning that the information is documented in secondary sources. That doesn’t mean that they’re checking that a profile is truthful and contains no falsities, it just means it has been written according to Wikipedia’s norms.

CH: How can companies and businesses alert errors or mistakes in content?

AK: In some cases in which information isn’t correctly documented, flags appear alerting readers that a piece has few sources, has a promotional tone or is incomplete. Unfortunately, because Wikipedists write only about issues that interest them, there are a huge number of topics, including businesses, organizations and individuals that, while relevant, don’t inspire enough interest for someone to dedicate hours upon hours of their time, for free, to investigate, document and write or correct information for Wikipedia.

CH: What are the most common flags and alerts? 

AK: The most common alerts are “this article appears to be written as an advertisement” and “this article needs additional citations for verification.” Neither diminishes a profile’s credibility. Many profiles are underdeveloped – incomplete, poorly formatted, obsolete. When it’s time to make a choice, potential clients probably prefer a company that provides articulated, coherent information in a well-structured, detailed and updated profile, as that’s what generates credibility.

CH: What other consequences might businesses face? 

Alex Konanykhin
Alex Konanykhin

AK: A few days ago, Interbrand announced that Apple had replaced Coca-Cola as the world’s most valuable brand. The value of the 100 most valuable brands of the world is between four and 100 billion dollars. Even a tiny difference in the perception of a brand can mean gains or losses of millions of dollars in its value.

Because most people looking for information on a company read their Wikipedia profiles, their content and appearance have a significant impact on the perception of the brand. Companies often end up having a poor presence that is badly documented, in many cases highlighting negative data, because anyone who knows the rules, including competitors and disgruntled employees, can vandalize a profile. This comes at an extremely high cost, as demonstrated by a PRSA study, to the brand’s value and reputation.

CH: Do you think that in the heads of directors of big companies there is an understanding that people are content prosumers and can do damage to a reputation?

AK: In my opinion, the case of Wikipedia is the best-kept secret of social media marketing, and companies evidently still haven’t been able to comprehend the impact this virtual encyclopedia has. If they have realized it, they haven’t figured out how to capitalize on it like they have with Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. The rules for participating in this big public forum are tricky and complicated and very different from the approach and promotional tone traditional PR companies have, and that’s heavily combated within Wikipedia.

Find the full WikiExperts report here:

This text has been adapted and translated by Emily Stewart from its original Spanish publication