The WikiGate Scandal: Marketing on Wikipedia Puts You Into the Shredder


Need to find something? Google it. Not good enough? Wikipedia it. Expert facts lie at your fingertips. Sort of.

Wikipedia is the engine of choice when it comes to quick information fixes. Google provides lots of information, fast, but Wikipedia takes the burden of site selection off users. It has exploded into an Internet standard in recent years.

The site prides itself on its collaboratively-enforced neutrality. A recent MarketingSherpa case study demonstrates what happens when PR goons step out of the shadows and come face-to-face with hostile Wikians.

From MarketingSherpa:

Like most marketers at startup companies, Scott Niesen, Director, Marketing, Attensa, doesn’t have a huge team or a sizable budget to build a brand and generate leads. To reach potential customers for his company’s RSS technology products, he must focus on ensuring that Attensa has a presence wherever prospects use the Web.

Niesen knew that Wikipedia attracts a huge readership, and often ranks on the first page of Google searches. Why not try to play the ‘Pedia for a bigger piece of market share? So he did.

Sticking to submission guidelines, he created a new page on Wikipedia relevant to his product. He also added content on existing pages to boost attention for Attensa. Promotional articles usually get flagged as spam on Wikipedia, so Niesen decided to share his process with other marketers via the MarketingSherpa case study.

I won’t link to the actual article, because it’s going behind a mask on July 30, but here’s the basic gist:

1) Look up competitors’ sites and find gaps to create content. For example, if I’m selling organic shade-grown coffee from Ecuador, I could look up shade- and/or organic coffees:

Britt coffee
Jim’s organic coffee

Look up generic product terms related to your own product, then add content. Example:

Northwest shade coffee campaign
Organic coffee
Shade-grown coffee
Economics of coffee
Fair trade coffee

2) Add to existing pages or create new pages to fill gaps. For example, you could create a new webpage for your brand of shade-grown coffee. Or you could add your brand to a list on an existing page.

3) To stay within guidelines, don’t have an employee create them—hire an outside agency or contractor (Niesen used an agency called Anvil Marketing). Be sure to sound neutral when creating the site. Nix the marketing-speak, or Wikipedia editors will flag you. Link to your competitors and other Wikipedia articles to demonstrate your commitment to neutrality.

4) Add external links to your own website, where permitted. Links to white papers are allowed in “References;” links to the company’s homepage are allowed in “External Links.”
From the study:

In just a few months, (Attensa’s) Wikipedia efforts boosted site traffic with qualified visitors. The numbers:

o 4% increase in site traffic
o 4% increase in leads overall
o 65 leads per month on average from Wikipedia
o 18% higher conversion rate for Wikipedia traffic

It was all well and good for Attensa—until the case study was published. One the Powers that Be at Wikipedia caught wind of the article, they went after Attensa like a pack of hungry hounds. This discussion has more. Attensa’s external links were chopped down from thirteen to two.

When I checked Attensa’s Wikipedia entry, it was completely gone. No page existed. The editors had wiped the entire thing out.

Wikipedia is a work-in-progress to begin with
. It claims to be impartial, but is known to be inaccurate. It has improved substantially over the years, but still isn’t up to snuff as a truly valid information source.

For that reason, I say Attensa did not commit a faux pas by adhering to Wikipedia guidelines to market its product. The onus is on Wikipedia to put up a new guideline stating “Thou Shalt Not Hire External Forces to Market Thy Product on Wikipedia” if it’s such a problem. Or else Wikipedia needs to hire editors to help it get its facts straight, so that it repositions itself as rmore of an encyclopedia and less of a factually clumsy (if convincingly phrased) collaborative project.

What do you think? Should marketers be allowed to post their products on Wikipedia if they’re within guidelines?

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.