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Use Wikipedia as a Marketing Tool

January 12th, 2010

In the age of social media, you can use Wikipedia — the world’s online encyclopedia –- as a marketing tool. Small businesses are find that getting a listing in Wikipedia can help validate their existence and more.

By Minda Zetlin |  Jan 18, 2010
 
Only eight years old, Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” already has more than three million articles in English alone, covering nearly all major companies and a lot of minor ones as well. Should yours be among them?

“If you’re consumer-facing, it’s important to be in Wikipedia,” says Sharon Nieuwenhuis, account manager at RLM PR, a public relations firm that offers Wikipedia placement and article correction among its services. “It’s a way of proving legitimacy, and not being in there has become something of a stigma. People go to Wikipedia to find basic information about your organization, and if they don’t find it, they think, ‘Why should I pay attention to you?’”

Appearing in Wikipedia can contribute to the bottom line. “If our potential customers want to learn about something, they either go to a vendor company’s website or Wikipedia, or to Google,” says Steve Goodman, CEO of PacketTrap, which provides network management software and is the subject of a Wikipedia article. And Google search results often lead right back to Wikipedia, he notes. “We track where our customers come from, and there is no question that Wikipedia is a driver.”

Getting into Wikipedia

If getting into Wikipedia is highly desirable, it also seems close to impossible to many companies who’ve tried it — including PacketTrap. “We went about it the wrong way,” Goodman says. “Three months after launching, we began persistently putting up pages about ourselves and the feedback we got was that it wasn’t relevant, and that you are not supposed to create an article about your own company. We were called a ‘candidate for speedy deletion.’” In fact, PacketTrap executives never succeeded in getting into Wikipedia — they merely stopped trying. About six months later, an article about PacketTrap appeared, and Goodman still doesn’t know who put it there.

“Wikipedia is a complex culture, and sometimes it can feel like the free encyclopedia everyone can edit — except me,” acknowledges Jay Walsh, a spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees Wikipedia. He notes that Wikimedia has only about 30 paid staff, and that Wikipedia is edited by a huge number of volunteers. And he says, though it’s not an absolute rule, people are strongly discouraged from creating articles about themselves or their organizations because the site strives for neutrality.

If you want your organization to be listed in Wikipedia, Walsh and others who’ve succeeded recommend the following steps:

  1. Begin with a general PR campaign. The more mentions you have in the press, and the more visibility you have in social media and blogs, the more likely you are to seem legitimate and “notable” — a precondition for inclusion. Make sure your website is up-to-date, and offers complete information on your company too. Goodman says reaching out to the blogosphere is likely what got his company in.
  2. Volunteer for Wikipedia. Most Wikipedia volunteers write on many different subjects, and may look unkindly on you if your only goal is to promote your company or products. Spend a little time adding information to those subjects where you have expertise, which can include things like your school, your home town, and your industry. Or spend a little time fixing the grammar on an existing entry. This will both win friends and give you a valuable inside view of how Wikipedia works.
  3. Search your company name on Wikipedia. “It may seem obvious, but not everyone checks to see if they’re in there already,” Walsh says. You may find that your company is mentioned in a different article, rather than having an article of its own. If it is, he suggests adding information to that article rather than starting a whole new one.
  4. Find out if you have in-house expertise. Check to see if anyone already working at your company is a Wikipedia volunteer. If so, that person can be a valuable resource to help you find your best strategy for getting included.
  5. Learn from Wikipedia itself. There are many hundreds of articles in Wikipedia — as well as a wizard — telling users how to create articles and what the rules are. If you still have questions, Walsh recommends sending them to info@wikimedia.org, making your inquiry as clear and detailed as possible and bearing in mind that the responder will likely be a volunteer. You can also ask for help on the discussion page that goes with the article you are trying to create. “The first time I tried to create a Wikipedia article I had a hell of a time,” Nieuwenhuis says. “But then I saw that you can ask to have people adopt you. It’s like having someone look over your shoulder and either making corrections for you or letting you know if you’re likely to be flagged for any reason.”
  6. Start with a stub. “Don’t write 500 or 1,000-word article right out of the gate — it will be removed almost instantaneously,” Walsh warns. Instead, start with a “stub” — an article only a sentence or two long. “Wikipedians see a stub as a challenge,” he says, and they may seek out information or images to add. “It’s almost always the better approach.”
  7. Include links to third-party sites. Remember that everything you put into a Wikipedia article should be referenced to a previous publication and Wikipedians will look for links to articles about you or other references beyond your own company website. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to include these external links first, and consider not including your company’s website, at least initially.
  8. Use the discussion page. Every Wikipedia article comes with a discussion page, and Nieuwenhuis suggests using this liberally to explain, for instance, that you’ll be adding more information or links, as well as asking for advice. She also advises setting aside a chunk of time once you post your article, as Wikipedians will likely find it and edit it quickly, and you want to respond right away to any concerns.
  9. Grow a thick skin. Remember that anyone can write anything about you on Wikipedia, and they may. If faced with an unwarranted attack, your best strategy is to appeal to the Wikipedia community for help, Walsh advises. Editing the article yourself can look like an attempt at censorship. “There’s an absolute policy of mine arrived at after months of hard-headedness,” Goodman says. “No matter what, no one from our company, including our marketing staff, is allowed to touch our Wikipedia entry.”

Balloon boy story and reality TV culture: What are parents thinking?

October 26th, 2009

Los Angeles – Does the balloon boy story begin with the Heene family’s quest to appear, again, on reality TV?

Given father Richard Heene’s apparent efforts to pique Hollywood interest in his family as a reality TV subject (following two appearances on ABC’s “Wife Swap”), concern is once again rising that the children who appear on such shows are being exploited for fame and fortune by their parents.

Child advocates, media watchdogs, and lawyers hope reform is coming, now that law enforcement appears poised to wade into the matter for the first time. Authorities in Colorado are considering charges against the Heene parents for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

“Not until now has the authority of police of government gotten involved,” says media analyst Richard Laermer, author of “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade.”

The nation, indeed the world, watched on news channels Thursday as the family’s homemade balloon, reportedly carrying 6-year-old Falcon, floated over Colorado for hours – but then turned up empty. Authorities now allege that the Hennes knew Falcon was safe at home all along and, in fact, engineered the stunt to promote the idea of a reality TV show based on the family.

The Heene case, following on the high-profile entanglements between two other families and reality-TV producers – Jon and Kate Gosselin and their eight children, and Nadya Suleman (dubbed octo-mom) and her 14 children – is the latest to prompt questions about reality TV’s role in encouraging irresponsible parent behavior. This trio of families, observers say, is also bringing into sharp focus the question of how the entertainment industry deals with minors.

The scrutiny may be enough to shake things up, suggests Mr. Laermer.

“These three cases will surely change it, because, at this point, it’s not even good for ratings,” he says.

Such shows’ promise of quick fame and the use of extreme stunts to drive ratings have produced a less-than-beneficial setting for young children, says Mr. Laermer. Families are treating their children like one more prop in their pursuit of a big payday or fleeting fame, he adds, and the children have no right or means to refuse participation.

“The reality genre has grown up so quickly. Many people have jumped in who have not fully considered the ramifications of their participation on the children,” says Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education at the Parents Television Council. “They may not know or really understand what’s going on.” For instance, she adds, “how will they feel about being branded a brat or a trouble child in the public eye 10 years down the road?”

TLC, the network behind the show featuring Jon and Kate Gosselin, e-mailed a terse, “We will pass,” in response to a request for comment. The legal affairs department at Mark Burnett Productions, one of the top reality-show houses in Los Angeles, says it has heard no rumblings about reevaluating minors’ participation in programming.

But change is long overdue, argues former child star Paul Petersen, founder and president of A Minor Consideration, a child actor advocacy group.

“Children are chattel,” says the Gardena, Calif., resident, who played the son on “The Donna Reed Show” (1958 to 1966). California, he says, is the only state where minors own their earnings. (The law entitling parents to their children’s wages was changed in the Golden State in 2000.)

Improvements in state child-labor laws have come slowly. Even New York, which has seen centuries of children working on Broadway, has been slow to move.

“Why do you think most child-heavy movies and television shows are filmed in places like North Carolina, where the child-labor laws are lax or nonexistent?” says Mr. Petersen.

The eight young children in “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” filmed in Pennsylvania for the past four years, did not have child work permits until this past summer, dad Jon Gosselin acknowledged recently.

Concern over the handling of the Gosselin children prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Labor to announce a review of its child labor regulations earlier this year, says Beverly Hills employment lawyer Kelly Scott. But more regulation may not be the only answer.

“Enforcement of existing law needs to be stepped up, and more important,” Mr. Scott adds, “some introspection as a society about what’s going on.”

Advocate Mr. Petersen says he is hopeful that the concern generated by the Heene family’s alleged actions might have an effect. After all, he says, “people probably don’t realize many producers are more concerned about protecting animals on a set than they are children’s needs. Spiders’ and dogs’ rights are more carefully guarded than children’s.”

May 4 Rant: Bye, PR Weak (Indeed)

May 3rd, 2009

I’m a guy who thinks “new media” and “old media” aren’t much different anymore. Sorry, Martha, but you either people want to read you or people don’t. So the news that PR Week is going mostly online makes me think: one more step toward extinction.

People don’t want to subscribe to an expensive weekly when the content is online. And when a magazine’s content is hard to access they think, “I’ll forget it.” It’s been clear for some time how magazines that exist only to report what we’re learning every day from our favorite online sources have outlived their need and/or purpose.

Because of this reality, I’ve been wondering why Haymarket’s PR Week is still here for a while—mostly because it possesses a 1990s “big shot” mentality. You know, the attitude that says that if you advertise with us, pay us for so-called award nominations, come to our dinners, and be super-extra-friendly to us, we’ll write articles featuring your work.

That’s lame.

I have a long history with the magazine. They did a few profiles of me in the dot-com years when they used crack reporters like BusinessWeek’s Matt Boyle to find out who the troublemakers were. I participated in roundtables with Jonah Bloom and his predecessor Adam Leyland, two blokes who ran the place with verve! That PRW was a place that celebrated change in PR rather than replaying ideas we already have down pat.

I stopped subscribing a few years back when I saw myself driven over the edge by a plethora of fluffers about a major PR firm’s latest hiring (can she keep a job?) or client win (really? it lasted how long?). Fact: I don’t care about the competition. I’m a practitioner and I want my firm to be better at what my firm does. If I wanted to learn more about the others, surely I wouldn’t get my intelligence from a magazine that writes fluff stories. Besides, most of the big guys are too in love with their own business models—and often treat customer service like an oxymoron.

And then, last night I was watching a segment on CNBC Reports about advertising in tumultuous 2009. The guests were that happy-go-lucky chair of Saatchi and some woman CEO of a hotshot ad agency. The host, Dennis Kneale, intelligently asked each to come up with a slogan for beleaguered JP Morgan. Neither had a clue because, really, they didn’t possess a single creative bone in their bodies. And then I saw WPP announce they’re slashing 7,200 more jobs.

Watching it got me thinking of how lucky I am to still hang out in the trenches and use ounces of creativity to create strategies so companies can grow vertically. What I do—and have done for two decades—is not what PR Week meanders about. They go on and on about pitching shortcuts and what a certain journalist wants from a PR person, and every now and then run a “tip sheet” about Twitter or something we’ve already mused on.

I got a chuckle when PRW was written up in the New York Times last month about their reduction to “a monthly circulation magazine”—what, does that W stand for—Weak ? —which can’t become anything if it’s not released each week. The last time PRW got granted an actual Times article was in 2000 when the grey lady discovered there was a weekly devoted to all things PR in a Sunday piece entitled “What Really Matters; Getting Beyond the Truth, Into Appearances.” Here is an excerpt:


As Pets.com shut down last week, selling off everything from kitty litter to that famous Sock Puppet mascot, it shocked many observers in the PR world who had been confident that sites with the strongest profile would survive. 

But Pets.com’s own brand of promotion, successful though it was, did not prove popular with everyone, particularly those working to boost the profile of Internet companies. ”I really hated that little puppet,” said Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations. ”I thought it was obnoxious and pandering. It really annoyed me.”

 

It was a full page stating: “Look—a weekly trade that looks at an industry that none of us understand!” and the positioning for Haymarket was fantastic. The world is made aware of their new magazine that acted as watchdog and trend seeker and support mechanism for a constantly-evolving field.

While Haymarket publishes the outrageously hip tech magazine Revolution UK in the US its PR rag seems to be bent on being old-fashioned. Take the spam problem: It should know better, and yet each day I get more begging emails sent to RLM’s many internal distribution lists. How could someone who claims to know how our industry runs send such artifice? I sometimes fantasize about throwing it back in a Pied Piper way—mailing them to ask them how it feels!

Those who manage the slowly dying magazine, like so many failing players, refused to be prescient about the fall of their kind of media. They stayed focused on a long-forgotten time when they bought their way into advertisers’ hearts. I saw this first hand: As the dot-com days waned I suggested a column to editor Bloom that analyzed new gadgets on the market—and I did the Toy Box section weekly for about a year. I was proud of what appeared on the back page of that thick periodical. It was fact-filled but irreverent —funny, topical, weird, talked about. Bloom’s successor arrived, kept me on for a month, and then replaced this guy in no uncertain terms, casually explaining she wanted to use it for acquiring advertisers. Or more bluntly: “We will do it with a staffer.” It was a new journalism: “Take what you can from whom you can.”

In the last straw world where I live, just the other day I asked the PRW news editor for a behind -closed-wall link to a story I wished to feature here on Bad Pitch. Her response was a terse “No, we can’t do that—it’s only for subscribers.”

Yep, a magazine that doesn’t see how such we-own-it thinking is a surefooted step away from total implosion. All together now: a magazine that doesn’t deserve us.

I’m twittering at www.twitter.com/laermer.