Wikipedia is one of the most visible - and challenging - platforms during an issue or crisis. On the one hand it enables you to put the record straight, on the other it can quickly become a battleground of facts, rumors and slurs, all played out in front of the world at large. And then there's the challenge of dealing with its editors.
Bill Beutler, Wikipedian and Founder and President of Washington DC-based Beutler Ink, shared with me his tips how to handle Jimmy Wales' beast in times of trouble. Bill also kindly contributed to my new book "Managing Online Reputation" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
The interview is published in two parts. Here's the first:
Which organisations are known to be handling Wikipedia well in a crisis or issue management context? What makes them so notable?
The imperatives of crisis management tend to be difficult to reconcile with the imperatives of Wikipedia. In the former, speed and discretion are of great importance, whereas Wikipedia's guidelines suggest patience and transparency. The advice I give is always to look toward the long time horizon, and try to worry less about what Wikipedia says right this minute. I'd argue that what Wikipedia says for months or years into the future matters far more than what it says today or for the next few weeks. Having patience and being willing to work through issues with Wikipedia editors, so they come to agree with your perspective, is the best way to ensure durability of changes.
How important a source of information/reference is Wikipedia for different stakeholders, for example the general public, students, journalists, activists? How do these different groups use it?
Like it or not, Wikipedia is probably the single most important source of information for just about everyone, after Google itself. It's a quick reference manual for journalists, and a target for activists to shape public opinion, and every student's secret weapon (or secret shame). Wikipedia is arguably the website best-designed to rank high in Google's search results, which has led to its ubiquity, which breeds familiarity, and now I'd imagine Wikipedia is one of those things people wonder what they ever did without.
What has been the impact of Wikipedia on organisations' actions and communications? To what extent could it be said to be making organisations more transparent, honest and accountable?
I don't think any organization ever thinks: "Wait, we shouldn't do this, it might end up on our Wikipedia article." They might think about whether an action would create unfavorable news coverage, since the news media has been influencing public opinion for much longer. But one shouldn't forget that, while headlines change, the lifespan of a negative article can be much longer if it becomes a source on Wikipedia.
Are there other (general or narrowly focused) Wikipedia-style platforms/communities - existing or emerging - that organisations should be aware of from a reputational perspective?
Wikipedia is truly a unique resource in terms of its global popularity, although there are similar open-editing (or open-contribution) platforms that may be influential in certain circumstances. The most important is Freebase, which is the resource behind Google's Knowledge Graph. CrunchBase, operated by AOL's TechCrunch, aims to be the Wikipedia for start-ups. Quora is an interesting platform in some ways similar to Wikipedia, but takes a different approach to organizing information. Finally, one can't forget a platform that allows user contributions that's been around even longer than Wikipedia: the Internet Movie Database.
Looking forward, do you see Wikipedia becoming more or less important as a source of corporate information/reference? For whom?
The challenge for Wikipedia is keeping these entries up to date when its existing volunteer community isn't necessarily interested in working on them. Wikipedia editors tend to focus on areas of personal passion, and there just aren't that many who are passionate about companies and organizations. If the public perception develops that Wikipedia is a poor source of information on this topic-and I'd say this perception is at least germinating-then it's possible this reputation could stick, and Wikipedia would be less relied upon. On the other hand, Wikipedia is everywhere, and it's hard to ignore.