Should every brand or business have a Wikipedia page? More importantly, does your brand need one? Rhiannon Ruff of Lumino Digital joins us for an engaging discussion on Wikipedia, it’s relevance for brands, and gives us a sneak peek into the process of creating or editing brand Wiki pages.
- Rhiannon Ruff is a Wikipedia consultant with over 10 years of experience. She discussed the importance of Wikipedia for individuals and companies, explaining that in order to have a Wikipedia page, significant coverage from reputable sources is required, such as news media, books, and academic journals.
- The importance of meeting Wikipedia’s notability guidelines and using reliable sources when creating a Wikipedia page. Emphasis on the need for significant media coverage and reputable publications to ensure the page’s credibility and acceptance by Wikipedia editors.
- When writing a Wikipedia page, it is important to use mainstream media sources to ensure quality and credibility. Most of the work involves helping clients with existing pages, addressing issues such as outdated information and missing content.
- The issues with hiring unreliable firms for Wikipedia editing and the importance of thorough research, as well as the challenge of handling controversial topics on Wikipedia by summarizing neutral information from reliable sources.
- The importance of monitoring online reviews and Wikipedia pages for businesses. The potential role of AI in Wikipedia’s future, limitations, and concerns about authenticity.
How to Get on Wikipedia Episode Transcript
Rich: My guest today has more than 10 years’ experience helping large organizations and Fortune 100 companies navigate Wikipedia. She co-founded two boutique agencies in that time and worked with countless brands and business leaders to update their Wikipedia entries in line with the site’s rules and guidelines. I’m excited to be talking all things Wikipedia with Rhiannon Ruff. Rhiannon, welcome to the podcast.
Rhiannon: Thanks for having me, Rich. I’m excited.
Rich: While valuable, becoming a Wikipedia consultant seems very niche-y, what was the path that brought you here?
Rhiannon: Yeah, it’s an extreme niche to get into, for sure. So I actually just started out by accident, I would say. A friend of mine was going out to start up his own agency, he needed someone on board just to help him out with all the things, behind the scenes stuff, and a little bit of project management and things like that. And part of what he was doing was Wikipedia. And I got really into it, and very quickly that became my full-time job. And now that’s what I do all the time. I just talk to people about Wikipedia and how to not end up doing something terrible so that you have a bad Wikipedia presence.
Rich: Okay. Now there are obviously a lot of places that we can promote ourselves or companies online. Why should we care about Wikipedia?
Rhiannon: Oh my goodness. Wikipedia is really punching above its weight so far as websites go. And in this day and age where you would expect everything to like moving along, we’re hearing a lot about, just this week articles about Google. Have we hit peak Google? Are we on the descent from that?
What’s still really important are sites that have a high reputational pull, right? Algorithms for search, AI, now all of the LLMs, they’re really basing what they’re learning on from what’s out there on the web and what seems to already be considered to be a good source.
And Wikipedia does what all these algorithms really love. It is very qualitative, it’s very detailed information, and it links to a lot of other reputable places. So there’s a lot of signs and signals to all of these things out there in the digital space saying Wikipedia is giving me good information.
And so you have things like if you’re searching on Google, the Google Knowledge Graph panel that pops up, a lot of that information including that snippet about your organization or yourself, is all being filled in from Wikipedia. The top images are often pulling from Wikipedia. That the little kind of snippet of information you get from any of your voice searches is oftentimes coming from Wikipedia. So it’s not just about Wikipedia itself and the fact that people trust it, and to a certain extent as an independent site, but also the fact that it really becomes such an integrated part of the main aspects of our digital landscape at this point.
Rich: All right. If people are interested in getting a page created about themselves or their company or a topic that might be relevant to what they offer the world, what are some of the criteria for inclusion, and what are some of the first steps that you would take to help them on that journey?
Rhiannon: This is the big question right now. A lot of people are realizing that Wikipedia helps them, credibility wise it can be really important for them. But Wikipedia is one of these few sites that really prizes excellent, real, organic media coverage. So you can’t game the system to get in.
In order to get a Wikipedia page, in order to meet the criteria that Wikipedia editors are looking for, you have to have significant coverage. That’s the word that they use, “significant coverage”. And what they mean by that is that they want to see a whole range of sources and they have to be earned media. They’ve got to be these organic sources.
So it can be books if they’re published by reputable publishing houses, it can be academic journals. But most likely, for most topics that you’re thinking about, people, businesspeople especially companies, you’re looking at really that news media. And Wikipedia editors want to see that you’ve got really detailed profile pieces that talk about that organization, what it’s done, why we should know it, why we should care about it. And that’s really hard.
I would talk to any PR practitioners out there and they’re all going to say, oh, that is a high bar. People don’t do that type of coverage very often. That’s not something that we’re generally able to get. It’s really hard. And that’s the point. That’s why Wikipedia editors use this yardstick because they don’t want everybody to qualify. They want it to only be a certain limited number of topics that really qualify for Wikipedia. They really want the site to be truly encyclopedic and to only contain the topics that are really at the upper echelon of media coverage, books, journals, just everyday general knowledge.
Rich: Essentially, so us having our own podcast, our own blog, our own website, and maybe putting things out onto PR, web, that is not enough. What we need to do is get real journalists, real books written about us, whatever the case is, before it’s likely that we’re going to be added to Wikipedia, is what I’m hearing.
Rhiannon: Yeah, absolutely. Because what Wikipedia wants to know is does someone out there care about you? Does the general public care about you enough that you should have this Wikipedia page? That’s what they really want to know.
And they’ve kind of outsourced this decision, essentially, to journalists to say if journalists aren’t writing about you, aren’t giving all this sort of detail, then you’re not ready yet. This is not something that should be included in this encyclopedia. And they know that it’s not foolproof. There are definitely giant companies out there who just don’t get that much press, they’re not that sexy. You’ve got all different types of huge organizations in the world that are doing very crucial but boring stuff and they’re probably never going to have a Wikipedia page because no one’s out there writing hugely detailed profile pieces in the New York Times about a shipping company or a frozen foods manufacturer.
Rich: So I think this is what you’re getting at, I’ve read that Wikipedia’s guidelines about notability and reliable sources. So when you’re working with a client, how do you ensure that the subject matter meets these standards?
Rhiannon: Yeah, so we really anytime anyone’s coming to us and they say, “I want a new Wikipedia page for my company, myself”, we’re always having to start at this point by doing a deep research dive to find out what type of media coverage they’ve got, what types of other sources are writing about them first, before we do anything.
So we’re checking to see do they meet that notability guideline? Do they have a significant amount of coverage? Does that coverage highlight key details about them? And then importantly for them as well, because you don’t just want to have a Wikipedia page that just says whatever about you, you want it to say the right kinds of details, right?
So what if all your coverage is from 10 years ago? This is something that comes up occasionally with a client. We’ll say, you qualify, you meet this notability guideline, but it’s all based on your old media coverage from a while ago. So the page that would be written about you is outdated. So that’s our step one on that.
And then reliable sources wise, it really just comes down to looking at the coverage very carefully. Is it a staff writer? Is this a publication that is considered to be reputable? Is it well known? If it’s a trade publication or a niche publication, can we see on the website that it is high quality?
There are certain indicators I think we’re all used to at this point, aesthetically, and just from knowledge of navigating the web you can tell when a site is high quality versus when it might be just a bit more on the edge. So we’re looking at all those types of things. Does this coverage look like what Wikipedia editors are going to accept and consider to be reliable?
Rich: So it sounds like this is part of the research that you do when you’re working with a client. What other types of research or preparation goes into writing a solid Wikipedia submission? And I feel like you’ve touched upon this, but if you can give us any more specifics around what sources when you’re doing research carry the most weight with those Wikipedia editors.
Rhiannon: Oh my goodness. So a lot of times we’ll have a client pull for us what are your best sources. What are the ones that give us the most meat about you, the most information? So we don’t really want to be going and picking out, oh, like you had a mention here and a mention there, and it had a couple of details about you. We really want those sources that go into a lot of information about them. Because those are the ones that’s going to hold the most weight with Wikipedia editors. They want to know people who’ve spent time researching you and looking into you and have written about you, what are they saying? Not, in an industry related piece, what is the quick mention of you that pops up?
So that’s where we start off, is looking at those sources. And then we go out from there where they’re mentioned a little bit more. Maybe there’s a couple of things that are important to their business now, but they have perhaps a little bit less coverage or have just been mentioned. Are those sources enough? And the types of sources that really hold the most weight with editors that are going to be the most influential, it’s well-known publications.
Wikipedia editors are just everyday folks from all different walks of life. They’re not necessarily going to be very knowledgeable about the particular topic. They’re not going to know whether Shipping Company Digest is an excellent source or not. And quite frankly, they’re not going to spend 20 minutes navigating around the website trying to find out whether they have an editorial board and things like that. So the types of sources that they like to see are your New York Times, your Wall Street Journal, your Financial Times, The Economist, any of those big names gives them some feeling of okay, this is quality journalism, Reuters, Bloomberg. Those are the types of sources that they are going to look to see. Do you have at least a couple of those in there? Maybe some of the rest of them are trade, but do you have some of those?
Rich: It feels like you almost have to move past your industry journals and into mainstream media to reach that quality level, is what I’m hearing.
Rhiannon: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s not to say that trade journals can’t be really high quality. It’s just that Wikipedia editors are going to be less familiar with them. So they’re going to be less comfortable with the idea of them. They’re not going to really want to spend a lot of time looking into that. We have to try and show them that, hey, we’ve got these quality sources out there. And the best way to do that is make sure that we’ve got enough of a mix of those mainstream ones in there, too.
Rich: So let’s say that you’ve got a client, they want you to write a Wikipedia page. You feel that there’s enough mainstream coverage that they would be a viable option for it. How do you go about writing this out?
I know that when it comes to Wikipedia, although there’s variations depending on the topic in certain categories, there are like history, and citations, and uses in media. Again, very much depending on what the page is about. But how much do you follow that and how do you decide that? Do you look at similar companies or similar individuals and see what’s the breakdown of that page and then write to those points?
Rhiannon: Yes and no. So we definitely are looking at similar pages, we want to know what Wikipedia is accepting as the typical types of headings. And across Wikipedia, you’re right, there are a lot of kind of standard headings for those types of sections. But the main thing that’s really different about writing for Wikipedia is that you write from the sources. So we don’t come into it with a narrative in mind. Like, okay we’ve got to tell this story and the history and that’s how we put it across.
We might have a few details from the client that’s we’d really like to include this or try and explain this pivot. But we have to work that based on what’s in the sources. It’s a really big kind of shift away from other types of writing that you might do, especially any general like communications and PR style writing, because you’re really focused on it as a research piece almost. Is there, where do these sources lead me? Is there going to be a history section? If there is, is it going to be quite short or is it going to be really a long, meaty, history section? And then the section on the business model is going to be a bit shorter, or is it going to be reversed? And it all comes down to, what do the sources tell us the most about? And that’s where we can write from.
Rich: Rhiannon, over the years you must have had some clients who came to you and said, “I’ve discovered there is a Wikipedia page on me and I hate it.” Like it’s either misleading, or it’s just all bad news, or it leaves out some important parts of our history. What is the approach you take in a situation like that if you’re trying to help the client tell their story on Wikipedia? Or is that not the right way to approach it at all?
Rhiannon: Actually, the vast majority of the work that we do is to help people who have existing pages. And let me give some context to that.
It is increasingly difficult to place a new Wikipedia article because of those sourcing requirements, because the size of Wikipedia as it is now. Like most topics that you’d expect to be covered are already covered. So if someone’s coming to us and they’re saying, “Can I have a new Wikipedia page?” Generally speaking, it’s probably going to be a no. We’ll do the research dive, we’ll see, but oftentimes it’s a no.
With existing Wikipedia pages, there’s all types of issues that can go on. But the main thing is usually that there are very few Wikipedia editors compared to the vast number of Wikipedia entries, so everything gets outdated.
Especially again, like not to pick on boring companies, but if you just don’t have a rabid fan base. or on the flip side of it, people who really hate you, your page is not going to get updated that much. So you’re going to end up with a lot of material that’s missing, that’s outdated.
So that’s where we do a lot of our work. And the first thing that we always talk about with clients is, are you prepared to do this transparently? Because we’re not in the business of going in and making edits anonymously. We do this as a partnership with the client where we teach them how to go on Wikipedia, make requests, and say who they are. And sometimes that’s not a fit. Some clients don’t want to do that. They feel very uncomfortable with this idea. Which is, to me, it’s a little bit odd, but I get it. Not everybody’s going to be on board for this. So that’s the first thing is they have to be ready to follow the rules and disclose who they are and to use requests rather than editing directly.
So this is part of two main parts of Wikipedia’s rules, for anyone with a conflict of interest. If they’re cool with that, then the way we approach it is similar to, for a new article, we want to know what is it you want to do with this page? What’s your wish list? What’s the problems with it now? Where is it going wrong? And then we want to know what sources are out there. So we have to do that research, always. Because there’s no point in diving into a project saying, “Yes! We’re going to make your Wikipedia page beautiful”, and then it turns out they’ve had no media coverage for the past five years.
If they’ve got a rebrand coming up and they want to gussy things up before that rebrand, that’s going to be a no go because they haven’t had the media coverage yet about that. So we can’t include that. It has to be stuff that there’s already media out there about. So it’s very much taking this sort of research first approach always to make sure that it’s successful for Wikipedia. Because if you don’t have the sources, Wikipedia editors don’t want to know.
Rich: What are some of the common mistakes people are making when they’re trying to create or update their own Wikipedia pages, like the ones that are about themselves?
Rhiannon: Yeah, so I’m going to pull back a little bit here and not talk about a mistake, and sort of the actual technicalities of going in and trying to do that. The biggest mistake I see is people hiring the wrong people. They don’t know how to do it themselves and they’re worried about diving in, so they think, okay, I need to hire someone.
But they either don’t want to put budget towards it, or they don’t know who to ask. And so they go online and they search up and they get any of these Wikipedia sites that’s, “Wiki Editors for Hire”. I think that’s literally one of the websites that’s out there. And there are all these different firms, and they are all uniformly terrible. A lot of them are based overseas and they will break all the rules, they will sock puppet, which is where they have multiple different accounts and they will go in and pretend they’re just regular editors and they’re just trying to update this company’s page.
And inevitably, Wikipedia editors will find this. And because this is bannable behavior, they will undo all those changes, they will block those editors, and then the poor company or individual who thinks that they’ve been doing the right thing is suddenly left with a big mess. They’ve got a banner on their page that says that they have been editing undisclosed, or they’ve got something that says everything reads like an advertisement and they can’t get hold of this company anymore. Or if they do, they’re being fed lies about how these administrators are out to get them and things like that.
And it’s terrible because people put massive amounts of resources into this. And then this is where it ends up. So I would say that’s the biggest mistake I see people make is not doing their research thoroughly on who it is they’re hiring before they dive in.
So I would never say we’re the only ones out there who are doing a good job. There are several firms who are excellent who do a wonderful job in navigating Wikipedia’s conflict of interest rules. Do your research, talk to your PR agencies, talk to your networks and make sure that whoever it is you work with can show you what they’re doing. Because that’s really it. We will never tell you, oh yeah, we have to do this, that, and the other. We’re going to talk to this Wikipedia editor, we’ll just tell you when it’s done. Every step of the process is visible. For our clients and anyone who you work with who’s legitimate, that process will be visible.
So I’d say, I know that’s possibly not quite what you were asking. I think that’s a really big issue out there because these folks are horrible. I just spoke to someone earlier today who was ripped off to a large amount of money and he said that he’s been physically ill with how bad the situation ended up. So I just want to make sure that more people don’t end up in that situation.
Rich: Rhiannon, how do you handle controversial figures or topics that are required to have this balanced neutral perhaps point of view, but in this day and age, there’s just so many strong opinions on things that might’ve seen very middle of the road in years past. Do you run into that with any of your clients, and how do you manage that?
Rhiannon: Oh, absolutely. I think this is one of the more kind of tricky areas to navigate for any of us in communications and PR these days, but definitely for Wikipedia. At least we have more of a roadmap with it. Because if it has been covered in the media, then we know that we’re going to have to address it. And the best way to do that is just to go ahead and treat it as straightforwardly as we can. Summarize what the sources say. Keep it as neutral as possible. And we try to talk to our clients about things like have you had a response? Have you made a response to this? Is that out there covered somewhere? Can we include that?
Because a lot of times people come in, they’re just like can we just get rid of this? And getting rid of it is never going to work on Wikipedia. You can’t just go in and remove things that are negative or that are controversial in some way. You just have to make sure that you’re dealing with it in the most kind of straightforward way as you can.
Rich: All right. So once you’ve got a page up there, how can we best leverage those Wikipedia pages as part of our overall marketing strategy?
Rhiannon: My goodness. I think the most important thing to do is make Wikipedia part of your overall practice. So make sure that you’re keeping an eye on it as well as you do with everything else.
I find it hard talking about Wikipedia as a marketing resource, because it isn’t necessarily. It’s really good for your web presence, for making sure all these digital spaces are up to date, but you can’t include anything in there that’s particularly promotional. It’s not really one of these sites where you can make sure that you always have your up-to-date product information or details like that. It really has to be treated a little bit differently. This is more of the sort of resource where people would find out about the basics about you, the most kind of important information.
So I would say really treating it more as not as a marketing resource, but more as part of your reputation. Because these days your reputation is so tied in with how people view you, whether they are going to buy from you or not. So it might not be straightforwardly something where you can say, okay I’m using Wikipedia to pull in my ideal audience. But you’re making sure that if your ideal audience is going out and trying to look for information about you, they’re getting the right types of information, so they’re more likely to buy from you.
Rich: I often tell clients who are in industries that have online reviews, are subject to online reviews, that you should be paying attention to those platforms, whether it’s Yelp or Google or Facebook. Even setting up alerts to make sure that you know this. Is there a system within Wikipedia that if we have a page about us we’ll get an alert when somebody makes a change? So if we disagree with it, or if we’re like wait a sec, this is just completely false information, that we can jump on it. Because I’ve seen information get lifted out of Wikipedia that’s incorrect and then posted elsewhere, and it becomes much more difficult to manage the story once it has basically propagated.
Rhiannon: Yeah, and that’s such a huge issue. I’m a huge advocate for careful monitoring of your Wikipedia. If you’re not likely to be the sort of person who goes in and stares at your Wikipedia page every day I do have some clients who like to do that. They love to go in and refresh and look at the edit history and see what’s happening.
Not everyone does. Actually the easiest thing you can do is to register for a Wikipedia account and then set up your preferences so that you get a notification for any change on a page on your watch list and then add your page to your watch list. And then you can never have to think about that Wikipedia account ever again if you don’t want to, but your email address will get the updates whenever anyone goes and edits that page. So you’ll get a notification that says, a change has been made here. Click through here to see what the change was. Click through here to see what the page looks like now. So it’s a very easy way to get alerted of what exactly is happening.
Rich: So it seems like some of the things you’ve been saying is that Wikipedia has evolved over the years, like maybe there was a little bit of a Wild West early on where anybody could put up a page, they’ve codified some of the things.
Where do you see Wikipedia heading in the next five to ten years? And do you think that AI is going to play more of a role in Wikipedia, which has always been human driven as far as I know?
I know I’m asking you to look into your crystal ball, but you spend more time on Wikipedia than anybody I’ve met, so I’m curious to know your thoughts.
Rhiannon: Oh, yeah. I’ve been putting a lot of thought to that this year. I think that obviously AI is on everyone’s mind. LLMs are out there, they’re doing all kinds of things. And now we’re starting to see those articles coming out about how concerning it is that we might end up having AI upon AI, where we can’t any longer find what was the original, organic content created by people and real.
So I think, to be honest, I don’t think that Wikipedia editors are going to use AI other than as a tool to help them improve the site. I know that some folks looked into could they use AI to start up a Wikipedia page about a topic, and they immediately hit a bunch of snags with it. It hallucinates sources, so it would create a fake source that never existed, things like that.
And obviously you can’t tell where it’s pulled any of its information from, so finding out the details was tough. So I think a lot of what folks are doing now is looking at how can they use AI in small ways to help with the sort of rote tasks and with creating content. I see that continuing.
The big trend that I wonder and that I think is probably going to happen, is Wikipedia becoming more selective about content. So even more so than it currently is filtering out the types of articles that editors feel it shouldn’t be on part of the site. Creating more of a walled garden effect than it currently has.
Rich: Awesome. Rhiannon, this has been very informational, very helpful. If people want to learn more about you and follow what you’re doing, where can we send them online?
Rhiannon: You can check out my LinkedIn. I’m Rhiannon Ruff on LinkedIn. You can go and check out I’ve got lots of different posts about different Wikipedia issues. Or you can always reach out to us at Lumino Digital. We are at Lumino Digital.com, or you can go and check out our website.
Rich: Awesome. And of course, we’ll have those links in the show notes. Rhiannon, thank you so much for coming by and sharing your expertise on Wikipedia today.
Rhiannon: Thanks so much, Rich.
Rhiannon Ruff has been a Wikipedia consultant for over a decade and uses her extensive knowledge to help guide brands and other notables through this notoriously tricky platform. Check out what her team at Lumino Digital is doing to help elevate brand presence, and go follow her in LinkedIn.
As President of flyte new media and founder of the Agents of Change, Rich Brooks brings over 25 years of expertise to the table. A web design and digital marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, flyte helps small businesses grow online. His passion for helping these small businesses led him to write The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a comprehensive guide on digital marketing strategies.