A latte with Rhiannon Ruff
Episode first aired on November 09, 2023
Season 02 Episode 03
In this episode, Matisse chats with Lumino’s founding partner Rhiannon Ruff about the power Wikipedia has in communications, and how we as professional communicators need to better understand and strategize how to make the most out of it.
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About our guest
Rhiannon Ruff is a co-founder of the digital agency Lumino and the author of the new book Wikipedia & Crisis Communications. For the past decade-plus, Rhi has helped large organizations and Fortune 100 companies navigate the online encyclopedia, and she regularly speaks on the topic in agency seminars, podcasts, and other media appearances.
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of PR & Lattes, where you can fill your cup on everything PR and communications. I’m your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, and I am thrilled to have you join me today for a brand-new episode. Before we get started, make sure you subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening to it now to get notified each week of a new episode drop.
You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prnlattes.com. On the website, you’ll find our podcast episodes, plus our amazing blogs with new ones being uploaded every Monday morning. And, of course, make sure you’re following us on Instagram at @PRAndLattes and on LinkedIn, PR & Lattes. On today’s episode, I’m chatting with Lumino’s Rhiannon Ruff about the impact a good Wikipedia strategy can have on your organization.
Rhiannon is a co-founder of the digital agency Lumino and the author of the new book entitled Wikipedia and Crisis Communications. For over the past decade, she has helped large organizations and Fortune 100 companies navigate the online encyclopedia, and she regularly speaks on the topic in agency seminars, podcasts and other media appearances. I’m thrilled to have her on today’s episode to talk about the power Wikipedia has in communications how we can incorporate it into what we do. So grab your latte, sit back and enjoy!
Hello, Rhiannon, and thank you again for being on the podcast. I am so excited to talk to you about all things Wikipedia. Before we get started, I would love for you to share with the listeners your own journey in this profession and particularly the space of Wikipedia.
Oh my goodness, well thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here. Honestly, approach this type of question with a little bit of trepidation because like everyone, I have a little imposter syndrome when it comes to where I am in the world and my work experience. I actually have a bit of a sort of checkered work experience. I started out as a legal clerk in the UK. I was typing up memos, attending court, carrying all the heavy files and trying to book taxis and all that kind of thing.
And then I went into HR administration and I did that for a while. I really liked all of like the sort of, sort of the rules-based side of that. So I’m getting somewhere with rules in a minute. You’ll see. So, and then I married my husband and he had a job here in the US. And when I moved out here, I didn’t have work for a while. I had a work permit and I was just kind of like figuring out my life.
And a friend of his was setting up his own business. He was leaving an agency and he wanted to kind of go out on his own. And he was like, I just need someone to help me do all the things. He’s like, does someone organized who can take notes, figure out invoicing, just all the stuff. And so I started helping him out. And then that kind of merged into like a full-time role doing project management. And then I started out helping him on different projects. We were doing everything from like ghostwriting interviews for our clients to helping to produce scripts for animations, all the way through to Wikipedia, which was like his particular niche that he’d kind of developed initially. And I got really into it. I loved Wikipedia. I loved all the rules behind it. I loved the style of writing for it. And I loved kind of delving into the background of all these different organizations and individuals that we got to work with. I’ve just been doing that ever since really that’s kind of been my journey is just getting deeper and deeper into this weird little niche.
Amazing. And I feel like what you said that the rules with Wikipedia, a lot of people think sometimes it’s like this lawless land. Yes, what you could do. So the fact that, no, there are actual rules and guidelines. And we’re going to touch on that today in this podcast, I think is a fantastic right off the bat. FYI.
It is not a lawless land. There are rules. Oh, heck no. Yeah, it’s over-engineered with rules almost. So let’s start off, I’m going to say simply, why is Wikipedia so crucial for either personal or corporate branding in today’s digital landscape?
So it’s a really interesting question. I think it all comes down to how interconnected the digital landscape is these days, and especially I’ve been thinking more and more about this recently, this idea of trust and what we trust on the internet when we’re going to digital spaces. And more and more existing platforms are looking for places where they can link to that has trustworthy information. And Wikipedia has become that. It has become a spot that is known for having independent information. It has a lot of linked resources.
It relies on a lot of really high quality inputs and information, and it’s separate from a company or brand or an individual’s own materials about themselves. So when someone wants to learn about an organization, a person, a brand, whatever it might be, you don’t necessarily want to go to that company brand’s website, because you’re not gonna get a full picture. Maybe you wanna know, is this a brand that I wanna invest with?
What’s their history, are they gonna be doing the sorts of things that I feel comfortable investing in? You’re gonna go to somewhere like Wikipedia because you’re not gonna spend hours and hours doing that research online yourself, like looking through the archives of the New York Times, all that kind of thing. You’re gonna try and go somewhere where that information is aggregated. And other sites are gonna point you there too. So the first time that you google that topic, you’re gonna see snippets from Wikipedia, whether that’s at the very top of search, whether it’s Wikipedia appearing in search, whether it is that Google Knowledge Graph panel that appears on the right-hand side of your search that’s already giving you information that comes from Wikipedia. If you’re asking a voice assistant for information, if you mention a brand name, 99% of the time it’s gonna give you an answer that comes from Wikipedia. Now we even have platforms like TikTok that are integrating Wikipedia so that if you ask about something, they’re giving you a link to or directly information that comes from Wikipedia. And of course, AI. This year, everything’s been about AI. So, and this is where lots and lots of people are starting out their research journeys nowadays. It’s not just web searches anymore. It’s going to specific apps and tools like TikTok, like certain types of AI, like your chat GPT. And those are pulling from Wikipedia. So all of this to say, Wikipedia, if you ignore it, can be a real liability. I think that’s probably the best way that I can put this, is that I don’t think that every brand, every person should try to have a Wikipedia page. I don’t think that’s the best way to approach things to make sure that you have solid branding and marketing. I think you have to work on everything else first. But if you have a Wikipedia page, then ignoring it is a huge mistake because you can end up with outdated information, you can end up with information that you can’t be kind of biased because it might all rely on materials that maybe only tell half a story about things. So it’s super important for folks to take a look at their Wikipedia and make sure that it actually reflects who they are, what they’ve done, all of the story, not just part of it.
This is so fascinating. I am just in awe for the listeners who can’t see my face. I’m just hanging on everywhere. So from a PR or professional communicator standpoint, if you’re working in-house how do we need to change our strategies when considering Wikipedia as a platform?
Well, the first thing to recognize is that Wikipedia is not just a platform. It is a community. So it’s kind of like Reddit is building an encyclopedia. That’s how you should think about it. So you’ve got this community of volunteer editors who are actually doing all of the work to create, maintain, all that information that’s on the site, they’re also self-governing, they are watching out for what’s going on the site, they are the ones who flag issues with existing content. So that’s the first thing, is you can’t really approach this as like a platform where you’re going to be able to go and just submit your information that’s going to happen for you. This is a community engagement project that you have to embark upon. And it’s not going to be short. That’s the other thing I think is really important to think about is that. What you should be aiming for is not quick changes, it’s changes that are gonna last. So looking at Wikipedia and thinking about, okay, well, here’s where it is right now. I know I’m not gonna be able to just really quickly give a whole new draft here. What are some changes I need to make here over the long run? What are some pieces of information that are missing? Where do I know that I can already source that information? So here’s another part of this that I think is a bit of a change in perspective for communicators and folks from PR is that everything that goes onto Wikipedia, you have to already have a source for it. And that has to be independent of your material. So it can’t be from your website, your press releases, a report that you’ve put out, a white paper that you’ve produced. It has to come from the media or someone who’s written a book about you, or maybe this academic journal that’s been peer-reviewed and is about you. It has to come from those types of sources. And you’ve got to look at what those sources say and write based on those. You can’t craft your narrative and then go out and start looking for sources to back it up. That’s not really gonna work. It’s not gonna work for Wikipedia editors who are going to do their own little search and see, well, you know, it seems like this whole area of media coverage has been missed completely. Why is that not in here? You’ve got to look at that media first and think about how you’re gonna take that and apply it to Wikipedia. Are there things that you might rather avoid? And if so, why?
Is it because you had a big lawsuit and you never put out a response to it because your approach as a company used to be, we don’t respond to negative press? Oh dear, the digital world does not like that. It’s going to be out there that there was this negative thing and no one’s ever going to know how you responded and resolved it. That’s that’s kind of a larger cycle that I see that folks are starting to move towards these days is realizing that you can’t leave that loop unclosed, you really got to make sure that that’s followed up. So that’s a lot of different things that have to change when you’re approaching Wikipedia, but I think that gives you a flavour of it’s not your standard process for communicating. You’re not going to just be like, okay, well here’s my talking points, going to draft up my narrative, think about what the different business units want, or whatever it might be, and then that’s what I’m going to go forward with. You have to look at a much larger landscape before you can step into that space.
What I find really interesting is the vetting process, which I don’t think folks actually understand how in-depth it goes. Because in academia, for example, with my students, I’ll say you can’t use Wikipedia as a resource. But realistically, why if everything is being fact-checked, essentially right? Because you have to have a source to prove what you’re saying, and it’s not just catered to that. So I find that really interesting that we have this preconceived notion of it not being a valid resource when really the resources are already in there to create what’s being said on that page. I find that fascinating.
Yeah, and honestly, this is one of the big challenges with Wikipedia is that really the process to add, maintain, create material on Wikipedia is very thorough, but the community is kind of threadbare there’s not very many editors compared to all of these millions of Wikipedia pages. So you get some pages that are really wonderful, that absolutely everything that you’d want on the topic. And then you’re going to get a lot of pages that don’t have everything in it. So I totally get, like, you know, please do make sure that your students are aware, like there are deficiencies. You could be looking at a Wikipedia page on a topic that, you know, an editor who is interested in that topic, knowledgeable about that 10 years ago created that. And it hasn’t really been updated since, or maybe it’s been nibbled around the edges, but there’s been a big shift in the meantime in pedagogy and the amount of material that’s out there about that topic. So who knows? And this is the same for companies and brands as well, as a lot of the time, a page might have been created for them, but then it doesn’t get maintained. So then there’s huge gaps and things that can kind of fall through the cracks.
So then how can a business or an individual leverage Wikipedia for reputation management if they can’t necessarily go in and say, here’s my narrative and send?
And if you can, put that into Wikipedia coding. It’s okay if you can’t, but that’s the ideal is to put it all into Wikipedia coding. And that’s it. That’s the approach. So I would say, be disclosed, use discussions and be granular. You don’t want to go in and just start saying, like, this whole page needs to be torn down, and it’s missing a huge chunk over here. You want to go in with pieces and offer up changes slowly and make sure that they’re always grounded in what’s been covered in the media first. So taking a look at your media coverage and then seeing, okay, well, ideally I’d want to put in that we have this new business unit we opened, but I don’t have media coverage about that. I do have media coverage. I’ll pivot into this area and this new product we launched. So I’ll use that.
One question I do have when it comes to press releases in particular, yes, if a company puts out a press release, and then it gets picked up not necessarily as new news coverage, but let’s say the Associated Press picks it up and just regurgitates it out the exact same way. Can you use that Associated Press URL for coverage saying that it’s been picked up, or is it because it came directly from the company it doesn’t count?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t count. So I know this is this is one of the more tough areas and I would say that this is like a challenge with media coverage in general and just the way the companies put out information Wikipedia is trying their best to find a way to ensure that bias doesn’t creep in and that information is vetted and it doesn’t always fit exactly. They’re aware that it isn’t perfect, but this is the best way they can think to do it. So what they really want is reported coverage. So if someone, if you put out a press release and then someone from Reuters reads that press release and they do a write-up of it and they call you up and they’ve checked some of the information and they’ve added some more context, maybe they add in a bit of industry related context to that, we can use that piece. That’s good. But anything that is just a reprint of a press release is not usable. And it’s the same for interviews as well. So if you have an executive who goes to an outlet, even like a really highly reputable outlet, say like a Wall Street Journal, and they give an interview about the big changes at your brand, and they talk in-depth about all the things you’ve done, we can’t use any of those things for Wikipedia that are in direct quotes or attributed to what that executive says. So anything that’s like, according to company executive A, that’s not usable for Wikipedia because that’s considered to be a primary source still, that’s still the executive talking about the company. That is absolutely fascinating. You would think something like Bloomberg and you’re being interviewed, that would be accepted by Wikipedia, but with it saying, no, because it’s a direct quote.
That is very, very interesting.
Yeah, and I think that that’s one of the misunderstandings that we come across the most with folks when they start looking at engaging on Wikipedia. They’re saying, oh, we have tons of media coverage. We have so much media coverage. But what they mean is media pickups of their press releases, so those reprints of press releases, or they mean their execs have given quotes in a whole bunch of places. When you pair it back, there’s not much usable content that’s actually about the brand, about the company, and that is not just attributed to those quotes. So that can be really tough because they’re looking at that spreadsheet of media hits and they’re like, oh wow, look at all this coverage we have. But in terms of what is accepted by Wikipedia, the window is that much narrower.
Yeah. Fascinating. I am loving this conversation so much. So okay. So we can’t use our own reprinted press releases; we can’t use anything with direct quotes. What advice do you have when handling negative or inaccurate information on a Wikipedia page?
Oh, this is one of the biggest areas that we help clients with all the time because this is truly, you know, your reputation is at risk. You really want to make sure that there is some kind of fix to that type of detail. And it can be a challenge.
The main thing it comes down to is what is in the coverage, what has ended up being reported by the media. So this is where PR is so crucial. I’m a huge booster of like real PR, like working with the media, making sure that you’re putting out the right types of information about your organization, making sure that you’re doing things like your crisis communication super, super well, because it all does help in the long run for things like Wikipedia. And more tactically speaking, the best way to approach it is to look at, is this something that really does rise to the level of needing to be included on Wikipedia? Because sometimes things get added in kind of like a knee-jerk way. Someone will read about the brand in the news, they’ll be like, ooh, here’s this coverage and I think that it should go into Wikipedia and they’ll add it. But it wasn’t really that big of a deal.
Maybe it was like a negative thing, but it just was a little mini-news splash for a minute. So perhaps it’s possible to ask editors, hey, I just don’t think that this, like in the grand scheme of our hundred years as an organization, is that big of a deal. It didn’t have long term impact on the company. There hasn’t been ongoing reporting about it. What do we think? Could it potentially be removed? And possibly it can on that basis.
The other thing to do is, can we close the loop in some way? Was it a lawsuit? Did it get settled? Or was it dropped? Whatever might have happened there. If it’s big enough where it has to stay in the page, is there some way of closing that up and saying, okay, in 2020 a lawsuit was brought on the basis of this and this, in 2021 the suit was settled?
And that’s a good way of dealing with it too, just providing some kind of response or resolution to it to make sure that it’s dealt with. Misinformation is much harder, especially inaccuracies that come out of media coverage. Sometimes as we know, reporters don’t always get things right. The best thing that you can do is make sure that you’re following back up with them and putting out corrections if you can, and correcting other media coverage. So then you can go in and say, well, yes, this coverage from, I’m going to pick on an outlet, sorry, Chicago Tribune. This coverage from the Chicago Tribune did say this, but actually that was an error and that was the wrong information, as you’ll see from these three other sources, in fact, this. So that’s the way you have to approach it. It’s really kind of like building these little arguments each time for why something needs to be fixed. But all of this has to happen through those requests to Wikipedia editors, and then they have to look at how you’ve put things together. So you really have to be analytical and take a step back and think about not only how you can get these things fixed, but also is it worth it? Like how much do you wanna push this with this community? Like how much do you want to try in and fight back against this? Is this a big enough error that it needs to be fixed? Or is this something where you can kind of go, like, ah, I guess it’s out there in the media so we can just let this go?
That’s fascinating. It’s sort of like you have to be your own lawyer.
Yes, very much. Wikipedia-type lawyer, if you will, and how you build your case to prove it. Yeah, the analytical part. This is just very fascinating. Because I love the concept that you have to prove your case, it’s worth that it actually deserves to be taken down versus, oh, no, we just don’t like that. Right, exactly. Because we don’t like that is not going to work for Wikipedia editors.
And this is where a lot of companies get into trouble because they’ll just try and go in and, like, oh, maybe no one will notice if we just go and edit this and remove it. And then editors do realize, and then they’re going to put it back, and then you’re in trouble because then you can end up with, you know, maybe they’d start to add more detail about it. So yeah, you got to take a step back first, figure out how you’re going to approach it and then you can dive in.
Okay, so let’s take a step back. And let’s say you don’t have a Wikipedia page, but your client or organization or business would like to start one. What does that process look like?
Ooh, well, the way that I like to start thinking about it is why do we want the Wikipedia page? And then, you know, that’s, that’s one of our questions always is, you know, are there other things that you’ve been doing in the meantime that could accomplish those goals?
Because the likelihood of getting a Wikipedia page if you do not already have one is very low.
Yes. Wikipedia, the community is doing a great job, I would say, in terms of what is possible for them to do. Again, bearing in mind there’s not very many of them. There’s a lot of Wikipedia pages, and they’re not knowledgeable in all of these different subjects. They’re trying their best. So I try to take that kind of good faith view. Sometimes I get frustrated, but, no. So they’re aware there are a lot of things that are on Wikipedia from, you know, years back when they weren’t quite so strict about the rules about sourcing and things like that. And they’re trying to clean those up. But that takes a long time. Of course. What they can do is that they can slow the intake of new topics, they can slow the amount of new things that come in, and that pop up on the site. So, one of the ways that they’ve done this is that they’ve made the rules a lot stricter about new articles and who qualifies for a new Wikipedia page, basically. And especially if we’re talking about companies and brands and business people. Those are the hardest topics, I would say, to get a Wikipedia page for now, because what editors are looking for is really in-depth media coverage. They call it substantial media coverage.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be media. I say media because oftentimes it is, but obviously, if you have books written about you or journal articles, those would count too. But they really have to be about you. They have to be, so if you’re an individual, it can’t be you talking about your company. It can’t be you being quoted about other topics. It has to be like a profile piece that goes into detail about you, why you are unique and important and a special flower and should have a Wikipedia page basically. So not just anyone can qualify, even if you are a Fortune 500 CEO these days, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you rise to being encyclopedic. Unless there’s been a special note about achievements that you’ve made, are you the first woman in that position for that organization? Are you the first person to have grown up through the entire organization to have that role? Did you institute a massive change in that organization? Or did you come in having already achieved something magical and unique? Those are the types of things that Wikipedia editors are looking for. They really want to see why should we know you, and why are you noteworthy. And then also, do you have media coverage that talks about you? Is there enough there to be able to write a page about you, about this topic? And it’s the same for companies too.
For companies that are looking at what’s different about you versus the other types of organization in your industry. Are you one of 10? Are you the first type of organization that’s doing a certain thing? So, it’s very tricky to get a Wikipedia page. The way that I always approach it is, like I say, first, what else are we doing? And then secondly, we do a one-week research project that’s just like diving in, finding as many sources as we can to assess whether or not that person, company, whatever it might be, is actually qualified based on that media coverage for a Wikipedia page. And then from there you can kind of move through the process. But I would say the main thing to note is that it’s quite unlikely if you don’t currently have a Wikipedia page that you do qualify for one. So yeah, in a lot of cases, we see this with social media, for example, in that, oh, there’s something new and shiny, we need to be on there right away, but we have no strategy, no, we don’t know what we’re going to do with it or anything like that. And I feel like with Wikipedia; it needs to be thought of the same way. If we’re going to do this, do we have everything we need to properly be vetted by Wikipedia to say, yes, you are deserving of a page?
But also is the content that we want on there? Do we have the reliable sources that can be attached to it? So what we want will be promoted versus, well, you missed this, here’s the little bit of the negative stuff like you had mentioned before, right? Yeah, that’s exactly it. That’s the other piece to it as well is like, sometimes we find that the qualification for a page actually hinges on older coverage, in which case there’s a whole new problem, which is, well, if we were to go ahead and try to create a page now, would it actually reflect what you want it to? So then it does go back into that process, like you say, of like, hey, do we have all the things that we need before we can do this?
Can you explain the role of the Wikipedia editors? You’ve mentioned them a few times already, but can you explain the role and how to engage with them constructively versus saying, you need to fix this?
Oh yeah. That part can be hard. So Wikipedia editors, an editor on Wikipedia is anyone who edits Wikipedia. So if you go in and you make a couple of changes to a Wikipedia page, you’re technically a Wikipedia editor. But generally speaking, Wikipedia editors, when folks are talking about that in media, when they’re talking about it more colloquially, I think folks mean people who have user accounts on Wikipedia and they’re editing the site really regularly. And these are generally folks who are.
They really like Wikipedia. They like contributing to the site and that something about it drives them. And like everyone, they have their own kind of unique interests and reasons for being there. Some people like being part of a community project. Some people like to be there because they like to develop a particular type of information. And their role is anything that they want it to be. So some editors will focus on small things they’ll just be going about picking out typos to fix. Some people really like to build out new pages. So they’ll see a new page being created and they’ll be like, oh good, I’m gonna go and add as much as possible to that. Others like that more kind of genuine editorial approach of things, they like to review what other people are doing. So they’ll, perhaps they’ll be involved in the articles for creation process where new draft pages are put forward and they will review those to see whether they can be accepted into the encyclopedia and they might give feedback on that. Some people might like to respond to those conflict of interest requests which are put forward by editors from companies. So they really are doing a whole range of things. If you want to have a constructive relationship with the Wikipedia community, the first thing to remember is they are volunteers.
None of them have to interact with you. I think this is really hard for folks to realise is there is no reason that any Wikipedia editor has to respond to a request to update a Wikipedia page. They are not hired by Wikipedia, they are not bound by any rule or regulation or law that says that they must respond to your request. So you’ve got to approach it in terms of how can I incentivize in a way that fits with Wikipedia with what they want to do here. How can I make this a request that is gonna, you know, make them want to respond to it, make it easy for them to be able to make this change? So you have to think about things in terms of what a Wikipedia editor wants to know. They want to know is some of this information inaccurate in this page and do you have sources that can fix it? They don’t want to know all of your problems and concerns and the fact that you think that this is a terrible page and that it doesn’t portray your company in the right light. They do not care. What they wanna know is, is there better information that can be included? Do you have sources? Do you have specific notes on how they can accomplish that? Do you have Wikipedia rules that you can point to that you feel that the content isn’t currently meeting? Is some of the information on that page actually copyright material that’s been copied from your website and that’s why you want to fix it? So you gotta think about how you can approach this from what Wikipedia editors want to see to be able to really have that good connection with them. Another thing that I often bring up to clients is what can you offer these editors that they can’t get for themselves. Do you have images that you can donate to Wikimedia Commons that can be used on other related pages that these editors might not be able to get hold of? Do you have resources that you have access to that you can provide that they might otherwise be able to get?
Like maybe you have a copy of a journal article that they weren’t able to access and you can provide the text of that to them. Interesting. And I think that’s going to be a hard truth to swallow for PR and communications folks that these editors don’t have to respond to you. And they don’t have to necessarily do everything you’ve asked. That’s yeah, exactly. Yeah.
I think that’s something that we’re we’re not necessarily used to, but we also haven’t really considered in the strategy of Wikipedia if we haven’t considered Wikipedia as part of our strategy. So I think that’s a really key point to realize that you have to be nice. Don’t go angry if somebody uploads a new article that speaks to a crisis or something like that because it’s factual, but maybe provide how you responded to it, like you said before, with the reports and that sort of thing to get that through.
So interesting. Very, very interesting.
Do you see the role of Wikipedia evolving in the next five years and maybe particularly within PR or just in general? Well, this is a tough one because I think Wikipedia has its longevity and its trajectory in terms of how much it’s used and the way that it’s being integrated into things. I don’t think even I would have said that it would still be like this important 10 years ago.
I think that it’s surprising me how much it still continues to be relied upon. And a lot of that comes from the idea that I mentioned earlier, trust. Um, I think that a lot of people these days are more critical when they are interacting with information on the internet, they’d like having something that they can use that they consider to be more trustworthy, or at least like is an entry point for them to be able to find details themselves.
More people want to do their own research, but they want to kind of get like a head start on it, which is what Wikipedia gives you. So I think that for PR folks I think the most important thing for them to think about how Wikipedia might evolve and how it’s gonna affect their role is Thinking about it as that external validator for the information that you have about your organization and how can you make sure that you’re keeping that connection between the two. So I definitely think that PR folks need to keep Wikipedia in their view at all times, make sure that you’re thinking about, okay, we’ve got new media coverage, that’s not the end for that media coverage. Where is it going to go next? Does it need to be included on sites like Wikipedia to make sure that we’re updating that information? Then it helps to kind of reinforce when people are looking for that information when people are writing about that again in future.
That’s fantastic, that’s absolutely fantastic and very, very true, right? Particularly when starting your research. I know with my students, I say Wikipedia isn’t necessarily the best resource, but use it as a starting point because of the sources and citations they have, right? So you can at least get a starting point and then go from there and build up your case. So, I think you’re completely right. We, as professional communicators and PR practitioners, we need to always keep an eye on Wikipedia because you never know if a piece of media you didn’t like gets uploaded there that you might have to manage that and work with the editors to see if there’s a rebuttal piece that can go along with it.
Are there any common misconceptions about Wikipedia that you want to debunk that always irritate you or in the back of your mind and just like, oh, no.
Oh, my goodness. So many.
It’s a whole episode on its own.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And I kind of oscillate a little bit between a few of them. I think one of the biggest ones still, I think at some point, somewhere, someone has stood up in a PR conference and has said, you can’t edit Wikipedia, and you can’t touch Wikipedia yourself. You have to hire someone else to edit it for you. And this is something that I hear like repeated back to me all the time is we’ve reached out to you because we need a third party to go and edit Wikipedia. And I will say, that’s not what we do. But let me explain to you why and why you can help with your Wikipedia situation and do it transparently. Because the truth is that you don’t need to hire someone else to edit. That’s not at all what Wikipedia wants. What they want is there to be transparency. They want to know who it is that’s editing when it comes from a company or a brand or you as an individual if you have your own page or if you’re editing about someone related to you. They want to know what your potential bias might be so they can check that. Look at what it is that you’re proposing for that page and see whether it’s appropriate to include on that basis. Maybe there’s things that need to be tweaked. We all have our own biases. It’s really hard when you work for a company to not be biased in some way when you’re putting together details for it. That’s okay, it’s okay for us to accept that. But what Wikipedia doesn’t want you to do is to try and hide that in any way. They don’t want you to go out. Wikipedia editors definitely do not want you to hire someone else who’s going to pretend that they have no connection to you whatsoever and just happen to be interested in this topic. They do not want that. Because that is, to their mind, that’s the worst way. It’s like sort of insidious bias that I’m getting put in there. And editors will find that and they will block those kind of edits. So it’s better to take that transparent approach and not feel like you can’t touch Wikipedia. It’s more like you have to have certain rules in plain. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. No, that makes total sense. Do you think that at some point it will allow for given the trends that the trend that it’s having so far, that it would allow for news releases to be added as supplementary resources or citations for some content if it’s, for example, an acquisition that maybe wasn’t necessarily written about in the press, but it’s like, but this happened?
So that is really, it’s a bit of a gray area on Wikipedia. I would say, generally speaking, editors will tend to say no to press releases because their thought process is if someone outside of the organization hasn’t reported on it, then it’s not important enough to include on Wikipedia. But where they do sometimes allow news releases or like company websites to be used is for details that might not otherwise get confirmed elsewhere. So, for instance, if it’s announced that you’re going to acquire a company, then like the news release might be the only thing that kind of then confirms, oh, it did happen. Because sometimes there’s a lot of like news coverage about, you know, our company has announced that they’re gonna do this thing, here’s all the stuff about it. And then they move on. It’s like, you know, the paperwork is going through, it’s messy, these things take time.
And then by the time it actually happens, it’s kind of like, it’s just happened. And like, the news is like, oh, we already knew about this. We already talked about that. No one’s going to, you know, print a piece that’s like acquisition has actually now occurred. So those are the types of things where occasionally editors will be comfortable with a press release potentially being used, likewise, to confirm things like names, dates, and specific figures if those are not otherwise reported. So.
In very limited use, it is sometimes possible. You can’t count news releases as being like, oh, this would definitely get this information into the page, but if there’s a specific detail that’s missing, something like that, then potentially they can.
That makes total sense. And finally, before we wrap up…
Are there any resources or tips you would like to give the PR professionals listening on how they can start diving into Wikipedia, whether it’s vying for that coveted getting a Wikipedia page or there’s a ready one and they want to get started on it and start managing it, if you will? Yes. Okay, so there’s so many resources out there. I would always say look for if you’re reading blog posts, if you’re reading news articles that give you any kind of tips look for ones that link to the Wikipedia rules directly. And there’s a lot of really bad advice out there and, you know, companies who will have blogs who are like, how to get your Wikipedia article in three steps? And they will say things like, get your sources together, write the page, submit the page, but they won’t explain, like, you have to reach a certain level of coverage first, things like that.
So make sure that if you’re reading anything like that you’re looking at the stuff that already links to Wikipedia’s rules and guidelines. There’s some really great stuff on Wikipedia. It’s lots of how-to’s. There is a wonderful page on Wikipedia, and you can search it up and it’s called the Plain and Simple Conflict of Interest Guide. And I would highly recommend that you read that if you’re not sure on where to start and if you don’t want to kind of, you know, look at different vendors’ blog posts and things on this. Go straight to the horse’s mouth and read that guide. I think it’s an excellent resource.
Perfect. And we’ll link to that in the description of this episode as well, so it’s easy access for everyone. But before we go, this is PR & Lattes, so I have to ask: what tends to be your favourite go-to caffeinated beverage?
I’m a huge tea drinker and I absolutely love all different types of tea. I’m currently I’ve moved into my fall teas and I’m really into, it’s a black tea with chestnut flavouring in and it’s absolutely delicious and very, very like, it just has the essence of fall about it.
I love that. Well, thank you so, so much, Rhiannon, again for being on the podcast. This has been bbsolutely amazing. Like I said, I can’t wait to start actually editing and taking even more notes and all that fun jazz. You’ve given so much knowledge and information that I think as PR professionals could really use and really start to consider Wikipedia as part of our strategy as in a way that we haven’t really thought of before. So thank you so much.
Before we go, if people want to get in touch or follow you, how can they get ahold of you?
Yeah, absolutely. I am most active on LinkedIn and you can find me just under my name, Rhiannon Ruff, on there. You can also look up my company on LinkedIn as well. That’s Lumino Digital. And we also have a newsletter that is on Substack and is on some other places too, but I’m sure that I can give you the link so folks can sign up to that as well.
And you can find all of that in the description of this episode. Again, thank you so much, Rhiannon. This has been absolutely amazing.
Well thank you so much for having me; this has been a really fun conversation, I hope people get lots out of it.
You’ve been listening to the PR & Lattes podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you can get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website prandlattes.com. On the website, you’ll find our podcast episodes as well as amazing blogs with new ones being posted every Monday morning.
And, of course, make sure to follow us on social, on Instagram, @PRAndLattes, and on LinkedIn. I’ve been your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next week with a new latte and guest. Bye for now!
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