Tapping into Wikipedia's marketing potential

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that allows anyone to create an article or to edit an existing one, provides worldwide visibility for businesses, people, places and events. Boasting 1.78 million articles written in English, Wikipedia is an astoundingly large source of information. According to Alexa's top 500 websites, Wikipedia is the eighth most-visited site (Yahoo is No. 1), and it offers marketing opportunities for businesses. That doesn't mean that a business can post an advertisement. By definition, Wikipedia articles must be "just the facts," so businesses have strict limitations on how they can write about themselves. Writers' guidelines for Wikipedia include this requirement: All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing fairly and without bias all significant views that have been published by reliable sources. Supportive Fans That guideline effectively prohibits traditional advertising copy. While a business might post an article that portrays the business in glowing terms, the article probably wouldn't last long because anyone can edit a Wikipedia article, and because administrators have the ability to remove articles that fail to meet the guidelines. A look at the Wikipedia entry for the "Strasburg Railroad" might lead a reader to believe that the entry is the creation of an advertising agency or of an employee of the railroad. The listing has extensive information about the railroad, color pictures and a link to the railroad's official website. However, the site actually contains all information and no marketing for the railroad. Katie Stafford is public relations coordinator for Scheffey Integrated Marketing in Lancaster, Pa., the agency that handles advertising and other marketing efforts for the railroad. Scheffey did not create the railroad's Wikipedia entry, Stafford said. "Some rail fans built that site," she said. "Rail fans are so supportive." Keep It Neutral According to Wikipedia, a rail fan or rail buff is an amateur who is strongly interested in railroads. Excessively enthusiastic rail fans are sometimes referred to pejoratively as "foamers," especially by American rail workers, in reference to the joking notion that they foam at the mouth in their excitement over train operations. Most businesses don't have supporters as dedicated as rail fans, but any business can create a site for itself on Wikipedia. The agency recently created a Wikipedia site for the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, a project designed to preserve historic places and to promote tourism, said Micah France, senior interactive planner for Scheffey. Keeping the article neutral was a different approach for his firm, France said. "We suggested a listing on Wikipedia," he said. "We worked together on writing copy. We had to make it encyclopedia-like. That's not what we usually do." Honored by the Entries Valerie Kinney, director of communications for Auntie Anne's, a soft-pretzel chain based in Lancaster County, is happy with her company's Wikipedia entry, and the company had nothing to do with it. "We were honored that someone wrote about us," she said. "The site works to our benefit. Many people don't realize that we're an international company. A great thing is that people constantly update our entry." Wikipedia entries show up close to the top of many Google searches. These were the recent positions on Google of some local entries: * York Revolution: No. 2 * Harley-Davidson: No. 3 * Harrisburg, Pa.: No. 4 Despite the appeal of those numbers, Wikipedia doesn't have a space for every business. "If a business has greater than just a local interest, it does make sense," France said. So, while Harley-Davidson has an extensive Wikipedia entry, the local Harley retailer probably wouldn't meet the guidelines for an entry. Wikipedia has become a recognized source of information, and a presence there can be valuable to a business. "Wikipedia is a good place to put your information. It's the first place where many people search," France said. Source: E-commerce Times

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