I got a note this morning from my friends over at Anvil Media, a Portland, OR search engine marketing (SEM) firm. Their online reputation was being bashed. I know them well, they’re above reproach in my book, so I wanted to look into it, and asked for an accounting of the situation.
A Marketing Coup Crumbles
Here’s how it rolled out:
- A few months ago, Anvil and Attensa worked together to put information on Wikipedia about Attensa’s RSS feed server. Now, that’s a feat, because no “marketing” information is allowed on Wikipedia, it’s all about facts, according to Wikipedia’s “neutral point of view” policy.
- They adhered to Wikipedia’s editorial guidelines, even to the degree that they neutered marketing language and listed Attensa’s competitors in fairness to the ‘encyclopedic’ nature of the site. Their content added enough value to the site to be published.
- Leads started flowing into the Attensa site, and they were good ones. A marketer’s dream.
- Their program was good enough to get coverage in Marketing Sherpa: “How to Use Wikipedia for Lead Gen…”
- The shit hit the fan.
- Someone pulled down the Attensa citations on Wikipedia, and everything else Anvil had ever written on Wikipedia - to boot. Emails were sent (some not-so-slightly threatening), memes ensued, and on and on…
I’m not one to fan a flame of reputation bashing (no matter the source), so suffice it to say, Anvil and Attensa and everyone I’ve been talking to about it have been (rightfully) alarmed by the response.
Wake Up Call for Transparency
So why am I taking the time to write about this? Because everyone in corporate America needs to know this story. I will go a little deeper here, to further illuminate the irresponsible nature of the secret sect that seems to control Wikipedia. In June I attended the Drug Information Association convention in Boston for the Academic Network. I blogged about it here, but it’s worth repeating…
One of the panelists lamented of their company’s inability to change a factual error on Wikipedia for a drug they manufactured - it was listed as being taken ‘orally’ when, in fact, it was not. They couldn’t do anything to correct it, though, for fear of being held liable for all of the constantly changing information about their drug on the site. So they opted, on the advice of their attorneys, to leave it.
That’s a pretty big deal. A drug company being unable to correct a HUGE inaccuracy about a drug, because of fear.
You see, since about August of last year, there’s been a tool that will show who’s editing what on Wikipedia, called Wikiscanner. When it came out, so did the horror stories (like these in Wired)… of companies editing (and deleting) entire paragraphs of information from Wikipedia. This is exactly what the Wikipedia Editorial guidelines are out to prevent, but now Big Brother can expose exactly who’s writing what…
And prevention is exactly what they’re getting - pharmaceutical companies are afraid to (or being banned from) righting obvious wrongs.
Meanwhile, guess what comes up as the #1 search result in most searches? Wikipedia. In fact, in the case of health and medical information, look who’s trusted most:
That scares me, just hearing one little story of an inaccuracy found, and the company being unable to change it.
People trust Wikipedia. Google trusts Wikipedia. But can we trust the people who edit Wikipedia? Not based on the backchannel I saw this morning.
Who are these people? A pretty clubby society of folks who’ve been able to figure out how to:
- Use the (fairly technical) programming language
- Participate and thrive in the backchannel conversations while doing so (see below)
- Control not only postings, but entire access to Wikipedia, and
- Block companies from editing entries
Who are these folks? To sum up with an insight as to their mindset (from Wired article Wikipedia FAQK), author Lore Sjoberg wrote:
“What should I know if I want to contribute to an argument nexus (or “article”) on Wikipedia?
It will help to familiarize yourself with some of the common terms used on Wikipedia:
- meat puppet: A person who disagrees with you.
- non-notable: A subject you’re not interested in.
- vandalism: An edit you didn’t make.
- neutral point of view: Your point of view.
- consensus: A mythical state of utopian human evolution. Many scholars of Wikipedian theology theorize that if consensus is ever reached, Wikipedia will spontaneously disappear.
Is it true that anyone can contribute?
Sure, Wikipedia is absolutely open to absolutely anyone contributing to absolutely anything! As long as you haven’t been banned, or the article you’re contributing to hasn’t been locked, or there isn’t a group of people waiting to delete anything you write, or you don’t make the same change more than three times in one day, or the subject of the article hasn’t decided to send scary lawyer letters to Wikipedia, or you haven’t pissed Jimbo Wales off real bad. It’s all about freedom.”
Freedom for those who know the secret handshake, that is. As for the rest of us, we’re probably just non-notable at best.
Count me as a meat puppet - on behalf of Anvil and Attensa, in this case…