‘We need to ramp up our social media activities!’ – This is a sentence you hear quite a lot as a PR professional nowadays.
I had just started as an intern in the PR department of a German IT company when my boss at the time (he was quite an old-school kind of guy) burst into the office, waved a print-out of a website in front of my face and said something like: ‘Hey there, young fellow! You are young, so you must know of this whole new media stuff. So tell me why some complete stranger has the right to write about our company on a website called 'Wikipedia'? They didn't even use our wording or our boilerplate! I already tried to upload our recent press release but somebody deleted it again and called it 'PR bullsh*t' – so now you are going to fix this!’
At the time, those conversations were quite common in many German companies – and hordes of young interns started to handle the social media activities of firms of all sizes (sometimes with hilarious effects). One of the duties they had to fulfil was taking care of the company's Wikipedia entry – which didn't always exist in the first place. Some of them succeeded, some got virtually punched in the face by the German-speaking Wikipedia community.
You have to know at least two basic rules about the German Wikipedia. First: the normal language in the German community is sometimes still quite blunt – especially on the site for deletion requests. Just a link to this page can send shivers up the spines of some CEOs and marketing managers. Secondly: Wikipedia is not a phone book or product index and the Wikipedia community gave itself a set of criteria to prove what is relevant and what is, well, ‘irrelevant crap’.
If you are sure that your company, product or idea matches those criteria, you are absolutely right to ask a professional for help with the article. But here’s some advice if you are planning to get things kicking in the German branch of the world's biggest online encyclopaedia: just because Microsoft, Dell and IBM have an entry, it doesn't mean you can get one. As I said, there are some criteria you have to match first. Otherwise you risk getting your article deleted again just some days (or hours) later with reasons like ‘irrelevant’, ‘Marketing blabla’ or ‘come back when you grew up, kiddo’. Also, when your article doesn't get deleted, you don't own it. It's a wiki; everybody can edit it – even your competitors. And, last but not least, never forget that Wikipedia wants to be a neutral encyclopaedia – they want to show facts, whether you like them or not. There has always been a select few who’ve tried to lighten up articles using Greenwashing, spin tactics or legal threats, but most of the time, this didn't end well. However, if you are still willing to try tactics, I have one final piece of advice, perhaps you should read this article first: Streisand effect.