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Bill BeutlerBefore companies were seeking verified accounts on social media, they were seeking authority with a Wikipedia page. On ImPRessions episode 23, William Beutler, Founder and President of Beutler Ink, joins our host to discuss the evolution and importance of managing a company’s Wikipedia page and how it can be a powerful storytelling tool. 


imPRessions Episode #23 Transcript

Jenn: On January 15th, 2001, a new domain was introduced to the world that would change how we obtain information forever. Wikipedia. Despite professors and school teachers warning against the platform, Wikipedia has proven through the years how informative and useful it is educating users with just a simple search term. In fact, Wikipedia is beneficial for many working professionals and in the world of PR, has a team of experts who work to maintain and build wiki pages for prominent businesses and CEOs. With us today is William Beutler, founder and president of Beutler, Inc., an award winning agency that specializes in helping brands tell their stories through engaging content while working to build an honest approach to reputation. This is a really interesting topic, and we’re so excited to learn more about the world of wiki relations. Thanks for joining us, William.

William: Thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Kalli: So, William, as you know, as we were talking about just before we started recording, I was telling you a little bit about my background in Wikipedia, and you know how I started learning about it, which was very, not great. Um, and very minimal. So I’m really excited to have you here today to give us a little bit more of a deep dive. And I know, you know, Wikipedia does have its own universe of experts that help assist with the writing of prominent people and companies, which was very much what my first experience was like, or at least was supposed to be like. But that is what you focus on today. So, you know, can you share some insight on if companies need to meet a certain requirement to have a wiki page, and if so, what are those stipulations?

William: Sure thing. That is an excellent question. And you know, it is one that we actually spent a lot of time answering because, the truth is, there are vastly more people and more companies who would like to have a Wikipedia page than like actually meet the requirements. So like, yes, there’s a hurdle to clear. Wikipedia sets it pretty high. They’re not exactly interested in being part of anybody’s marketing plan. However, if there’s a subject that it doesn’t cover, then, you know, we can propose the creation of a new article. And, you know, Wikipedia’s point of view kind of is twofold. Like they don’t want to have an article about everything. If they let absolutely everyone in, you know, Wikipedia would lose credibility. They really just want to cover topics of genuine public interest. And then the second thing is, you know, Wikipedia well, it also wants those articles to be trusted. So that means they have strict sourcing requirements. And the truth is most brands actually can’t satisfy it. The term to know about is notability. That’s with a capital N. Obviously, notability as a general term exists in the world, but it’s a term of art on Wikipedia. If you Google, you know that word, and Wikipedia, you’ll find a very lengthy guideline page that basically boils down to… have you, or your company, or your boss been the subject of significant dedicated news coverage over a period of time, a few years at least, you know, sufficient to demonstrate is considered important within the field. And then it’s not just that is one important enough. It’s also are there enough of the right kinds of sources to to do the subject justice? Can we independently verify all of the information that should be in a profile about you? This actually leads to the next question, which is, well, okay. Great. What kinds of sources that mainstream professional news organizations, both general news and also the business press, but always the better known, the better. Not every industry journal is well-recognized. Some of them really are extremely well known, and others really might just be, you know, thinly rewritten press releases. So Wikipedia really places a high value on quality journalism. So the information that we get out of these sources really must be editorial product. Can’t be an op-ed, it can’t even be a Q&A. It actually has to be like an article written by a staff journalist. And it needs to be…There’s no bright line that says if you have three sources, you are not notable, but if you have four sources, great. You’re notable. I mean, generally the more is the better, but the quality of the publication and the amount of detail and the articles matters significantly. And, you know, I’ll kind of wrap up this question by saying, you know, if you are not notable in Wikipedia’s definition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t important. You just might not have the coverage that demonstrates it. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve, you know, had a conversation with an executive who probably should qualify for a for Wikipedia article, but they never sought the spotlight. You know, they worked hard, they kept their head down. They didn’t go out and seek publicity about themselves. They wanted the work to speak for itself. And, you know, that’s admirable, but unfortunately, it’s no way to qualify for a Wikipedia article.

Jenn: Right. And so what happens when you do have this conversation with a client of yours? Is there a PR plan that you do put in place to try to get them to a point where they have enough media coverage to be considered notable and then you’d be able to build them a Wikipedia page? Or does your does your agency do like traditional earned media PR in that regard?

William: So we you know, we’re not a traditional PR agency in that way. We style ourselves as a, you know, a strategic creative agency where we’re doing, you know, branding and content creation and social media, helping clients tell their stories on the internet in different ways. And Wikipedia actually is the first thing we started with. It is the most unique. So we certainly are doing a specialized form of public relations for Wikipedia.

Jenn: Interesting. Okay, I feel like we could tag-team this a little bit. William. Just putting it out there. If you know, you do have a client that wants that wiki page, but they need some more press, you send them our way, and then we’ll send them back.

William: Absolutely.

Kalli: You know, it’s so funny that you mention that because, you know, when I was saying before that my experience when I was this is at least a decade ago, you know, it was when Wikipedia, everyone first wanted a Wikipedia page, when people started really looking at it as a tool, you know, people would come to the agency, which was a traditional PR agency, where we were, you know, we our main bread and butter was that earned media. So that really was what helped us. It’s so interesting that you don’t do that. But yes, you now have a good for us to know. We have a great partnership now.

William: Absolutely. I mean, what this means is we do work with a lot of traditional PR agencies where they don’t have our particular skill set in-house, and so they can that can be a great partnership. Absolutely. I will say this, um, you know, generating the kinds of sources that Wikipedia needs to, you know, create a new article or verify information in an existing article. Oftentimes it is a different criteria from what an earned media PR specialist will find, you know, to be a success, like a getting a hit, getting a mention within a column. You know, just getting one’s name placed oftentimes is something that’s really exciting to clients. It’s not so exciting to Wikipedia editors, but any source that we want to use in a Wikipedia article, it needs to introduce some information, some new news, it needs to verify some information. So it can be great to have a client quoted on a given topic within an article. But if the client is not quoted on- say like say, you know, it’s an executive at a company- if the client is talking about, say, a trend in the industry, but they’re not talking about their own career or their own company, well, then I didn’t introduce any information that is useful on Wikipedia about the company or the individual. It might be useful as a source on that article about that other topic. So when we work with PR firms, we definitely have a conversation about what kind of sources are most useful, and what kind of coverage is most useful to Wikipedia editors.

Kalli: Yeah, that’s actually a really important distinction. And having a partnership with a company like yours that you do know, those ins and outs definitely would have been helpful to me decades ago. But again, moving forward. If only, if only, if only- I don’t still have nightmares about my Wikipedia for dummies days. Um, no. But again, it’s really important to know. And they’re, you know, the same way that there’s ins and outs of earned media, there’s ins and outs of Wikipedia and all these other different tools. And, you know, just obviously sticking to the topic of Wikipedia, you know, we know that it is an up-to-date and factually accurate vessel of information that is vetted by many different sources to make sure that editors don’t change certain facts about a company or an individual. However, what do you do if there’s a client that has a load of controversy? Well, how do you make sure that the page, their wiki page is fairly representing the information?

William: So that’s a really excellent question. And it certainly is not uncommon to, you know, have someone come to us because there is something in their corporate history that may have like completely taken over a page. I can’t name the client, but we were working with a national chain. Oh, I won’t say what a what chain of what, just to keep it a bit vague, but a national chain where back in their history in the 60s and 70s, you know, they had a number of really ugly kind of discrimination policies that took a long time to be removed. And these days that is not the company any longer. But it definitely was the case a long time ago. And you know, that needs to be in the article. But here’s the thing, when we got to the when we first started working with them years ago, well, it was like three-quarters of the article and that’s a problem. So, you know, we’re always upfront with a new client saying if you had a troubled patchy history or even if there are ongoing controversies, you know, if it’s legitimate and it’s been covered by the news, some version of that is just going to remain. It’s part of your story. But there are still ways that we can help. And there’s two strategies in particular that we can pursue. The first one being, you know, it’s like I said before about that, that that client where the subject had dominated the page. It is not uncommon to find a controversial topic that has been overwritten. Too much detail is, for example, it could be activists who care passionately about the topic and really want to rub it in. Honestly, it could just be a Wikipedia editor who found there was information available and just wrote what they saw and didn’t know anything else.

It’s actually such a well-known issue for an article to be overtaken by an activist cause that they call it coat-racking. This is a term on Wikipedia. It’s kind of inscrutable, but it’s like arguments about the subject are coats that are put on a on a coat rack, and it causes the whole thing to lean or leans in one direction. So it’s definitely a known issue. And, you know, while we probably cannot get such a thing, you know, cut back to bare bones, there very often are times to ask, you know, what is actually important for this page to say? How much detail is too much detail? And that’s the kind of thing that we will work out in conversation with Wikipedia editors to figure out, like what is actually the appropriate level of detail for this subject for a general Wikipedia article. So that’s the first one. The second strategy we pursue is to add more neutral to positive information about the company. So the client I mentioned before, we added a substantial amount of information, many sections and paragraphs about the company’s operations. All kinds of, you know, aspects of its products and services that were not covered previously that we were able to find sources for. And, you know, the result was probably by the time we were done, their negative history had gone from about three quarters of the article to about maybe one quarter of the article. And that was much more appropriate. And I’ll say one more thing about controversy sections. Actually, you may be surprised to learn Wikipedia prefers not to have sections called controversies or criticisms that material to be handled in context of the scope of the article. So rather than grouping all the negative stuff into one section, it should be kind of moved into the, uh, relevant section of the page. Or if there’s not one to create one and, you know, therefore, it doesn’t stick out anymore than it, you know, needs to as being part of the overall scope of the company history.

Jenn: Interesting, because I know I’ve definitely seen pages that have its own section. That’s how you know someone’s really troubled where they do have their own section.

William: So you point to another. This actually points to a really worthwhile thing to note that, you know, even though there is that guideline that says avoid writing controversy sections, you definitely do see them. And this is where Wikipedia is, you know, rules as they are laid out, I think are extremely good. They are fair. And they definitely point towards creating a, you know, a useful resource and one that’s not, you know, meant to…like no one’s supposed to use a Wikipedia article to wield a hatchet. But there’s far more…the editors on Wikipedia are not organized in any serious way. They just work on whatever topics they want, and they have different understandings of the rules. I bet you there are many editors who have no idea that that guideline exists. So a company hires us, one thing we might do is go in and explain to the Wikipedia editor how their rules work, and nothing against the editor. There’s just so many rules in Wikipedia. Not everybody is fully aware of what they all are.

Jenn: Yeah, kind of reminds me a little bit of Reddit where you have like the mods that are over reviewing everything and there are people that are posting, but there’s rules to the subreddits, and if you don’t follow the rules, then you, the post gets deleted or whatever. So it’s like kind of a little bit of like a similar situation. But when you’re putting a strategy together to, you know, whether you want to edit a current wiki page or create a new one, is there a different strategy that you take when you’re working with a big company versus like an individual, like a prominent CEO? Or is the strategy more or less the same?

William: So that’s a really interesting question. You know, he’s a big company. And I’ll clarify, probably most of the clients that we work with, you know, are big companies. Or they may be a CEO of a big company just because a small company is unlikely to qualify for an article. So some of our work is in creating new articles, but a lot of it actually…probably the majority of it for sure is helping improve existing entries. So in most ways, there are not significant differences between working on a corporate profile and a biography, but one thing that’s worth knowing about is that there was a set of rules that applies to biographical articles. So that would include CEOs, of course; it’s called Biographies of Living Persons, or BLP for short. So what the BLP rules mean is that content that directly impacts the reputation of a living person, must have a source, or it can be removed, sometimes even by the person themselves. The rules do say even though you’re not supposed to edit articles, you know about yourself or your company, if it is a BLP issue, then you can. And I note that that’s what the rules say. We still prefer to go to talk pages and ask for other editors to review it, just because we don’t want to get yelled at if somebody disagrees that it’s a BLP issue, but it’s worth knowing about because it does offer some protections. And then the other thing about, you know, CEO articles that is different from, say, corporate articles, if you were writing one, CEO articles tend to have a more consistent framework. You know, they tend to be sections like early life in education and then career, then maybe philanthropy or personal life, but then company articles are like much less consistent. You know, there might be a history section, but only if it’s been around for many years. You know, there’s probably a general overview of some kind, but whatever that’s called depends on the line of business they’re in. You know, there might be some discussion of the business model if it’s a unique one. Ultimately, though, you know, a company’s story is more varied than that of an individual business person and really depends on what’s in the sources.

Kalli: I mean, that makes a lot of sense because obviously, people like you said, you know, a company can have a very different type of background where people, for the most part, even if they follow different paths, it can be tracked in a very similar way, you know. And that being said, how important is it for a prominent CEO to have their own wiki page and to share that story? Is it always necessary? Does every, you know, CEO at a big company need to have his own page or is it something that’s just extra SEO?

William: I mean, there’s definitely an SEO aspect to it. There’s no question folks come to us for that. You know, I will say, though, Wikipedia articles can be a double-edged sword on one hand, the reasons for having one, the SEO reasons in particular, are pretty self-evident. It’s a great place to be seen, you know, and like a well-sourced and well-written biography, you know, there’s going to be, you know, it’s going to help shape your narrative. But then, well, what if your story is not entirely positive? You know, you give up the control of your narrative. Once there’s a Wikipedia article about you, IS there anybody can edit it at any time? They may do so, they may not. You know, we do offer monitoring services, for example, because indeed problematic edits can be made. And if there’s if they are a problem, if they actually violate Wikipedia’s rules, then we can, you know, get them removed. If you really want to raise your profile. There may be other ways to do that you might be better served with, like a well-designed personal website. But once an article is created, and also, I should say, if one is created but it wasn’t by you, you probably cannot get it removed unless you can make a case that you are not notable once a once an article that clearly meets Wikipedia’s requirements has been created It will never be deleted. Even if it’s very poor quality. They might tear it down to the studs, but it’s not coming off Wikipedia. So yeah, you know, in a way, there’s nothing like having a good Wikipedia article. But then, you know, having a bad Wikipedia article is worse than not having one at all.

Jenn: Like a credit score.

William: Credit score, I don’t know, can you not have a credit score?

Jenn: It’s not recommended.

William: I guess if you never buy, if you never use credit, then you don’t have a credit score. There’s that.

Yeah, exactly. I want to talk a little bit about it…you just sort of glossed over it, but the wiki trolls. Because there are people that will use any kind of platform to share their voice, and if somebody maybe is particularly disgusted or mad at a company, it’s kind of, you know, immature. But they might go into their Wikipedia page and, you know, put false claims or whatever. I’m sure you see it often. So I know you said you remove it, but how do you deal with that, from a PR perspective and your client? And is there a little bit more to it than just contacting Wikipedia to remove it? Or how does the whole process work?

William: Right, so it happens. I don’t see it often. I would say, you know, the truth is, most of the time most Wikipedia editors mean well, and they just might not understand the subject well. Most of them are not. Not out to get you. You know they care, but they care a lot about the integrity of their platform. So from an outside perspective, that might look like someone’s trying to mess with you. Not every Wikipedia editor has all of the social graces. They may kind of be stubborn and grouchy. They’re just, you know, kind of working on their own project, and they don’t want to maybe hear from a company about it. But like, you know, because Wikipedia keeps an open door, you know, it’s famously open for anyone to edit. Sometimes those bad actors can come in, and they can cause problems, but at least until they’re stopped. So the first, you know, thing to know about working on Wikipedia is, you know, you should have an account that is controlled by someone in your communications department that is disclosed as being yourself, don’t have to give your full first and last name, but identify yourself as one person who represents the organization and you know the point. Be a point of contact because you said, you know, you said contact Wikipedia. One cannot just write into the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco and ask them to make changes for you. The foundation, the nonprofit has nothing to do with the content. They leave that all to the volunteer community. So if you want to see changes to be made, you go to the discussion sections of Wikipedia. Every article on Wikipedia has a talk page, for example, which is the place to, you know, post a request to ask somebody to consider something. And like I said, most editors are reasonable. Some, however, are not. And if you find yourself up against an editor who has a strong different perspective, I go to what I call the three P’s of Wikipedia their politeness, patience, and persistence. So like in the first place, civility is an absolute requirement, even if they are not, you know, even if they’re rude to you, it can really set you back if you also, you know, show emotion. So if you’re representing a client or your employer on Wikipedia, you’re in someone else’s house, act accordingly. But that’s politeness. And then, you know, you cannot expect things to happen quickly. The volunteer editors are taking time out of their day to perhaps help you on your subject. Wikipedia editors are always at least somewhat skeptical of the intentions of a PR rep or of a person from a company, so it might take some time to work out. That’s patience. And then finally, most of the time, just because someone told you no the first time and you’re pretty sure that you’re right, it doesn’t mean it has to be the last word. There are mechanisms for seeking a third opinion. You’re getting another, you know, perspective from another editor. And if you’re just not getting a response, you might need to keep looking. So not taking the first channel challenge is the final answer. That’s persistence.

Kalli: It definitely sounds like working with Wikipedia like you do need those three P’s And, you know, especially with all those bad actors. But you know, I’m also wondering, Wikipedia has, even though it’s super valuable and people it’s gained credibility over the years, the platform itself hasn’t really changed. There hasn’t really been a ton of new features in it the same way, you know, there’s been new features for different types of social media. What is the future for wiki relations? Do you see the platform expanding or evolving in any way, or is it really going to stay true to its roots?

William: Yeah, I mean, so Wikipedia, it’s about 22 years old, which is like in internet years forever. I actually looked up like what were the most popular websites back in 2001 when Wikipedia was started. And like the top sites were where Yahoo and MSN and AOL, you know, and like Yahoo is still around like the website still gets traffic. But among the websites that were influential back in 2001, the only one that remains a major player, like in technology and on the internet is Google. Google was just starting to get prominent back then. So Wikipedia has been around for a long time. And, you know, in a sense, it’s already become what it will be. It’s, uh, you know, it’s for those of you who, you know, were in school during Wikipedia’s existence and  I graduated college just right as Wikipedia was being created. You know, many people have the experience of being told that, you know, you shouldn’t use Wikipedia in your in your studies or that it’s not a reliable source of information. And for a long time, Wikipedia had a real deficit as it related to how it was viewed by academia and by education. Organizations around Wikipedia made a lot of efforts in years to help educators understand, you know, where the proper role of Wikipedia was. And the popular saying goes that there’s no better place to start your research and no worse place to end it. You know, every article has citations at the bottom. And, you know, in a way it. Hasn’t added features per se. If you are a Wikipedia editor yourself, you will be aware of numerous gadgets that are available to help aid the editing process. But from a readers perspective, you just might see that the page gets a new look about every 5 to 7 years, and that’s not really that big. You may have noticed just in the last year, they created a third sidebar over on the right-hand side that took some information from the left, moved it over to the right, and I put the table of contents over on the left. Those are the kinds of things they’re doing now. I mean, Wikipedia is a mature product. It’s a little crass to speak of it that way, but, you know, it is. It is. It has become what it’s going to become. And probably the biggest difference over the last ten, 15 years is simply that articles have become much more fully mature; they have become better developed. And I think you hear fewer people saying these days, oh, don’t trust Wikipedia. You know, I think we’re starting to hear the same things said about AI and about ChatGPT. It’s like, well, it’s very interesting, and it can be useful, but don’t trust everything you see there. Wikipedia is a lot more trustworthy than it was even ten years ago. AI, which you know Wikipedia is asking about. What is the future of Wikipedia? Wikipedia has, you know, long been used. Google has leaned on it very heavily. Other search engines as well. You know, in recent years, voice assistants have started to rely upon it. And a lot of the AI has been trained on Wikipedia. It’s a great source of information for the large language models. And because it’s open source and free, it’s never going to be locked down. Like, say, Elon Musk is trying to do with the site that was called Twitter until five minutes ago. So, you know, Wikipedia, everybody’s always looking for signs that it will be disrupted. But I don’t think so. You know, the Wikipedia editing community is healthy, and the nonprofit that supports it has honestly more money than it really knows what to do with. I’d say it’s an institution. It’s arguably more important than Encyclopedia Britannica ever was- if people even remember what that was. Well, what I mean to say is Wikipedia is here to stay.

Jenn: I completely agree with you. I still use it all the time. I think everybody uses it and it really has become such a useful resource. Thank God for it. You know, it’s such a magical tool for PR, for writing, for research. I think, you know, just through the web trolls, the skeptic professors and everyone in between, I think we all can agree that Wikipedia has made its mark. And while it might not be a perfect science when used correctly, like you said, it can be a portal of useful information and help build reputations and awareness for many brands and household names.

William: Brilliantly put.

Jenn: So thank you so much again today for your insight, William. And now Kalli and I know who to go to when impressions becomes a big podcast, and we need help drafting our Wikipedia page.

William: I can’t wait to help.

Jenn: For our listeners, email us anytime to suggest a guest or topic, or to say hello at Bye for now.