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Memo to Brands: Fear the Wiki

Sandeep Krishnamurthy
Memo to Brands: Fear the Wiki Sandeep Krishnamurthy

If you manage a brand of any importance, it is highly likely that the Wikipedia page pertaining to your brand is in the top search results at all the major search engines.

In April 2007, I studied the top 100 brands identified in the well-reputed Business Week list. Brand-related Wikipedia pages ranked an average of four on Google searches and five on Yahoo searches. This high visibility coupled with the aura of objectivity and authority that Wikipedia pages exude can mess up your online brand strategy.

Brand websites exist to build and reinforce a carefully crafted brand message, create a vivid brand personality, educate consumers about product benefits, build brand affinity, increase consumption and facilitate the creation of a brand community. Wikipedia pages have the potential to screw up the message and muddy the brand image that firms meticulously try to construct online. 

Author notes: Sandeep Krishnamurthy is associate professor of e-commerce and marketing at University of Washington, Bothell. Read full bio.

On May 25, 2007, as shown in the screenshot below, the Budweiser page on Wikipedia was defiled by a random vandal. For a brief period of time, the flagship brand of Anheuser-Busch was said to "taste like ass." The brewery where Budweiser is made was described as "Tsaffaras Brewery," a brewery that does not exist.


This is, by no means, an isolated incident. On April 28, 2007, a phrase describing the taste of Budweiser as "camel piss" went unchanged for about seven hours.


Managers have a tough time believing that a community-oriented site run by volunteers can actually give the well-oiled machine of a corporation a run for its money. Yet, the evidence is in favor of Wikipedia.

As shown below, according to comScore, in February 2007, Wikipedia was the sixth most-trafficked property, following giants such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, eBay and Time Warner (owner of America Online). Wikipedia attracted more traffic than Amazon.com or NYTimes.com in the same period. In February 2007, users spent an average of 15 minutes and 57 seconds on the site, which is better than Disney or Wal-Mart.

Wikipedia Performance

 Click to enlarge
An analysis of Alexa.com data reveals similar patterns.


Do these three things today:

  1. Make a list of Wikipedia pages that affect you.

  2. Locate the RSS feed for each page.

  3. Subscribe to it using Google Reader.

First, make a list of every Wikipedia page that affects you. This is non-trivial. If you blow this, the rest will not make much sense. Include the following:

  1. The main page for your brand.

  2. The main page for sub-brands.

  3. The main page for your competitors.

  4. Specialty pages focusing on your brand (e.g., McDonald's legal issues).

Second, locate the RSS feed for each page. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the History tab of the Wikipedia page you care about.

  2. On the left sidebar, you should see "RSS Atom."

  3. Click on RSS.

  4. Copy and paste the URL into Google Reader.

Third, in Google Reader, create a new folder that includes all the pages you want to follow. Refresh.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Changho Oh

2007, July 17

good articles !

Commenter: Alastair Pinkney

2007, July 12

Marketers don't need to fear Wikipedia they just need to be aware about what's being said about their brands. Brand activists are alive and well and driving all the Wikis, Blogs you care to mention some that you may not know about - yet. Brand Activism/Vandalism is something brands should engage with rather than avoid - its something that Brands have tried to do here in the UK and the results have been remarkable.

Commenter: Bill Balderaz

2007, July 12

I read this article and “10 Reasons Brands Should Think Like Publishers” and found a clear connection. Knowing, monitoring and “fearing” your Wiki is one step in companies and brands addressing user generated content. Embracing that content, and participating in the community, seems to be the logical second step. I'm part of a team that is working to make the site www.manta.com become what some members of our team describes “Wikipedia Meets Wall Street." Many of the drivers in Manta's development are addressed in these two iMedia articles. Manta has a company page on nearly every company in the US, public and private, and many international companies--45 million companies are profiled today. The site also has about 5 million site visitors per month. In June we started allowing our visitors to "Wiki" the company profiles. Now we have every one from company CEOs to customers adding and modifying company information on the site. The participation level has been great. Just the numbers are staggering.... 5 million people can talk about 45 million companies. Our lesson? There's a natural tendency for people to want to talk about companies and brands and a company is well advised to not just monitor these communities, but to be a part of them.

Commenter: Alex Halavais

2007, July 11

Unlike those who have commented, I don't find this particularly alarmist. A couple of things though: * If you do issue a press release (or whitepaper, etc.), you should link that from the Wikipedia page. Although there is a strong bias against professional communicators (i.e., PR folks, etc.) affecting the articles, the clear path suggested by Wikipedia is publishing a statement and linking to it from the page. * You provide cases of Wikipedia causing problems for brands, but surely one of the most dire was the Microsoft episode: trying to shape the articles--especially if done covertly--can backfire.

Commenter: Ben Elowitz

2007, July 11

Sandeep, you may be right that firms meticulously **try** to construct their brand image online [emphasis mine], but succeeding is a whole different story. Marketers need to face the facts: your brand is what consumers think it is. In fact, your consumers have as loud a voice online in your brand image as you do, like it or not. Instead of fearing Wikipedia and its other online brethrens like wikis, blogs, and message boards, brands should be spending more time being proactive. Engage your community and truly participate in the conversation. Those that do so are rewarded with loyalty, feedback, insights they couldn’t have gotten otherwise -- and that positive regard spreads like wildfire from one connected consumer to the next.

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2007, July 11

Hello, I think there is good information in here and I also agree with Mr. Mendolera's comment that "fear" is a bit alarmist. The case studies presented here are new to me and the message of the article is not. I've been in similar discussions with people before. I'm not sure a long-lived brand should be alarmed, only aware. A new brand, on the other hand, perhaps should be both. Just my thoughts. Something else to research in my copious free time... - Joseph

Commenter: Matt Mendolera

2007, July 11

While I appreciate the case studies presented and the tips at the end, I'm a little put-off by the notion that marketers should "fear" sites like Wikipedia. As I state here, wikis present a lot of opportunities to marketing and PR professionals. Sometimes, a loss of control is a good thing.