Wikipedia POV

April 21, 2009 Analyst — Bruce Grant, SVP / Business Strategy

Wikipedia is a widely consulted and increasingly influential source of community-generated information that enjoys extremely high prominence in most health- and medical-related searches. Its conflict-of-interest guidelines and requirement for neutral POV make it unsuitable as a channel for marketing messages. But approached as an indirectly influenceable channel — with a corporate/medical-affairs mindset and a willingness to work pro bono — it can be a venue for maximizing the reach and influence of truthful, balanced information about pharmaceutical companies’ medications and the conditions they treat. Familiarity with Wikipedia policies and culture, careful planning, clear policies, centralization of contact, flexibility, and patience are all required for success.

Wikipedia is the 8th most trafficked website in the US, visited at least monthly by one out of every five online adults and at least weekly by nearly one in ten, linked to by over 110,000 other sites, and visited by more than 9.5% of Internet users worldwide on a typical day. 1,2 In searches for a broad range of health- and medication-related terms, the relevant Wikipedia article appears in the first three search results 63% of the time. 3 In Europe, Wikipedia is the #1 online source of health information for consumers in Germany and Spain, the #2 source for consumers in Portugal and The Netherlands, the #3 source in Italy, and the #4 source in France. 4 In light of the high visibility and influence of Wikipedia with many of its key customer segments, the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly interested in assessing the opportunities, risks, and feasibility of pharmaceutical participation in this arena and to provide recommendations for action.

Wikipedia is a major repository of health information, with articles on nearly 14,000 medical subjects and over 3,500 drug-related terms, 5 as well as articles on most major biopharmaceutical manufacturers. Virtually all of the conditions and therapies in most pharmaceutical companies’ portfolios are currently referenced in articles in both the English and German versions of Wikipedia. 6 In addition, both language versions contain entries for most leading pharmaceutical companies themselves. Although Wikipedia articles can, in principle, be created and edited by any user, in practice informal governance of major subject categories is exercised by self-organizing editorial boards, known as WikiProjects. For health and medical articles, oversight in English is exercised by WikiProject Medicine 7 and in German by Redaktion Medizin. 8 Oversight of medication-related articles is exercised in English by WikiProject Pharmacology 9 and in German by Redaktion Medizin. These groups take responsibility for fact-checking and improving the quality of existing articles; for developing and publishing style guides for articles in their subject area; for soliciting and vetting suggestions for new articles; and for recruiting new editors. While anyone can join these volunteer

© 2009 Digitas Health

100 East Penn Square | Philadelphia, PA 19107 phone (215) 545-4444 | fax (215) 545-4440 |

bodies, professional and/or educational qualification in the subject areas and a willingness to work are expected. In addition to the detailed oversight provided by these groups, the Wikipedia community as a whole takes responsibility for Wikipedia Policies and Guidelines 10 — a broad set of standards reflecting community consensus on matters considered essential for the good of Wikipedia and its users. Among the most important considerations for companies to be aware of are — • Neutral Point of View. All Wikipedia articles “must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately, and without bias.” 11 Wikipedia regards the NPOV policy as “absolute and non-negotiable.” Conflict of Interest. Contributing to Wikipedia “…to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups,” constitutes a conflict of interest (COI) which is regarded by Wikipedia as incompatible with its aim of producing a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia. The Wikipedia Conflict of Interest Guideline, 12 while not absolute, strongly advises those with a COI to “avoid or exercise great caution” in “editing articles related to you, your organization, or its competitors, as well as projects and products they are involved with,” as well as “linking to the Wikipedia article or website of your organization in other articles.”

Posting content that breaches Wikipedia’s NPOV and/or COI standards is generally futile, as it is usually edited or deleted promptly. In addition, even an attempt to make biased or self-interested edits is highly transparent and can subject the violator to unwelcome and damaging public scrutiny. Using the publicly searchable WikiScanner 13 database, Wikipedia edits can easily be linked back to the IP addresses of originating companies. Shortly after WikiScanner was released in August, 2007, a rapid succession of blog and mainstream-media stories revealed, on the basis of WikiScanner searches, that individuals at both AstraZeneca and Abbott Laboratories had made anonymous edits to Wikipedia articles relating to reflect more favorably their products. According to the advocacy group, Patients Not Patents, over 1,000 edits to Abbottrelated Wikipedia articles were made from Abbott computers. 14

The intent of Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines is not to exclude companies from participation. Indeed, Wikipedia publishes a FAQ 15 explicitly advising businesses on how to participate constructively and avoid controversy. Clearly, however, business participation in Wikipedia calls for a new approach to exerting influence. Exercising indirect influence over content, according to Forrester Research, “requires that companies exercise traditional media relations in a different way that seeks to sway the opinion of a small, interested community to make…changes to an article.” 16 Among these indirect avenues of influence, Forrester advocates — • Using the discussion/talk pages. Every Wikipedia article has its own attached discussion page, where suggested changes and improvements to the article can be offered and discussed. Parties with a potential COI are particularly urged to use this venue to request changes or additions to existing articles, providing verifiable sources for their suggestions, and to rely on other, more neutral, Wikipedians to make the actual changes. Before participating in discussion, new community members should read the Wikipedia Talk Page Guidelines. 17 Creating referenceable content. Along with NPOV, one of Wikipedia’s key content policies is verifiability. One way to expedite the verifiability of suggested content changes and/or additions to articles is to aggregate and post supporting content on your corporate website, then provide a link to it within the discussion pages. Sharing expertise. Participation in WikiProject Medicine and WikiProject Pharmacology by appropriate company personnel (e.g., medical affairs or clinical development staff rather than marketing or PR) offers avenues for companies to improve the quality of non-product-specific Wikipedia content within

April 21, 2009

Wikipedia POV

Page 2 of 4

their broad areas of disease and basic-science knowledge, as well as to bring new topics in need of articles to the attention of the community. It should be noted, however, that influence within the WikiProject communities is generally commensurate with willingness to work broadly on matters of common interest to the community. • Sharing resources. Wikipedia editors and users appreciate articles enriched with relevant images, diagrams, logos, audio, video, and other media. Most biopharmaceutical companies have a wealth of such media assets. If they are willing to make these assets freely available under the GNU Free Distribution License (GFDL) 18 they can upload them to WikiMedia Commons 19 then make their availability known on the talk pages of relevant articles. Correcting simple errors. Editors from industry can build trust with other community members, while gaining valuable experience in the Wikipedia editing process, by correcting grammatical mistakes, misspellings, punctuation errors, neutral errors of fact, and other simple copy edits. To be sure you adhere to Wikipedia’s markup and style conventions, consult the Editing Help page 20 before starting.

Engaging with Wikipedia comes with a definite learning curve; requires an ongoing investment of time and a clear risk-management strategy; and delivers a softer ROI than many marketers are used to. Not engaging, however, with this highly visible, influential, and rapidly evolving source of health information — at least on a minimal level — carries its own risks and costs and is, in our opinion, an unacceptably missed opportunity. For those companies that choose engagement, Digitas Health recommends the following best practices — 1. Name a single point of contact. While multiple individuals within your company can and should be aware of Wikipedia content relevant to their professional responsibilities and interests, only one person in your organization should be empowered to interact directly with Wikipedia — or to delegate to others and supervise them in doing so. Given the culture of the Wikipedia community, and its vigilance in rooting out promotional or otherwise self-interested content, it is highly desirable that the Wikipedia point person not come from marketing but from a more neutral function, such as corporate affairs or investor relations, that is accustomed to providing information for use by external media and/or analysts. For areas where special expertise is required, delegate to individuals from non-commercial functions, such as medical affairs, clinical development, or drug information. Create and promulgate a clear policy. Every employee — and every external marketing and PR agency working on your business — should know exactly what the rules of engagement are and who they should contact if they have questions, concerns, or suggestions. Audit your company’s editing history. Use WikiScanner to identify any individuals who may have, in the past, edited Wikipedia articles on your company’s behalf, and make them a priority for educating about your company’s new policies. Monitor your sphere of interest. Every Wikipedia article has a “Watch” tab, which logged-in users can click to place the article on a watchlist, which summarizes all changes made to that article. Identify all of the therapeutic categories, drug classes, conditions, corporate executives, products, and trademarks (your own and those of your competitors) for which articles already exist, and place them on your watchlist to be sure you are aware of all developments in the highly fluid Wikipedia environment. Also keep a regularly updated list of relevant topics for which no articles yet exist. Document inaccuracies and provide evidence. If you find information you believe to be factually incorrect or incomplete, make careful note of it, then assemble the evidence to rebut or complete it. Wikipedia’s guidelines require that articles be based on “reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy,” 21 and articles with inadequate sourcing are subject to challenge and deletion.





April 21, 2009

Wikipedia POV

Page 3 of 4


Be transparent. Wikipedia policy does not permit company accounts, and evidence of account sharing is grounds for blocking the account. Create separate, identifiable, accounts for all individuals in your company authorized to participate in Wikipedia (as direct contacts or WikiProject participants) and declare their affiliation prominently on their profile pages. (Wikipedia’s username policy disallows usernames including company names or website addresses, but strongly encourages declaration of affiliation in profiles.) Be patient. Working with Wikipedia is, in many ways, like working with editorial media, so a PR mindset — respect for editorial focus, understanding the reader/user base, and familiarity with existing editorial content — is essential. The added twist with Wikipedia is that one is dealing, not with a single journalist or editor, but with a community. If you engage with Wikipedia, expect everything to take longer than you think it should…and cultivate the flexibility to accept a final product that may be less than, or different from, what you would have written yourself. Wikipedia is not a marketing channel, but if you gain the trust of the community, it can deliver a much higher level of credibility and trust.


The information in this document is the opinion of Digitas Health and is not an endorsement of Wikipedia.

1 2 3 4 5

Forrester, North American Consumer Technology Adoption Study, Q4 2006 Devices & Access Online Survey. Alexa, August, 2008 ( . Envision Solutions, LLC, Diving Deeper Into Online Health Search, February 2007. Manhattan Research, Cybercitizen Health Europe v7.0, 2007. ( ; ( . English-language Wikipedia:; German-language Wikipedia: Forrester Research, When and How to Get Involved with Wikipedia, October 23, 2007

6 7 8 9

10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

April 21, 2009

Wikipedia POV

Page 4 of 4

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful