Does the free encyclopaedia pose a risk for companies?

Where there is information, there is reputation; and Wikipedia- a site viewed by billions- also offers information on different companies. Information which often is low quality, and on which companies themselves cannot intervene unless they are familiar with its rules. How can this reputational risk be handled in the best way possible?

Through its unique positioning on all major search engines and very high user traffic, Wikipedia proves its ability to influence both corporate reputation and image. It is a perfect place for anyone looking to form a first opinion on a company, yet the companies in question do not have a choice in whether they want to have their own dedicated page or not – let alone have a say in its contents. Companies are also unable to intervene as quickly or as thoroughly as they would on their own corporate channels.

The choice of information included in the encyclopaedia is instead in the hands of a community of around 2.5 million volunteers; but despite its deceivingly high number, only 0.3% of this group is active on the site. Therefore, companies interested in contributing to the content of their own pages must build a relationship built on transparency and mutual trust with the editors, so they can be ready to act when needed.

Without this relationship, companies risk providing an ever-increasing audience with access to inaccurate, misleading, or out-of-context information. This scenario can lead to scandals, crises, or controversies that may harm the company’s reputation.

The real risk: ignoring Wikipedia

The real threat to companies’ reputation isn’t Wikipedia itself, but the choice to disregard it. Why is this the case? What are these so-called risks for companies? Where do these hide? And above all, who might be the most vulnerable to these risks, perhaps without even knowing it? These questions guided the 2023 edition of our .wikipedia research, which other than mapping the positioning of 202 large Italian companies in the research sample, included an analysis that sought to identify the risk factors, both evident and hidden, in the contents of each company’s page, while also identifying potential strengths that, if leveraged, could mitigate or eliminate these risks.

How much do Italian companies risk on the free encyclopaedia?

Through the intersection of these two evaluation criteria, we’ve established three distinct risk levels of threat to categorize Italian companies based on their Wikipedia pages and the associated risks. The ‘red zone’ presented those with the highest degree of risk and includes 34 companies (19% of the research sample). These are characterized by ‘invisible’ or poorly controlled entries that could significantly harm their corporate image.

In the middle, the ‘orange zone’ contains 78 entries (43% of the sample). These are all pages in which the risks and strengths are evenly balanced, and that with the appropriate interventions, could be elevated into complete and structured encyclopaedic content.

Lastly, the ‘white zone’ includes 70 companies (38% of the research sample) that lie in the highest category. The encyclopaedic entries for these companies exhibit more strengths than risks.

It is also worth noting that 20 companies (10% of the companies looked at) have no dedicated entry at all.

The risks associated with content quality

Our research findings speak for themselves: ignoring Wikipedia potentially jeopardises a company’s reputation, primarily because of the frequent inaccuracies and errors in the content.

Alarmingly, 50% of the company pages examined contain unverifiable information from questionable sources, while 34% display at least one alert indicating a problem on the page that needs to be rectified quickly.

The risks of corporate misbehaviour

While Wikipedia’s content cannot be controlled, it remains entirely feasible to actively monitor and enhance its quality. To achieve this, companies must adhere to stringent codes of conduct enforced by the Wikipedia community to ensure neutrality and collaboration, fundamental values underpinning the free encyclopaedia and its mission.

In fact, a few years ago the terms of use for Wikipedia introduced a crucial requirement: disclosing any potential conflict of interest in connection to specific topics. In essence, individuals with direct affiliations or who are compensated for content editing cannot directly intervene on the page.

Violating these terms not only jeopardizes relations with community members but also carries a range of sanctions, from mild public warnings to more severe account suspensions.

.wikipedia 2023


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Francesca Bellizzi

“The real risk doesn’t stem from the presence of Wikipedia content related to your company, but from neglecting it. Paying attention may challenge your assumptions, but the resulting benefits will prove to be worth the effort.”