Wikipedia, Social Media, and Your Brand
Popular culture constantly alludes to the impact of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Social Media Makes an Impact on Society” declared Jay Scott for the Huffington Post. The article continues to boast of social media’s pervasiveness, positive reposting campaigns, and literally lifesaving hashtags, but are these the most common uses of social media? In terms of pervasiveness and usage, Scott is not wrong. In 2016, Internet users averaged 1 hour and 49 minutes of their day using social media and 92% of Internet users have accounts on a variety of top social platforms. But what is the flip side of this seemingly innocuous campaign for social media platforms?
Consider it from a different platform and perspective. What does constant connection and the mask of a cultivated profile do to the behavior of the average person? How does that affect your brand? And where is anonymity more prevalent than on Wikipedia, where users are able and willing to hide behind usernames or coffee shop IP addresses?
The answer to those questions lay in Wikipedia’s little-known subculture of editors. One glance at the fast-paced, fiery “edit wars” behind some of the most well-known brands and you get a glimpse into the underground world of Wikipedia. Wikipedia users, formally known as Wikipedians, come in a variety of forms, including the dedicated and honest editors, the causal editors, and the trolls. Factor in Wiki-culture politics and you have a back-and-forth so heated that pages go on lockdown, violating what was an original Wikipedia tenet.
So how does this culture relate to social media and brands? Wikipedia, albeit not a traditional social media platform, often carries identical reverberations through the internet during a brand crisis. Several similarities to be drawn about user behavior include:
- Trolls posting content with the intention of stirring up emotions or vandalizing
- Rapid fire updating of information with no concern for accuracy
- Attention being pointed not to the most valuable information, rather the most scandalous information
When a passenger was dragged off a United flight out of Chicago in April of 2017, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit blew up. Correspondingly, so did United’s Wikipedia article. Monthly page views went from 100,681 in March to 465,997 in April. Edits in the weeks following the scandal increased exponentially, and content went from factual reports and statistics to edits such as, “united is the worst airline in the world, they will beat you up for fun.”
Edits took place every other minute, where edit reverts dominated the class of changes made, indicating that many people were posting inaccurate information that required reversal. This incident also resulted in an entire Wikipedia article being created for the detailing and dissecting of the event. United has operated for decades on an overwhelmingly positive note as a brand, but the scandalous nature of this event prompted Wikipedians to dedicate an enormous amount of attention to this singular event.
In April of this year, Burger King set out to revamp attention on its worldwide brand. To accomplish this, they enlisted the help of Wikipedia and its enormous audience. During a 15 second commercial, often played before YouTube videos, an actor for Burger King asks, “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Whereupon a Google Home device, if in the vicinity, hears the question and answers it with information pulled from the Whopper’s Wikipedia page.
As clever as this was, the trolls of Wikipedia were more clever. The commercial, first aired in early April, immediately received a flood of outlandish edits to the Whopper’s Wikipedia page. The updates were nonstop and page views skyrocketed from 11,326 page views in March to 385,167 in April. The page was locked down, only editable by administrator, but the damage had already been seen by hundreds of thousands. Popular changes included replacing the ingredients list with repulsive substitutes, for example, “The '''Whopper''' is a juicy 100 percent rat meat and toenail clipping hamburger product”.
What does this seemingly untamable platform have to do with your brand? United and Burger King suffered immensely with their customer relationships, but could have avoided it had they considered Wikipedia as part of their public relations and social media management strategies. Unique to Wikipedia’s platform though, its strategic management is rooted in early awareness of brand defamation to allow for correction before a larger audience notices- it requires a proactive approach. You can take control of your brand by monitoring Wikipedia page changes as they happen.