What communicators can learn from Wikipedia

The crowdsourced website is often derided as unreliable, but how easily can reporters and members of the public find information about your organization on your website?

When I reported for a major newspaper we’ll call The Daily Planet, I once dropped by the newsroom library just as a researcher was irritably emailing an editor to complain that a staff writer had cited Wikipedia.

Look! she said. Again! Wikipedia’s not a source.

Editors would agree. Like any good newsroom, The Daily Planet had a policy against sourcing information to Wikipedia, which can be about as reliable as writing, “According to some guy I overhead on the train.”

Yet a database search reveals that the phrase “according to Wikipedia” has sneaked into that newspaper paper 12 times since 2005. Other major news organizations have slipped up as recently as this week. Plus, even when reporters aren’t citing Wikipedia, they often draw their first impressions of your organization there.

What is it about Wikipedia that appeals to information-seekers—and what can you learn from it? Think from the perspective of a frantically Googling reporter who has never heard of your organization, doesn’t know what you produce and has 20 minutes to crank out a brief about a fire at your plant.

Here are some lessons from the site:

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