Ultimately it all comes down to one thing: notability.
If you are a Wikipedia consultant, you will probably get asked this question a lot. As a freelance Wikipedia editor, I am asked this question numerous times in a single day. Ultimately it all comes down to one thing: notability. When Wikipedia content writers create a page, as well as creating an overview of the subject, they must also demonstrate that the topic meets Wikipedia’s notability guidelines and therefore qualifies for an article.
How does Wikipedia determine whether a business is notable or not?
Wikipedia page creators follow a simple method; if a subject has received significant coverage in reliable, independent publications then, by Wikipedia’s standards the subject is notable.
What is a reliable, independent publication?
Wikipedia’s policies make senior editors of magazines and large newspapers the de-facto guardians of notability.
Well, this is where things get a little tricky. If for example, you are writing about a new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is best to use a well-respected scientific magazine such as the New Scientist to demonstrate notability and use an established peer review journal such as the British Medical Journal to back up what the magazine’s claims. In this instance, a Wikipedia content writer might be able to create an article from just two sources as Wikipedia editors generally favour quality over quantity. However, can this method be applied to businesses? In a word: no. The notability bar is set, much, much higher for businesses. Just being innovative and successful isn’t enough to guarantee a spot in Wikipedia.
Wikipedia editors (also known as Wikipedians) make it a lot harder for businesses to establish themselves on Wikipedia. As Wikipedia has no rules, only policies and guidelines, paid Wikipedia editors often fall foul of anti-business sentiment and get tripped up by continually shifting goalposts. Ultimately it is not Wikipedia editors that determine whether a subject is notable or not. Ironically, Wikipedia’s policies make senior editors of magazines and large newspapers the de-facto guardians of notability.
What publications can’t I use as sources?
The most reliable litmus test to determine whether a publication is a reliable source for Wikipedia is simple: does the publication that you want to use as a source have its own Wikipedia page and does that Wikipedia page portray the publication favourably? To give you an example, the Daily Mail is an established national newspaper, but it cannot be used as a source on Wikipedia because the Wikipedians reached a consensus deeming the publication to be unreliable. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the Daily Mail;
“The Daily Mail has been widely criticised for its unreliability, as well as printing of sensationalist and inaccurate scare stories of science and medical research, and copyright violations.”
In 2016 conversation took place on Wikipedia’s reliable sources noticeboard, the upshot of which was Wikipedia placing the Daily Mail on the citation blacklist for its general lack of editorial standards. On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry for the Guardian newspaper establishes its mechanisms for editorial standards and while the article includes criticism of the paper and documents lapses in its journalistic standards it is generally considered to be a reliable source for articles relating to individuals or organisations. Incidentally, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales sits on the non-executive board of directors at the Guardian Media Group. If you think Wikipedia is politically neutral, think again.
What Publications can I use as sources?
The best sources for business pages are;
- The New York Times
- The Wall Street Journal
- The independent
- Time Magazine
- Business Insider
- USA Today
- The Sunday Times
- The Washington Post
However, there is always an ongoing debate at the reliable sources noticeboard. Here paid Wikipedia editors and voluntary Wikipedia editors endlessly deliberate over which sources are acceptable and which sources aren’t. Editors who are unsure if a source is reliable or not can find out by asking the community to discuss it.
What constitutes significant coverage?
So, your business appears in one of the above sources. Congratulations. Does this guarantee you a Wikipedia page? Sadly not. The article that you wish to use as a source needs to be predominantly about your business or at least discuss your company in great length. If a newspaper mentions your business, this still isn’t going to be enough to establish notability. It’s quite common for freelance Wikipedia editors to receive enquiries from businesses who have been briefly mentioned in significant publications and mistakenly believe this qualifies them for a Wikipedia page: it doesn’t.
What about product reviews?
Unless your company bought a game-changing product to market you won’t be able to use the product review to support notability. Stay on topic, the coverage must be about your business.
Can I use my company’s press release to establish notability?
In a word no. Press releases are primary sources. Editors may use primary sources to establish basic information but they do not support notability. To establish notability, someone unconnected with the company with a reputation for being an authoritative voice in their field such as an academic or a journalist needs to have taken the time to write about the company. As I mentioned earlier, senior editors are the de-facto guardians of Wikipedia, even if they aren’t aware.
My company has 5 million followers on Instagram, does this make us notable?
Our competitors have a Wikipedia page, and they don’t have half as many sources as us. How come they can have a Wikipedia page but we can’t?
Although not an official policy, Wikipedia editors like to quote this essay whenever the above question arises. There are many reasons why your competitors have a page, and you don’t. The most common reason is that the page precedes Wikipedia’s anti-business crusade in the wake of the Bell Pottinger and Wiki PR scandals. Alternatively, Wikipedia’s administrators might not have removed or cleaned up the page yet.
Doesn’t Wikipedia’s reliance on published sources create a systemic bias?
Yes, it does. Wikipedia’s process for manufacturing knowledge is simple and very useful for documenting topics which appear in written, Eurocentric discourse. However, for businesses that operate in geographical or epistemic areas where there is no traditional publishing culture, for example, African tech-startups start-ups, Wikipedia’s policies are very limiting and have inadvertently created an encyclopaedia that overwhelmingly favours large, mainstream, multinational corporations and high-profile males of European origin. However, that’s another blog for another day.
Do you think Wikipedia’s notability guidelines work? Leave your comments below.