Social influence is the change in behavior that one person causes in another –changingminds.org
Social influence is one of those terms that existed before the Internet but has taken on new meaning in the age of the world wide web, although it still essentially means the same thing. In armchair psychologist’s terms; someone you trust and aspire to like an athlete or celebrity dresses a certain way or identifies with a specific set of ideologies. Then, to fulfil our innate biological need to accept information from another as evidence of reality, we adopt that influential figure’s assertions or aesthetics no matter how absurd. This influence, when wielded effectively is a valuable currency. We are all familiar with celebrity Instagram feeds, and endorsements as a form of social influence, although many of us see through these marketing gimmicks. Bloggers and vloggers also hold vast amounts of social currency. However, who are the real brokers of social influence? Where do we go when we want to get a neutral, objective overview of a business or organisation? Reddit? Quora? Maybe. There is one site that, despite its many controversies is still regarded as the last bastion of reliable knowledge on the internet: Wikipedia.
Why is Wikipedia the ultimate social influencer?
You would think that no one would view a website comprised entirely of user-generated content as trustworthy or reliable. However, as well as being user generated, Wikipedia’s content is also user moderated; members of the community scrutinise each other’s contributions. In his book, The Wikipedia Revolution enthusiast Andrew Lih describes this process as the piranha effect and likens it to a collective intelligence akin to an ant farm. Everything from mathematical formulae to trivia like the birth date of our favourite actor, or where a particular celebrity was born is subject to scrutiny. Wikipedia’s community moderated model makes the encyclopaedia a valuable form of social currency, a gold standard fungible with the likes, shares and hearts of social media: Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook all use Wikipedia to validate a celebrity’s status.
How to blend commercial Wikipedia content for maximum effect.
The information contained in a Wikipedia article does not represent one person’s views, it represents a broad consensus reached through community dialogue. This consensus is presented as a neutral point of view, although the article does not necessarily need to be supported by unbiased sources; although sources should be reliable and verifiable. (See my blog Wikipedia for business; the do’s and don’ts. If done correctly, the encyclopaedia’s content can often seem like a stark contrast to the business’s website or press release. A strong Wikipedia page eschews sales buzzwords and hollow rhetoric for clear information in plain English; this may not always be what marketing departments need, but it is what consumers want.
How should businesses position themselves on Wikipedia?
Wikipedia’s HyperCard inspired navigation system is also very easy to use. One page clicks through to another straightforwardly. Pages should be linked to others to encourage research and analysis so think about your company’s broader ontology when crafting Wikipedia content. The path a potential customer takes when researching your business will have a profound effect on their purchasing decisions. Influential Wikipedia business content should also appear to be community generated, so be open-minded and prepared to relinquish a degree of editorial control to Wikipedia’s volunteer editors. Consumers are more likely to trust a page with a long edit history of active user contributions and a healthy debate on the article’s talk page.
Is it unethical to hijack an educational resource for marketing purposes?
In one word, yes. In 2014, eleven of the biggest players in PR agreed not to edit Wikipedia. However, the need for businesses to throw their two cents into the ring of knowledge hasn’t gone away. To better serve their client’s needs, PR firms now circumvent the editing ban by manipulating Wikipedia’s content vicariously using mercenary editors; resulting in a resource consuming game of cat and mouse between volunteer editors and paid editors. However, it need not be this way; there are a growing number of professional Wikipedia editing agencies who are happy to show businesses how to educate potential customers without violating Wikipedia’s terms and conditions. Services can range from short consultations via Skype or email, to research, source evaluation and academic copywriting based on the encyclopaedia’s manual of style.
There is no doubt that Wikipedia is a powerful social influencer with profound SEO capabilities, it is also important to remember that it is an educational resource first and foremost. So, before diving in and writing a profile for your business page, take a bit of time to learn about the platform and try to put its vision first. Moreover, remember if you do get stuck or have any questions there are professional editors on standby ready to answer any questions you might have.