Wikipedia, “the world’s most successful online encyclopedia.” It ranks extremely well in the search engines and is a crowdsourced initiative. There are rules to keep each Wikipedia page “by the people” and not prejudicially written by the person. When building up your online reputation, it’s a good thought to have a Wikipedia page, but there are rules involved with having it created. However, this post is not about those rules.
This post is about the potential risks Wikipedia may present to your organization and/or industry. Risks that you may not have otherwise thought about. Let’s use the healthcare industry as an example, as their Wikipedia risk is amongst the greatest.
Wikipedia’s risk on the healthcare industry
According to imshealth, “Wikipedia is the leading single source of healthcare information for patients and providers”. This means that people use Wikipedia to self-diagnose, understand more about a drug or disease, etc.
Even Wikipedia themselves say that “for better or worse, people are guided to Wikipedia when searching the Web for biomedical information.”
But if Wikipedia is crowdsourced, who’s responsible for verifying that the information found within its pages is accurate?
For example, if the information is inaccurate, what does this mean for a person who has used a Wikipedia page as a trusted source for a self-diagnosis? Whether you think self-diagnosing through Wikipedia is a smart thing to do or not, doesn’t mean that people aren’t using these pages to do this on a regular basis. Therefore, the wrong information can potentially negatively impact the person relying on it.
In fact, Orla Merrigan, a nursing lecturer from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, specifically teaches the nurses in her charge to avoid Wikipedia in their research.
“Working as a Nursing Lecturer we do not advocate for our Nursing students to use any sources from Wikipedia. Unfortunately Wikipedia is not always a reliable source of information, for a variety of reasons. Firstly the Wikipedia site is not updated regularly; currently there is no authoritativeness on the site; there is no certification; and finally there is no quality assurance checks to validate that posted information is correct or Evidence Based information. Unfortunately any individual may upload postings on Wikipedia, therefore leading to the risk of incorrect and misguided information being posted on the site. In Academia we encourage our students to source up to date health related information from reputable Internationally Evidence based validated websites / sources.”
So if healthcare practitioners, the ones who are educated to know the answers, are taught to avoid Wikipedia, who then is moderating these pages to make sure that the information contained within is accurate? As Orla points out, there is currently no regulation for this. And if the information is inaccurate, what’s the risk of someone becoming unnecessarily panicked – or the opposite, someone thinking that their symptoms are harmless when really they should be making an appointment with their doctor pronto?
Even Wikipedia themselves have a call to action asking the scientific community to help mitigate this risk:
“… there is an increasing need for the scientific community to engage with Wikipedia to ensure that the information it contains is accurate and current.”
Mitigating the Wikipedia risk
I’m using the healthcare industry as an example in this post because their risk of inaccurate information being mistaken as a trusted, reliable source can be great. But this isn’t to say that the same risk doesn’t pose a potential threat to your own organization or industry (for those of you who do not work in healthcare).
The purpose of this post is to provoke reflection. That said, here are some questions that I encourage you to answer, in order to evaluate the reality of this risk for your own organization / industry and to mitigate it:
- Which of your stakeholder groups, both internal and external, use (or may use) Wikipedia when searching for information concerning your organization, products, services, executives or industry?
- If this information were to be inaccurate, could it potentially pose a risk to you or your stakeholders? In other words, what’s the worst that could come from this inaccurate information?
- Do you currently have a policy in place to mitigate this risk? If not…
- What types of policies or best practices can you put in place to proactively mitigate this risk?
The answer can be as simple as keeping tabs on the information provided within the Wikipedia pages of the most commonly searched terms in your industry, and assigning someone to be responsible for contributing to these pages to keep them relevant and accurate.
The prevention of this risk can be simple. And yet, depending on your organization and industry, the risk itself may be great. Therefore, the biggest risk may lie in not taking the time to identify and determine whether or not Wikipedia presents a relevant risk to you and, if it does, developing a proactive strategy to mitigate it.
So all of this said, what’s your next step?
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.