Wikipedia is fast becoming one of the top reference resources for many who are searching for information on a particular topic, and it is often one of the first references in a search results list. In fact, Wikipedia receives 54% of its traffic from Google. Furthermore, referring to Wikipedia as “one of the poster children for Web 2.0″, the Pew Internet & American Life Project researchers have noted a sharp increase in the use of Wikipedia. According to Jonathan Hochman, founder and lead consultant at Hochman Consultants, and an editor at Wikipedia, the free traffic driven by Wikipedia often converts better than Google pay-per-click traffic. Despite its current use of no-follow tags for outbound links, Wikipedia’s ability to generate high-quality traffic can be equal to or better than that of most search engines, as stated in a special report given at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York.
But there are rules for engagement. Last summer AstraZeneca got in trouble for seeming to minimize the risk of Seroquel to teenagers by removing “Despite a general National Institutes of Health recommendation against its use in children or those under 18, as well as a known risk that teenagers taking the drug may be more likely to think about harming or killing themselves or to plan or try to do so,” from the Seroquel Wikipedia post.
Abbott also got in trouble deleting safety info from Abbott brand entries. According to Patients Not Patents over one thousand edits where made from computers at Abbott’s offices. This in an of itself is not a problem. In an article in the Wall Street Journal Abbott spokeswoman Kelly Morrison told the WSJ’s Avery Johnson that the deletion of the safety material was contrary to the company’s policy. “Abbott does edit very simple factual errors,” she said. “We make edits all the time for Abbott but we say we’re Abbott. We don’t advocate anonymous removal of safety information. We’re looking into this but it’s not our policy and not what we do.”
Wikipedia is not going away and it is not something to ignore. There are ways to respectfully add information into Wikipedia without being shunned by the community for integrating “advertising” into a resource. Pharma has information that is useful to the community and if entered respectfully will only help the resource become better. At the very least every brand manger should monitor their brand’s Wikipedia entry, seeing who is making updates to the brand’s entry by using wiki scanner, and if you or your agency make changes be sure to Play by the Rules.