You want a Wikipedia page for your brand, your CEO, or even yourself. You know how to tell the story but aren’t sure if the page will pass the publishing muster.
Your success lies in a single word – notability.
Notability is the test Wikipedia editors use to decide if a topic merits its own article. You need to develop a case, using only sources that Wikipedia recognizes, which explains why the entry warrants inclusion in a global encyclopedia.
Wikipedia’s requirements are exacting, especially for pages about living people. You can’t lean on a blue check mark on Instagram or a page on IMDb. Nor can you use the loftiness of a client list or celebrity endorsements. Those credentials are impressive, but they are unreliable, according to the Wikipedia powers that be.
The notability gold standard is media coverage and that encompasses a variety of painstaking criteria. Let’s dive into that rabbit hole.
Criterion 1: The coverage comes from a media outlet
The coverage you cite should come from the news media. Marketing and PR content, such as a news release, your website, or even the bio from a speaker’s bureau, doesn’t cut it. You want coverage in newspapers, magazines, television shows, radio shows, books – this is Wikipedia’s strike zone.
What about blogs, podcasts, and e-newsletters? While these platforms are part of the media ecosystem, they’re generally not high-profile enough to meet the notability requirements. (Exceptions include SCOTUSblog, the Daily, and Stratechery.)
Criterion 2: The outlet is notable
Not only do the sources need to be independent, but they should be notable or part of the mainstream media. A local or trade publication (Think: ARLnow or PR Daily) is less helpful than a regional or national one (Think: The Star Ledger or CNN.)
What counts as “mainstream”? That’s somewhat gray. As a rule of thumb, the outlet should employ editors and issue corrections when mistakes are made.
Criterion 3: The outlet is independent
Your media citations must be independent of the page’s subject. This criterion rules out anything you publish yourself. (Sorry, Kindle Direct Publishing authors.)
It also rules out sources you might think are perfectly acceptable. For example, the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Marketing Association published a profile of me, a volunteer for the group, on its website. Independent, this is not.
Here’s another scenario: Let’s say you are a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and are featured on FreeEnterprise.com. Unfortunately, the site isn’t credible in Wikipedia’s eyes because it’s funded by the chamber.
Be careful about mainstream outlets that have both paid and self-published platforms.
Take the well-known website Medium. On one hand, much of the material here is self-published, which means it is not independent. On the other, sections of Medium, like OneZero, operate with full-time editors and reporter, making them fall into the mainstream category. To wit: You can cite onezero.medium.com; you cannot cite medium.com.
The same holds true with sponsored content. It’s not a credible source because it’s pay to publish. Even if the content is published on a mainstream media site, it still doesn’t meet Wikipedia’s credibility standard. (Just ask The Atlantic, which was famously forced to rescind its puff piece on Scientology.)
Why media coverage is the gold standard
Here’s the view from Wikipedia: To be covered in the media, a reporter must believe the topic is important or interesting. The reporter’s content goes through a review process that traditionally includes fact-checkers, editors, and even lawyers.
While media coverage may be a flawed form of validation, it’s the least flawed one available. Indeed, Wikipedia worthiness has proven to be such an equitable benchmark that social media companies, like Twitter, may soon use it in deciding which handles warrant a coveted verification badge.
Criterion 4: The coverage focuses on the page subject
The media coverage must include more than a mention of your subject. In other words: Being quoted once or twice in an article is not particularly helpful. Being quoted extensively is better but not necessarily sufficient. What you want is coverage where your topic is the focus.
Criterion 5: The coverage is online
Once you have media coverage that meets the above criteria, then you need the original links. Put simply, if the article doesn’t appear online — so others can access and verify it — then you can’t cite it. This is part of Wikipedia’s ban on original research; every claim you make must be meticulously footnoted.
Criterion 6: The coverage is sustained
Finally, you need to demonstrate the media coverage isn’t just significant but sustained. For example, if all the clips come from the past three months, then Wikipedia probably considers you to be “notable for only one event.” In such cases, your best bet is not to create a new page but to pursue inclusion in an existing one.
TIP: I recommend at least six verifiable citation links for a page. While that isn’t a magic number, it’s a good test of notability.
Other coverage options
If you struggle to round up sufficient mainstream media links, don’t despair. You can find alternative coverage examples, such as:
- Mentions of awards earned by the page subject
- Op-eds written by the page subject
- Keynote conference presentations delivered by the page subject
Create with confidence
The bottom line: Wikipedia is a maze of policies and guidelines. (Yes, those are two separate things.) These rules can be opaque, unforgiving, and even contradictory. (One of Wikipedia’s five pillars is “Wikipedia has no firm rules.”)
These walls safeguard the encyclopedia’s integrity, contributing to its high rankings in Google. But they also lead to Wikipedia’s reputation for being inhospitable to the uninitiated.
To avoid that fate, focus on that one word – notability – and all that it encompasses in Wikipedia.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute