With the advent of social media in the past few years, every financial advisor suddenly had to learn about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and a whole social media consultancy industry arose in its wake.
But when it comes to street cred, those forms of social media are probably more than matched by the collaboratively edited Internet reference, Wikipedia.
Having a Wikipedia page confers authority on its subject, because unlike paid entries for Who’s Who guides, Wikipedia is a nonprofit whose community of editors will delete an article if its subject is not genuinely notable, if its sourcing is not verifiable and its point of view is not neutral.
While meeting these standards can be challenging, the market advantage a Wikipedia page might convey is hard to argue with. Google any prominent name and the first entry you’ll probably see is a Wikipedia article, if there is one.
Ken Fisher and Ric Edelman have Wikipedia pages, to be sure, but they have large networks of advisors across the country. Yet Harold Evensky and Michael Kitces, whose firms have just two offices, each have a Wikipedia page, though few would question their notability. Could you get a Wikipedia page?
We asked Mike Wood, who makes his living as a paid Wikipedia editor. Wood’s Wikipedia consulting is highly controversial. Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales banned display advertisements on the site and even changed the website’s domain from wikipedia.com to wikipedia.org to avoid any hint of commercialism. Many of the site’s editors decry the possibility of non-neutral writing if paid writers get involved.
Wood, for his part, says paid writers who understand the community’s rules and values can maintain higher standards, thus improving the site, and argues that the failure to do so risks article deletion, which is only the path to irate clients.
“The No. 1 way to keep an article from getting deleted is to write about a subject that is notable. Period. That is it,” Wood told AdvisorOne.
“There are no tips or tricks—whether you agree with paid editing or do not agree with paid editing, the article needs to be properly sourced," he added. "If you try to spam your way on to Wikipedia, you will get deleted and properly so.”
The South Bend, Ind.-based consultant has been editing Wikipedia articles for six years—but only in the last year on a paid basis through his consultancy, Legal Morning. Wood’s clients have included musicians, athletes, doctors, lawyers, foreign dignitaries, businesspeople, “politicians you’ve see on Fox or CNN in the last few days”—as well as financial industry clients, including both publicly traded and private companies.
So, can a financial advisor get a Wikipedia page? “Yes and no,” Wood responds.
“There are a lot of financial advisors known as experts in the field,” he adds. “They’re quoted in newspapers, or they’re authors.”
The key to being considered notable by Wikipedia standards is “significant coverage—more than just one news article, and from reliable sources like Research magazine and the Wall Street Journal, not blogs or forum posts.”
“The sources must be independent—if you wrote the article yourself, we couldn’t use it to write a page for you,” Wood adds.
Advisors who have not yet written a book or become a media source should fortify their scholarly or public relations efforts.
Wood, whose fees to put up a Wikipedia page typically range anywhere from $200 to $1,000, says he accepts assignments from only about 20% of prospects seeking his help.
“The first thing I need to do is find out if they’re notable or not,” he says. “When I first started this job, I used to take every article that came my way. But it caused too many problems; articles were deleted and I had to give refunds.”
Interestingly, Wood says he keeps track of prospects he turns down. He says he commonly sees they hire someone else to post an article for them, and invariably that article gets deleted by Wikipedia’s community of editors.
“It’s very tough to get an article back on once it gets deleted,” Wood says.
Not only does Wood insist on genuine notability, he says that neutrality, too, is non-negotiable.
“[Wikipedia’s] logic is that if someone is getting paid for a Wikipedia page, they’re going to do what their clients want because they’re getting paid to do that,” Wood says. “I refuse to do that. I have actually lost some clients because [their proposed content is] self-promotional and has nothing to do with an encyclopedia entry.”
Neutrality and openness to unflattering information is vital, Wood says.
“If you put a Wikipedia page up and you have a lot of negative content that can be introduced into the article, if I don’t put it there, your competitor will.”
So if, for example, a notable person is embroiled in a lawsuit, “I can put [the information] there neutrally. If I don’t, three months from now, it can have a whole page on a lawsuit.
In that sense, hiring a Wikipedia consultant for ongoing monitoring of your Wikipedia page is a form of reputation management—not by removing negative content but by confronting it strategically.
Another, perhaps more significant, purpose for which notable companies and individuals hire a Wikipedia editor is brand management.
“If you let someone else start the article for you, it may not represent what you want it to represent," Wood advises. "I’ve seen that many times. It’s very important to claim your brand. You have to get out in front of it.”
While many financial advisors might wish to enhance their reputations, many more probably just want to be found, and to be found credible.
“Google loves Wikipedia,” Wood says. “When I post an article on Wikipedia, within hours it’s on page one of Google.”