CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Credit unions considering going live on the uber-popular Wikipedia do-it-yourself Internet encyclopedia might want to listen to what a Forrester Research analyst has to say.

“As one of the most visited sites on the Web, Wikipedia serves as the reference guide for almost one-fifth of online adults,” said Charlene Li in a new report titled “When and How to Get Involved with Wikipedia.”

“But the information they see on Wikipedia–which can be created and edited by anyone–may not necessarily be accurate or reflect a viewpoint companies like,” she said.

“Nevertheless, companies should refrain from simply jumping in and making changes to articles about themselves, but they also shouldn’t just sit on the sidelines,” Li said in her report.

“Instead, marketers should understand and abide by the policies, guidelines and rules of conduct established by the Wikipedia community and, when appropriate, participate in the community discussion to get their company’s perspective represented in articles,” she said.

The think firm analyst recommended that companies consider getting involved indirectly and not mistake Wikipedia for an online advertising site.

“Wikipedia is not a marketing channel, any more than is an article in The New York Times,” Li said. “Involvement requires that companies exercise traditional media relations in a different way that seeks to sway the opinion of a small interest community to make the changes to an article.”

For instance, credit unions should consider not starting their own Web page, but should rather consider starting a discussion page in which the institution voices what it believes should be changed. It is important the editors posting changes are able to reference facts, even in a discussion page, especially if the change is controversial. The reference should be a credible source, Li said.

Because Wikipedia content is used without fear of copyright restrictions, companies often use it to provide links to their own site. Wikipedia can also be edited by anyone by merely clicking the “edit this page” tab. However, financial institutions wishing to do this should proceed with caution, Li said.

Wikipedia has a stringent code of conduct, she said, that has to be accepted by all its contributors.

“The key to a NPOV (neutral point of view) is to focus on facts, not opinions,” said Li. Edits should not endorse people, companies, financial institutions, or products. That’s considered a conflict of interest and failure to follow guidelines could lead to edited pages being reversed, removed, or banned entirely from the site.

Credit unions wishing to be seen on Wikipedia but are not members may still request an article on their particular institutions. Some companies create so-called “stubs”–pages with negligible content–with the hope that other Wikipedia members will contribute to the page.

However, if a company wishes to directly edit an article about it, it is important to exercise utmost caution, Li said.

“There is the perception that a company making edits in Wikipedia has to be doing so for marketing purposes or to remove unflattering entries,” Li said. And with the addition of scanners that can locate edits in articles and detect the IP address from which they came, companies should be extremely cautious with their edits beyond simply making grammatical changes.

–mrapport@sc.rr.com