Named for the Hawaiin word that means “quick,” wikis are collaborative websites often created on open source software that users can edit and contribute to as part of an online community. Created in the mid-nineties by a programmer inspired by Apple’s HyperCard workflows, wikis have since ballooned in number to the hundreds of millions, with Wikipedia being the most famous wiki website. However, there are many wiki sites and software programs designed to help people create a wiki page.
What’s the Difference Between a Wiki and a Knowledge Base?
Before we spell out all the reasons to create a wiki, it is important to understand what a wiki is not--a knowledge base. The latter is a centralized content library of products, services, guides, and FAQs that is written and edited by a select group of access-only experts within an organization. A knowledge base is critical to the internal operations of a business because it contains resources for processes, troubleshooting, and customer support.
A knowledge base serves as the reliable, foundational information hub for an organization's knowledge management strategy, while a wiki is the more collaborative space that allows anyone to contribute and lend their knowledge.
Reasons Your Business Might Want to Build a Wiki
There are plenty of wiki guides, wiki tools, wiki tutorials, etc. on the internet, but it’s most important to understand if you need a corporate wiki in the first place. Wikis are helpful if they are created with the intention of being ‘the source of truth’ on a particular topic and have many informed writers and editors consistently updating the content.
Think of the best wikis as the International Space Station on specific topics because they are constantly being updated and improved by those who are problem-solving and learning in real time. A wiki is great for developing software or apps, helpful for cross-functional teams to share their insights, optimal for discussion on topics that are data-driven, and ideal for customer support that is challenging. You might need a wiki if you are performing market research or if you are beta testing a new software.
Some use cases for wikis include:
- New Hiring On-boarding
- Sales and Marketing Enablement
- Customer Support
- Product Development
- Project Management
Essentially, if you and your team are trying to centralize your company’s knowledge in an effort to improve knowledge sharing then a wiki might be for you.
How to Create a Wiki
To get started setting up a wiki for a corporation, there are some general guidelines that can help streamline the process and reduce any confusion. In fact, including a step-by-step guide to creating corporate wikis is a great example of useful knowledge base content that your organization can build to iterate on this process.
1. Define Business Objective
Before you start a wiki or a wiki project, it’s important to identify the business goal for the wiki. For example, are you looking to use it as a way to support customers, to onboard employees, or improve capabilities for remote teams? Knowing the business objective will help structure the wiki (i.e. you may want one space for onboarding and another "space" for engineering) and determine the content that should be included within each space (i.e. educational content or collaborative problem-solving).
2. Identify Content and Information to Include
Famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Bera once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” While he may have been referring to baseball, the same can be said of writing wiki content--if you don’t make an informed plan for building a wiki and your wiki communication, you’ll end up ‘somewhere’ that isn’t that helpful to your organization.
To identify the content and information for creating a wiki, you need to assign a dedicated project manager who has knowledge across teams. If you are that person, then you need to assess the most common topics, problems, and requested information on your organizational platforms, such as Slack, Asana, or email. Then create a template (or use a software that provides one) that captures information that falls under this framework:
- Tools and processes
- Passwords and access information
- Source materials
- Work procedures and workflows
- Content organization
3. Organize Content Logically
You've identified your wiki's purpose, contributors, and the types of content it needs. Now it’s time to map the knowledge out and start linking documents together to make it easy for users to find the information they need..
Figure out things like:
- Categorization. Like web crawlers, search features work better if the content structure is organized in a logical hierarchy. This is also the first step in creating clear navigation.
- Tagging. Using relevant tags adds an extra search dimension that makes it easy for the user to find related content by keywords.
- Internal linking. Make search more intuitive to the searcher's intent by contextually connecting them to related content. Use specific anchor text for links, just as you would for Google.
4. Decide Who Gets Access to the Content
Depending on the wiki's purpose, who will have access to the content? Who should be allowed to write, edit, and manage it? Does each category of content have contributors?
Is there a procedure to enlist someone to take over that role if there's a change in staff?
5. Investigate Your Wiki Software Options
Next, you need to look into the software options for creating a wiki. There are many options that you can choose, some of which are free, for creating your wiki. Some popular options for creating a wiki include:
The key is choosing the right software is to pick one that makes it easy for your business to use while also being intuitive for users.
For example, allows your business to effortlessly organize the information you need, so you can spend more time refining the content and less time formatting and debugging the backend. Software that makes it easier to create clean and scalable wikis is important to provide consistency and continuity to team members who are writing and editing them.
Also, you can use a SaaS hosting service for your wikis, which is especially helpful if you have (or are planning to have) a robust library of wikis. You can also self-host your wikis if your server can support them and you have a go-to person to build out the templates.
6. Get Your Staff Excited to Share Their Knowledge
According to Harvard Business Review, one of the top reasons employees do not share their knowledge is because management doesn’t encourage them to do so in a collaborative way. In fact, according to the research published in HBR, “if managers want to encourage more sharing, they need to design work so that people want to discuss what they know.”
How do managers foster this spirit of co-sharing and collaboration? Inclusive communications. Poll your staff on which topics they would most want to have a wiki and then, from that list, have them rate the wikis that they are most interested in.
Managers need to be mindful about inserting themselves in the writing and editing process of wikis because their teams need to feel comfortable sharing their knowledge without constant oversight. A simple reminder email at the end of every week to revisit the wikis as well as a thank-you-for-contributing message goes a long way. As the wikis start to take shape, you can feature one or two every week in your corporate internal messaging to encourage other staff to contribute as well.
7. Set Guidelines to Promote Best Practices
Once you’ve introduced wikis to your organization, you need to be sure that everyone understands how to contribute and collaborate. The wiki software you choose will dictate some of the content framework but, ultimately, you need a knowledge base of guidelines for everyone to follow. Here are a few wiki rules to keep in mind:
- Demo the wiki software for your team or organization
- Create a content library with templates and tagging
- Regularly encourage people to contribute and collaborate
- Remind contributors to reference and source their writing
- Track wiki engagement and promote it to stakeholders
8. Invest in Creating Quality Content
Creating content for the sake of content is a wasted exercise. That being said, if you can create dynamic internal wiki content, your organization can get way more value from it than say, a blog.
Instead of thinking your organization must choose between a wiki vs. blog or knowledge base vs. blog, be intentional about the information you are creating specifically for each topic and why.
For example, say your organization has a blog titled “Why Business Wikis are Key,” you don’t also need a wiki on the same topic. Instead, you might have a knowledge base “How to Create a Wiki” and a wiki on “The Best Management Practices for a Wiki.”
9. Create Templates
Being intentional is the first key to creating the best wiki content, but creating intuitive, easy-to-use templates will also make the workflows so much faster to produce higher quality content. With templates, contributors don’t have to worry about formatting, document organization, or which information to choose.
A well-made template will make the technical process of creating wiki minimal, so you contributors can focus on the content. By reducing complexity, templates also encourage more collaboration and engagement from the wiki community.
10. Commit to Updating Content Regularly
As Shakespeare once wrote, “nothing will come of nothing,” and there is nothing more true when it comes to updating wikis. It’s one thing to introduce topics and create templates and an entirely other to have the content consistently updated by your contributors.
By definition, wikis are meant to be a dynamic, collaborative sharing space, so stale content is ‘slings and arrows’ of wiki communication. To avoid creating dead wiki content, regularly reach out to your wiki communities to keep updating them as a best practice for wiki maintenance.
Potential Disadvantages of Creating a Wiki
Remember earlier when we mentioned that people often confuse wikis with knowledge bases? While both types of software have some similarities, there are also some distinct differences.
The biggest difference between wiki software and knowledge base software is related to who is able to contribute content. With wiki software, typically anyone can add or edit content whereas with knowledge base software, there is more control over who can collaborate on an article. While this type of restriction might seem like a negative, the problem with allowing anyone to contribute to content, is that the content created can morph into content hack-jobs akin to Frankensten’s monster. Unless the community contributing is informed, diligent, and accountable to one another, the wiki information can quickly become corrupted, biased, stale--or worse--simply incorrect.
Some other potential disadvantages of wiki software include:
- Wiki software typically lack decision trees. A decision tree is a bit of AI that asks users a series of questions to understand the query better. Interactive support chatbots operate like that.
- Wikis have rudimentary analytics. You're about to put a lot of effort into generating content. So you need to know how your employees are using the wiki software, who are top contributors, and which topics still need to be covered. But many wiki sites lack these metrics.
- Wiki software has unsophisticated search abilities. Remember how frustrated you get when you search for specific information that's important to you, and you can't find it. Anywhere. Fair or not, we now compare every search function to Google's so if your wiki’s search function is crude, users will get frustrated easily if they can't find what they're looking for.
Reasons a Knowledge Base Might be Better For Your Business Needs
There are reasons a wiki might suit your needs well. Like if you have a small team that needs to collaborate on a project. But here are some reasons to consider a knowledge base software instead.
Do you Need a Library of Strongly Organized Information for Customers?
You may offer products or services in different categories within your industry. Maybe your products are complex, and you need a comprehensive resource that customers can learn from and refer to.
If they can find what they need to know quickly, they might be able to solve their own problems and avoid calling or emailing your support personnel. Who doesn’t appreciate that?
Your users deserve an outstanding customer experience. Make it easy for them to get help.
Does the Content Need to Follow Your Brand Guidelines?
If you have a brand guide or a content writing style guide, it's best to leave the content creation to the same professionals you trust to write, edit, design, and manage all your other branded content.
You need consistent use of logos, image assets, captions, page layout, colors, typefaces, voice and tone, and much more. You control none of those things if you use a wiki.
Do You Want to Understand How Users Consume Your Support Content?
Knowledge base software typically has more advanced analytics than wiki software, allowing you to see what type of content is searched for as well as consumed. This, in turn, can help you determine if the content you're creating is helpful for end users as well as content gaps.
A wiki can be a great option for businesses looking to allow employees to share knowledge and work collaboratively. However, if you're looking for a software option that provides better control over who is able to share knowledge so that the content created aligns with your content strategy while also providing a better, overall user experience, then you may want to consider using knowledge base software.
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