MDiStasoThe issue of public relations professionals editing Wikipedia is back in the spotlight following an article that accused BP of “rewriting environmental record on Wikipedia.” For years now, Wikipedia has asked public relations professionals not to directly edit articles of their company or clients. This is because they believe that public relations professionals have a conflict of interest. Instead of directly adding content to pages, requests should be made using the Talk page on each Wikipedia article. My research last year found that the problem with this process is that it often takes days, weeks, and some never get a response – something Jay Walsh, director of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, has agreed can be a problem.

While I believe that public relations professionals should not be treated differently than any other group (like activists and disgruntled employees) on Wikipedia, I strongly advocate that their rules are followed. In the case of BP, they were following Wikipedia’s rules, as Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia commended. Arturo Silva used the Talk pages to request edits with an ID that clearly identified himself as a BP employee, but they still wound up with backlash.

Apparently Wikipedia is now considering if public relations professionals should be allowed to submit content for their company or clients at all. Wikipedia articles have high prominence in search engines and often contain errors, but they have great potential to provide the public with information on a variety of topics and companies. As BP spokesman Scott Dean told PR Week in an article earlier this week, “Our participation in the editorial process undoubtedly has resulted in greater accuracy, which, after all, should be the primary concern of everyone who relies on this resource for information.” With the goal of accuracy in jeopardy, restricting who can contribute most probably weakens it.  I’ll be sure to update you if policy changes are made.

Dr. Marcia W. DiStaso is an Associate Editor for the IPR Social Media Research Center, a Senior Research Fellow for the Arthur W. Page Center, and an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Pennsylvania State University.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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6 thoughts on “Wikipedia and PR – Deciding what to do just got more difficult

  1. Hi Michael. Some details from the PR side include an article I wrote outlining the problems with the Wikipedia rules for PR available at: https://instituteforpr.org/iprwp/wp-content/uploads/DiStaso-PR-and-WikipediaIPR1.pdf and my research study available at: http://www.prsa.org/intelligence/prjournal/documents/2012distaso.pdf

    From the Wikipedia side information is available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest

    Please let me know if you want to chat about it. My email is mwd10@psu.edu.
    Marcia

  2. Marcia – I would like to look into this more deeply and understand both sides of the issue, eliminating whatever biases might exist. Could you recommend where I or anyone could find the Wikipedia side? The PR side? Thanks!

  3. Thank you for your comment, Philip. Having guidance for engagement on Wikipedia is extremely important, but as we saw with BP, this has become more of a media issue. BP was following Wikipedia rules (and CIPR’s rules which closely mirror Wikipedia’s in much clearer language) but they still wound up being accused of trying to “clean their image” by the media. This example should cause PR professionals to double think making requests using the Talk pages and certainly avoid making direct edits to Wikipedia.

    1. Hi Marcia,

      Apologies. In a rush, I didn’t actually convey precisely why I was offering up the link to the CIPR guidance.

      The guidance is important because it was co-written with Wikimedia UK, the organisation representing Wikipedians here. It represents mutually agreed understanding. Those criticising BP in this instance, for in fact following the guidance, can be pointed to the guidance and invited to comment accordingly.

      Personally, I always recommend that those PR practitioners following the guidance always link to it in their profile and on each talk page in order to underline the basis on which they are contributing.

      1. Hi Philip,
        I agree that the rules should be followed and commend CIPR for their hard work on providing a policy for PR professionals, but what to do when a company follows the rules and still gets the bad press is a new conversation. As is the case with the BP press, some in the media and at Wikipedia feel strongly that PR should not have ANY involvement in Wikipedia. I disagree and feel that it is in the best interest of everyone to work together for accurate Wikipedia articles.
        -Marcia

  4. Hi Marcia, the CIPR published Wikipedia guidance to its members in June 2012, available at the following URL:
    http://www.cipr.co.uk/content/policy-resources/best-practice-guides-toolkits/wikipedia-and-public-relations

    The guidance is supported by the Canadian Public Relations Society, the Public Relations Consultants Association, and the Public Relations Institute of Australia. We continue to work with the Wikipedian community, and the CIPR’s Social Media panel expects to update the guidance later this year.

    Best regards.

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