One of the first places people go (from Google, that is) for quick answers and information is Wikipedia. The size of the audience it commands, and its ability to become a critical resource for developing the narrative from current events mean that it’s of critical importance to any public relations professional.
Unfortunately the PR community is largely ignorant of how to interact with Wikipedia.
According to a new study done by Dr. Marcia W. DiStaso of Penn State University,
- 25 percent of public relations pros were completely unaware of the state of Wikipedia entries about their organization.
- Worse – only 21 percent were familiar with the rule that PR pros should not edit articles on behalf of a client or organization they represent.
This is unacceptable. A healthy understanding of Wikipedia and the dynamics of the collaborative space online (which eschews back-room deals and undemocratic influence) is critical for every PR pro (and journalist) to understand. This is the stuff of textbooks.
The study was prompted after a very thorough and productive discussion that has been happening on a Facebook group called CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement) created by Phil Gomes of Edelman. The group has brought together Wikipedians (including founder Jimmy Wales) to promote broader awareness of the relationship between PR pros and Wikipedia editors:
- On the one hand, Wikipedians want to ensure that all information on the site is accurate and free of bias.
- On the other hand, PR pros have a legitimate complaint in that following the established process for contributing or editing content (to post suggestions to the “Talk” page in the hope that it will be evaluated by a Wikipedian with no connection to the story and ultimately considered for application to the Wikipedia entry) is often ineffective as it can be difficult to get the attention or consideration of editors.
The study done by Dr. DiStaso also contains a very helpful infographic pulling out some of the important points from the study. You can find everything here:
Measuring Public Relations Wikipedia Engagement: How Bright is the Rule?
Public Relations Journal — Vol. 6, No. 2 | Author: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D.
Abstract: The study by Dr. DiStaso explores the views, experiences and beliefs of public relations/communications professionals about editing Wikipedia for their company or client. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has what he believes to be a “bright line” rule whereby public relations/communications professionals are not to directly edit the Wikipedia articles about their companies or clients. Through a survey with 1284 responses, this study found that the “bright line” rule is not working. This is because, among other reasons, 60% of the Wikipedia articles for respondents who were familiar with their company or recent client’s article contained factual errors. When the talk pages were used to request edits, it was found to typically take days for a response and 24% never received one. Plus, most of the public relations/communication professionals in this study were unaware of the rule and almost half of those who were familiar with it did not understand what it meant to them.. [Download Article]