Following a range of high-profile cases involving PR firms caught manipulating Wikipedia articles to better suit the interests of their clients, the U.K. based Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) recently suggested that PR firms and professionals avoid making edits on Wikipedia altogether, going so far as to include the recommendation in their official guidelines.
With the release of the guidelines, CIPR CEO Jane Wilson stated that making edits “would be unethical and lacking in transparency and therefore potentially against CIPR’s own guidance on digital communication and social media.”
Clearly, who is allowed to edit Wikipedia pages and what changes they can make is a contentious topic. Yet adjustments to pages are often necessary, as organizations and products are changing more and more quickly. Outlined below are some best practices for Wikipedia use, as well as some general guidelines for working with the site’s editors to ensure your clients’ pages are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
- It’s good to both preach and exercise caution when advising clients on Wikipedia intervention. Wikipedia is not an appropriate platform for PR or marketing in the traditional sense. And remember that in addition to professional ethics concerns, no Wikipedia edit is truly anonymous, especially with the advent of tools like WikiScanner.
- That being said, there may be cases when an article related to your client contains information counter to Wikipedia guidelines, and in some of these cases it may be advisable to engage with the community to determine if these issues can be resolved. This typically entails the client posting on the Talk page related to the article, clearly identifying him or herself and the company they represent, and presenting the concerns and supporting sources to the community for discussion.
- Factual inaccuracies that are contradicted by credible, third-party sources should be the easiest to correct—providing the relevant sources should be sufficient to make a correction. Neutrality issues are a grayer area, but in theory, Wikipedia articles should take an impartial tone toward their subjects.
- Proper steps should always involve total transparency about the source of any proposed edits and the potential conflict of interest (by Wikipedia’s definition) that they entail. They should also involve deference to the majority decisions of other Wikipedia editors and administrators—remember that the Wikipedia community “owns” the article, despite the fact that it may have the client’s name on it.
Overall, it’s important to keep a close eye on Wikipedia pages that could affect brand image and reputation, but at the same time, all parties should be aware of the protocol they should follow in making changes to their respective pages. If you follow these best practices, requesting Wikipedia article edits is a viable option. However, both clients and communication professionals should be advised that in many cases, the best advice is to leave well enough alone.
Austin Buckley is an account executive in the digital practice group of Fleishman-Hillard’s Washington, D.C., office. He specializes in digital communications, including social media. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @popespeed.
This article first appeared on the Fleishman-Hillard blog.