Wikipedia and Public Relations: Toward More Accuracy and Understanding

Wikipedia keychainAre you among the 53 percent of adult online Americans who use Wikipedia?

Wikipedia entries often lead Internet search results. So many who are beginning a research project find it a helpful starting point.

And, increasingly, reporters are using it for background on stories they are covering.

But the crowd-sourced, online encyclopedia may also contain factual errors.

This has been a source of frustration to PR professionals responsible for ensuring accurate information about their companies or clients.

PR reps weigh in
Public relations representatives have shared their experiences trying to make Wikipedia corrections or edits in a timely way.

In a recent PRSA survey, Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., of Penn State University, found that 60 percent of respondents said articles about their clients or companies contain factual errors. Participants included 1,284 public relations professionals.

Surprisingly, 25 percent of respondents also indicated they are not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients.

And although Wikipedia provides guidelines for editing entries in its Engagement Flowchart, DiStaso’s research found a gap between PR professionals and Wikipedia concerning the proper protocol.

Status quo
Unfortunately, a few company representatives and PR firms have failed to follow Wikipedia’s guidelines, crossing ethical boundaries in the process.

For example, one PR firm set up fake IDs to make changes. Actions like these have created trust issues for the majority of communications professionals.

To improve the accuracy of Wikipedia articles and close the gap regarding the editing process, DiStaso recommends action steps for both PR professionals and Wikipedia editors in an article in the Public Relations Journal.

“The editing of Wikipedia by public relations and corporate communications professionals is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed by everyone,” says  DiStaso.

“The status quo can’t continue. A high amount of factual errors doesn’t work for anyone, especially the public, which relies on Wikipedia for accurate, balanced information.”

A constructive conversation
To address the status quo and improve things for PR people who want to do things the right way, Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE), a group founded by Phil Gomes of Edelman Digital, has opened a dialogue.

CREWE members include Wikipedians, corporate communicators, academics and other interested individuals. They are exploring the ways that PR and Wikipedia can work together. The goal? A conversation and cooperation toward more accurate and balanced entries.

Now it’s your turn. Do you use Wikipedia? Can a PR representative be objective in making edits to a company or client’s article?

With thanks to @bastique for the photo via Flickr.

You might also enjoy Whom Do You Trust?

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About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at mycreativeconsiderations@gmail.com.
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