IABC’s CW Bulletin devotes an issue to PR and Wikipedia

Posted on September 6, 2012 8:44 am by | Ethics | IABC | PR | Wikis

CW Bulletin Wikipedia IssueIn the beginning, there was CREWE.

Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement is a closed Facebook group dedicated to a thoughtful, high-level discussion among organizational communicators and Wikipedia editors—known as Wikipedians. The goal is to find common ground between these often-adversarial groups’ efforts to ensure accuracyin Wikipedia business entries. The robust discussion has produced several documents, including a flow chart clarifying the process communicators should follow when seeking to correct an entry in which they have a conflict of interest.

Communication associations have also stepped up their efforts, taking positions on the PR role in Wikipedia entries pertaining to their clients and employers. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relaions (CIPR) has issued a guidance. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA has released a study and a position on the CIPR document.

I’m honored to chair a Wikipedia task force for the International Association of Business Communciators (IABC). Our primary goal is to promote education among IABC’s 15,000 members so they can get the best possible outcomes when seeking changes to a Wikipedia article without running afoul of either Wikipedia guidelines or the ethical standards that serve as a foundation for the practice of professional public relations.

An early task force recommendation was for IABC to dedicate an issue of its monthly online CW Bulletin to the issue. The Wikipedia-themed edition—freely available to anybody—was released yesterday. Any of us in the communications business could at some point find ourselves facing a client or employer who wants a real or perceived inaccuracy in a Wikipedia article addressed. Reading the concise articles in the September 2012 CW Bulletin is an excellent way to start building an understanding of how to meet that challenge ethically and transparently, to the benefit of both Wikipedia and the client.

The articles include the following:

Bold Steps in Connecting PR and Wikipedia, by Neville Hobson, ABC, an independent communication practitioner in the U.K. (and my podcasting partner)

Neville’s piece summarizes the background of the chilly-but-improving relationship between Wikipedians and the PR community. Excerpt: “It’s an uncomfortable relationship, where each side has been suspicious of the motives and behaviors of the other. Such mistrust hasn’t been helped by either side—neither by words such as those of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales when he argued that “PR firms editing Wikipedia is something that we frown upon very, very strongly”; nor by questionable, even unethical, deeds of some PR practitioners and others. The Bell Pottinger lobbying scandal last year, for example, and the agency’s assertions that it “has a team which ‘sorts’ negative Wikipedia coverage of clients” is a very good (bad) example.”

A Lesson in PR Ethics and Wikipedia, by Mark Estes, ABC, a senior corporate communications strategist for SRP and a member of the IABC ethics committee

Mark focuses on the ethical issues involved in editing a Wikipedia article in which you have a conflict of interest with a focus on the Bell Pottinger case study. Excerpt: “Instead of establishing an identifiable person or persons up front to deal with their Wikipedia entries, Bell Pottinger seems to have used a number of different, hard-to-identify sources to make edits. It also does not help Bell Pottinger’s case when newspapers like The Independent report that the firm’s executives claim it has mastered the Internet and could manipulate Google searches and whitewash Wikipedia entries on behalf of clients.”

Ethical Wikipedia Strategies for Brands, by David King, a Wikipedia specialist for Ethical Wiki, ap rofessional services, research and consulting firm

An overview of strategies for getting changes made to Wikipedia articles by somebody who advises on these strategies for a living. Excerpt: “When we as PR professionals ignore the fact that Wikipedia is openly editable, philosophically our relationship becomes similar to the one we have with professional journalists. We can offer contributed content, act as a resource, discuss controversial issues, and request factual corrections just as we do with the traditional media. Not directly editing the article doesn’t prevent us from overhauling bias controversy sections, contributing 5,000-word articles or reworking a substantial body of work—it merely leaves final content decisions in the hands of impartial Wikipedia editors that have only the reader’s interests in mind.”

To Edit or Not to Edit: PR firms and Wikipedia, by Austin Buckley, an account executive in the digital practice group of Fleishman-Hillard’s Washington, D.C., office

A summary of best practices for editing Wikipedia articles. Excerpt: “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.”

How Corporate Representatives Can Work Better with Wikipedia, by David Gerard, volunteer media contact for Wikipedia and longtime Wikipedia editor

A perspective from a Wikipedian. Excerpt: PR professionals who spend the time and effort to learn Wikipedia’s content policies and behavioral etiquette concerning conflict-of-interest editing will help both Wikipedia and themselves. If you respect the community, you will generally receive respect in return. Those who put in the effort to participate and engage with the Wikipedia community properly will find editors who are willing to spend their time helping them. Companies that provide value to Wikipedia will find Wikipedia providing value to them.”

Public Relations and Wikipedia: The unnecessary impasse, by Phil Gomes, Sr. VP, Edelman Digital and founder of CREWE

An impassioned appeal for mutual understanding. Excerpt:
The real tragedy in all of this is that both sides—Wikipedians and corporate communicators—desire the same thing: accurate entries. There are many more people in the PR field who want to get it right than those who hope to get away with doing wrong.”

There’s more to come from IABC’s Wikipedia task force, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the efforts of IABC’s Natasha Nicholson, VP of Publishing and Associate Editor Amanda Aiello. Natasha promoted the idea of a CW Bulletin issue dedicated to Wikipedia and, working with Amanda (along with task force liaison Neville Hobson) brought it to the light of day.

It’s a quick read that, if you’re not already familiar with the issues and challenges of editing Wikipedia articles, will serve you well.

Get the issue here.

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