The PR Approach to Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an enormous source of information, but its “anyone can edit” quality right away punched holes in its credibility. This has improved down the years, but the day has yet to arrive when we see Wikipedia as a superior resource.

Given the accessibility, content and depth of Wikipedia, PR practitioners can use it as a tool to promote their client or brand, inform their public, or correct misinformation. But there is no manual for navigating Wikipedia for PR. Wikipedia is a rose with thorns. Or thorns with a rose, maybe.

PRNewser provided some helpful information straight from the original source: Wikipedia’s head of communications, Jay Walsh. Walsh spoke with PRWeek UK , and he said PR practitioners can “participate on Wikipedia in any way they like.” His advice sounds like, well, what PR pros should be doing anyway: present accurate information and be upfront about your goals. Walsh suggests PR pros use the Discussion feature to speak with other article editors to learn what is happening with the contested article, and provide relevant information and links to backup what you are saying. Communicate in a respectful manner, and prove the legitimacy of what you are saying. Make your edits public, and include in your editor bio that you work in PR.

Wikipedia has improved its reputation since editors began including more citations and links in the articles they write. If you are writing on Wikipedia for a client or brand, do the same. Accurate information and transparency in your actions is as imporant in Wikipedia as it is the general social media world.

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6 Responses to The PR Approach to Wikipedia

  1. cnaughton says:

    I love this topic. Often times when we hear social media, our minds meander straight to Twitter and Facebook and that tends to be the extent of it. Like you said, Wikipedia’s concept provides the basis for the social media world and can be a very easy and also crucial branding tool .

    I definitely agree that the credibility of Wikipedia has increased over the last few years. Many people still cringe at the thought of using Wikipedia as a source of information. I can understand their point of view given that articles on Wikipedia can be created, changed and added to by anyone. To me, the increase in the use of Wikipedia by people simply looking for information is because it’s easily accessible and almost always shows up in the top three search results for any given article. But all of this would mean nothing if the information people were getting from Wikipedia as no good. I like to think that most contributors to Wikipedia truly care about disseminating accurate information and aren’t using the site for any kind of sabotage.

    That gives us as PR people a strong foundation for implementing Wikipedia as part of a larger social media plan. Like you said, we need to use accuracy and transparency in doing so and I think we can create a strong, positive and reliable brand for any client and their stakeholders.

    • tmoore says:

      I find that wikipedia has a vast amount of beneficial information that is easy to obtain quickly, so it is indeed unfortunate that the website has acquired such a negative reputation over time. I certainly agree that the citations and links that are now more frequently included in Wikipedia articles by the editors have made wikipedia a more credible source and website. I like what Walsh said about presenting your input anyway you like, while also presenting the information in an accurate manor and being upfront about your goals. I think that this is important for all people to recognize and implement and particularly for PR practioners.

    • aguido says:

      You’re absolutely right that a lot of us only think of Facebook and Twitter when it comes to online public relations, but we often forget about Wikipedia. Like you said, it is one of the first things to pop up on a search for just about any topic. Because of that, it could certainly be used as a PR approach for any branding or information dissemination.

      Personally, when I want to know any random fact and I do a search for it, I am very likely to click on the Wikipedia entry for it and go by that data. Especially with all the citations and Resources people are listing under their additions, it is becoming a more creditable source right there. I agree with the original article that anytime it is being used for PR to identify oneself and cite legitimate resources as that also lends to credibility. I can definitely see how Wikipedia can be used as a great PR tool, as long as PR practitioners use it appropriately going along with Walsh’s suggestions.

  2. tburns says:

    The one thing I worry about in telling PR professionals to use Wikipedia as a means to disseminate information is the backlash of the public. People already have such a negative view towards PR, calling professionals “spin doctors” or accusing them of biased/inaccurate information.

    Most PR professionals are just that: professional. They know what ethics mean and consitute, but there are always those stories of a select few who decide to cross the lines and bring the wrath down upon PR. For example, when the president of Whole Foods was promoting his company and not disclosing that it was he who had submitted reviews and complimented himself under the disguise of an everyday customer.

    I think that Wikipedia is truly a rose with thorns; if anyone does misuse its services for company or self-promotion, the stronger the negative feedback will be. Therefore, if there is to be a bigger embrasing of Wikipedia, professionals need to be quite strict and demanding of each other to follow the rules of honesty and transparency.

  3. kwashburn says:

    I think you bring up a really great subject. I use Wikipedia almost on a daily basis, not just for writing papers but also for my general knowledge of a subject/person I am unfamiliar with. It is quick and puts information in basic terms, so I don’t have to scan and search through pages and pages of detailed information.

    I also think the PR aspect and the information “givers” involved with Wikipedia have a huge responsibility to be ethical and unbiased in their writing. It is true that Wiki is on an open-basis to anyone who would like to contribute, but we as PR professionals and ethical journalists need to keep in mind that what we believe is not necessarily what the rest of the world does. Being mindful of bias and opinions is an important factor in reconstructing the reputation of public relations. We need to break the stereotype we have as “spin doctors” and reinstate why we are credible in our field and I believe Wikipedia gives us that outlet and opportunity to do so.

  4. cmcelroy says:

    I agree with Tara that the hardest part with Wikipedia is the backlash. Even as it adds more source citations and builds credibility, I think the perception of wikipedia is still largely negative. I competed in speech and debate up until year before last, and one of the first things we were taught was that if you ever cited wikipedia in your speech, you would get laughed out of the place. Plus, given the fact that you can literally write anything you want on there, I would worry that readers would see that the author was a PR practitioner for the subject, and immediately assume that it is a spin and not the facts. It’s unfortunate that that is the reaction for so many people, but as the stereotype does exist, we should do everything we can to make sure that we’re not giving any credence to it. That being said, I think it might be a safer route to post facts and clarifications on a more positively received forum, and still maintain the same level of transparency.

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