Should PR Representatives Be Allowed To Edit Wikipedia?

by · July 5, 201217 comments

The Chartered Instituted of Public Relations (CIPR) released its first edition of guidance for use of Wikipedia last week. See the full guide in PDF form here. The standards are a collaborative and still on-going effort that includes input from both public relations professionals and wikipedia editors (whom someone has decided to cutely call “Wikipedians”) and has been endorsed by similar organizations in Canada, Australia and the Public Relations Consultants Association, a British organization similar to the CIPR.

You can see and even participate in future collaboration on this project on their project Wiki.

For those of you in the United States, the CIPR is essentially the British version of the Public Relations Society of America.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia (Photo credit: Octavio Rojas)

The most notable suggestion (these aren’t rules or regulations, per say, but best practices) is that public relations representatives should not directly edit Wikipedia pages about their brand or organization. Instead, the public relations person wishing to update a page involving their business should pass on the suggestion to Wikipedia editors in comments and discussion forums around the site.

While at first I was taken aback a bit by this suggestion, after some thought, it appears to be a nice compromise, particularly since Wikipedians were involved in collaborating on the policy. Still, it’s a community manicured site and this policy essentially says that public relations professionals are not a part of the community, which I think is wrong.

It also means that public relations professionals can’t be trusted. While I’m not naive enough to think that many can’t be … their job is to promote and promote they will … it bothers me that those who have strong ethics and would not cross those lines on such a site no longer can contribute.

I’ll give you an example:

I spent 12 years as a public relations professional for college athletics. One of the many roles I played at my respective institutions was sports historian and keeper of the record books. Sports records are not up for debate. Statistics are kept, recorded, reported to the conferences, governing bodies and the like. And, I’m assuming nowadays they get updated on Wikipedia.

As a public relations professional in charge of the official records of a given sports organization, I should not only be allowed and trusted to update Wikipedia with this information, I should be the ONLY such person allowed to do so. Or at least be the only such person who can verify the validity of the information.

So the policy is not perfect. But under the circumstances we live in — where public relations professionals have been known to manipulate or out-and-out lie in Wikipedia updates — it might be all we can do.

What say you? The comments are yours.

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Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://tac.is/here tacanderson

    I counsel clients and teams to use the discussions part of a Wikipedia entry. I find most Wikipedians are fairly responsive and willing to make suggested edits and changes. I don’t think it’s a matter of not contributing or contributing but how PR contributes. 

    And no, PR (as an industry) can’t be trusted.

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  • http://twitter.com/stevesonn Steve Sonn

    Seems a bit unfair but I totally understand why the guidelines were developed. Anyone, PR professional or not, can and do introduce bias or inaccuracy. But, PR people have a bad reputation in this area. That’s fine, they still have a way to contribute. There are many PR pros out there operating by ethical and professional standards.

  • bpreece

    I am a PR major who recently graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and while I was a student there, PR professors heavily stressed PR ethics.  However, I worked at many organizations as a technical writer for many years and I know that when one is on the other end of the glass doors the client becomes very important and this whole business of client information becomes a different story.
     
    Many people use Wikipedia daily for research, and although many college professors frown upon it, just about every student I know uses it for his/her own research work.  Originally Wikipedia had the public as the overseer of the information published there, but let’s be frank, how many people go to Wikipedia to edit it on regular basis or really know a fact beyond reasonable doubt?  Even with that policy many facts in Wikipedia are not correct and while it is undemocratic that PR professionals cannot make changes to their clients’ pages, it is hard to imagine that they will publish anything that could tarnish the their clients’ image; therefore, they can add updates ‘polished’ for public consumption, and where does the user of Wikipedia who needs some information draw the line between true and maybe true?  To be democratic, PR people should be able to update Wikipedia, however, the user should beware and take everything it publishes with a grain of salt, so they must become very good at fact checking with some reliable research tools.

  • http://simon-searchmarketing.com/ Geoff S.

    To be clear, there isn’t anything on wikipedia that says if you work in a certain industry you can’t edit pages.The burden of proof is still the same. It becomes tricky when you are associated with a company, but not impossible, you just need to come from a neutral point of view, if your tone is neutral, your sources are verifiable and the entry is actually noteworthy i don’t see what you do for a living has to do with anything.

  • http://www.twitter.com/rockstarjen Jennifer Wilbur

    By not allowing PR people to edit, many organizations’ pages will be out of date. Who doesn’t know the latest, if not the PR folks? But the larger issue I have is with groups like this creating policies like this. Ethical PR people will already follow best practices when using/editing Wikipedia. If they are of the smarmy type and not doing this already, they sure as heck aren’t going to change because the CIPR told them to. 

  • http://mikeseidle.com indymike

    Wikipedia’s community is well equipped to deal with posts from PR professionals. If someone posts misinformation, it will eventually, if not immediately be caught by editors/community members. Just be ethical and honest. If you post accurate and well referenced information, it usually sticks.

    Wikipedia is a de facto public record on companies and products, so it is irresponsible for PR pros not to manage Wikipedia articles. The hard part for PR pros is to avoid spin, hyperbole and revising history…

    • http://simon-searchmarketing.com/ Geoff S.

      Well said Indy, the hard part, and this isn’t just for PR people, although i can see how it can be particularly difficult for people who deal in spin and hyperbole daily, to keep a neutral point of view. But this shouldn’t preclude an entire industry, full of possibly one of the best sources of information about a company, from contributing that collective knowledge. 

      Perhaps an “upspin” button you can hit that automatically sticks to the verifiable facts and removes the spin, marketing speak and such.

  • Th1177

    I agree with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations that public relations professionals should not be allowed to edit Wikipedia entries directly. I think this is the proper practice, because they are biased towards the clients that pay them.

    I like the compromise that was reached to have public relations firms reach out to Wikipedia in the discussion or comment forums. PR input is necessary, but the site would benefit from applying a filter to those who are advocating on behalf of a client.

    I think the Chartered Institute of Public Relations recommendation would be good to adopt for other professions too, not just public relations. Like you said the policy is not perfect, but I think it will continue to evolve as Wikipedia continues to on a daily basis.

  • http://twitter.com/dave_link Dave Link

    There’s a difference between a PR professional updating a page with factual, relevant and correct information versus editing previous entries simply because they don’t like the light it sheds on their employer. In my mind, as long as the info is cited and follows the guidelines that Wikipedia has set down for sourcing information there shouldn’t be any type of blanket ban on any one industry. Who’s to say a software engineer or chef couldn’t also be biased about his or her employer?

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  • estark

    My personal opinion is that as long as the PR professional has official records and the information can be trusted and cited, then I think that would be a great thing! I know in school they always say that Wikipedia cannot be trusted; so I think that this could help Wikipedia out in a positive way so that more teachers would support the use of Wikipedia. 

  • nannasin smith

    they can add updates polished for public consumption . 
    2SK170

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