Should PR Representatives Be Allowed To Edit Wikipedia?

British best practices imply PR can't be trusted

by Jason Falls |

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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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).