Q&A: How Edelman enforces Wikipedia compliance among staffers, clients

Phil Gomes, SVP at Edelman Digital, talks with PRWeek about how his firm is enforcing Wikipedia's technical regulations among its staffers and clients.

Phil Gomes, SVP at Edelman Digital, talks with PRWeek about how his firm is enforcing Wikipedia’s technical regulations among its staffers and clients.

On Tuesday, a group of PR agencies, professional organizations, and communications professors released a joint statement outlining how they intend to honor the online encyclopedia’s policies.

PRWeek: How do you see this agreement affecting your firm’s day-to-day work?
Gomes:
For one thing, good Wikipedia behavior has been a fixture of our employee online behavior policy since at least 2010. I largely manage and curate this policy, recommending updates to our Ethics Committee about once-a-year or so.

I also manage an internal news list called PERC [policies, ethics, regulatory, citizenship], which often tackles Wikipedia-related items.

Obviously, my team and I make sure that experts are available to the network. Our approach, rather than being Wikipedia editors, is to help the client find his or her voice online with the Wikipedia community, rather than serve as an intermediary, as such. I find that this approach is best.

PRWeek: How is your firm’s Wikipedia compliance monitored?
Gomes: Recognizing that humans, unlike computers, can’t really scale, I’ve deputized people in various offices who know the Wikipedia rules and have particularly strong instincts in this area.

Last year, Edelman launched interactive desktop training in online behavior that every employee must go through. It covers online ethics in general, not just Wikipedia. The training drops employees into hypothetical scenarios to make ethical decisions in online behavior, including situations that involve Wikipedia.

The training is ongoing and we revisit the online behavior policy every year in the summer. When you write these policies, you want to make it as future proof as possible. You don’t want the policy to crumble. For example, imagine if you put a policy around defunct social networking site Friendster.com. We try to wrap it about the things relating to online behavior that tend not to change, even as platforms emerge and become more popular than the next guy.

PRWeek: How would you handle a situation involving a client that is unhappy with something on Wikipedia?
Gomes: The first question is: Is it true? There are certain things that can happen in a corporation’s life cycle that it might not be particularly proud of, but still deserves to be a part of the encyclopedia.

The next question is: Is it dealt with fairly? Let’s say you have a century-old company and something happened in the last year and that situation is 75% of the Wikipedia article’s word count.  In this instance, maybe you can make a case to the community that undue weight is being applied to this one particular incident. Then that conversation goes back and forth.

Sometimes, through discussion, you look at it, and in the grand scheme of things, might decide that leaving it alone is the wisest decision. Or sometimes it is an ongoing relationship with the Wikipedia community.

PRWeek: What is Edelman’s course of action in the event of a Wikipedia policy violation?
Gomes: I haven’t yet encountered a situation [at Edelman] where someone said, "Oops." We are fortunate in that people know where to go for advice.

But, in the event a Wikipedia violation did happen, it would be a teachable moment for that particular group, employee, or client. You have to be transparent and say, "To the extent we are aware of these transgressions, we will work to remedy them."  

PRWeek: How will you keep up to speed on Wikipedia’s policies as they evolve?
Gomes: This is down to the people we have deputized. It is like anything else: pay attention and be able to contextualize it.

People here know there are certain things that just aren’t done in relation to Wikipedia. Wikipedia compliance was part of our internal policy, and now there is an external statement we signed. All we can do is keep the message going internally.

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