How PR pros can make Wikipedia better

Earlier this week, Phil Gomes of Edelman took to his blog with an "open letter" to Jimmy Wales regarding how communicators and those involved with the development and editing of Wikipedia need to get along.

Earlier this week, friend and industry colleague Phil Gomes (of Edelman) took to his blog with an “open letter” to Jimmy Wales regarding how communicators – not just PR professionals – and those involved with the development, editing, and curation of Wikipedia need to get along. Phil is not the first of us to have called for some action to happen here and he most certainly won't be the last, but he's spot on. This is something we should all be thinking, or better yet, be concerned about.

Phil's post spells out much of the particulars, which I won't rehash completely here, but the short version is that many of our companies, clients, executives, and colleagues have Wikipedia entries. Some of those entries are “good,” some are poor, some are deserved, others are not. The rules of the road are basically that someone without a “neutral point of view” shouldn't be editing Wikipedia entries. This was done with smart intentions, I truly believe.

Those times have changed.

Facts and details are left uncorrected. Perfectly honest and up-and-up changes are completely reversed because someone with a corporate IP address made them, even if all they did was adjust a fact, date, statistic, etc., that truly deserved fixing. [Note: I've had this happen myself, when making corrections to executive titles on a former client's corporate page.]

As someone who is regularly asked about editing Wikipedia, adding entries, and so forth, I tend to play on the conservative side here. Wasting one's time and energy on things or not understanding how the community polices itself is asking for trouble far greater than the value of an entry edit, in most cases. But as Phil points out, Wikipedia results are coming up on the first page – if not in the first or second spot – for many brands, products, services, executives, cities, elected officials, and other things that communicators work diligently to protect each and every day.

Something needs to change here. This can't be about making edits from home so no one notices what you're doing anymore. It can't be about being forced to go to a Talk page for a topic every single time, hoping that someone will actually read, respond, or move something forward. That works, and I recommend it, but we need to work together, differently, with those spending hours making Wikipedia the great resource that it is. Let's be a resource, not an adversary.

There are plenty of people who can and should be a part of the Wikimedia community and want to act in the interest of the greater good, not just their client's good. This isn't – and can't be – about hiding bad news or information any more. It's about providing results, data, and information that is of value to everyone.

In a follow-up post, Phil mentions the start of something called CREWE – Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement. It's a Facebook group right now, and perhaps that will evolve over time. It's a start. It's better than what “we” have now. The concept is simple – gather a group of communicators who all believe in the “cause,” which is based on four simple tenets, which I've reposted from Phil's blog, with permission, here:

1. Corporate communicators want to do the right thing.

2. Communicators engaged in ethical practice have a lot to contribute.

3. Current Wikipedia policy does not fully understand #1 and #2, owing to the activities of some bad actors and a general misunderstanding of PR in general.

4. Accurate Wikipedia entries are in the public interest. 

This isn't going to be an overnight fix, but it's a necessary step and one that I believe in as a PR professional. Let's take this opportunity to figure out the best way to join with a community and not be seen as a co-opting party with one goal in mind.

Tom Biro is a VP at the Seattle office of Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com or on Twitter @tombiro.

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