Reputation and Wikipedia

[Originally written for the CIPR Friday Roundup]

What does the Wikipedia entry for your organisation / client / brand say? What about brand references in other entries? All cosy on the Wikipedia front? And recognising that a neutral point of view (NPOV) is one of Wikipedia's "five pillars", you have resisted editing anything where your neutrality is questionable. Right?

Let's face it, Wikipedia is amazing. I had the pleasure of attending the Wikipedia 10th birthday party in London last year and I wasn't the only one there who admitted to not appreciating Wikipedia's potential back in the day. Seriously? A website anyone can edit?! Yeah right, that'll work. Not.

And yet today Alexa ranks Wikipedia the sixth most popular site on the web. Search for a company or brand in Google or Bing and there's the Wikipedia entry tempting you with its neutrality, familiarity and ease of use. The Wikipedia community plays a significant role in brand reputation.

This week, one of my favourite Conversation contributors, Stuart Bruce, spotted Member of Parliament Tom Watson's interest in Wikipedia and PR practice. He found Watson's contribution, Wednesday, to a Wikipedia talk page:

"I suspect a number of PR firms have edited entries for their clients potentially breaching conflict of interest rules. I am going to write to the trade bodies to ask that they work with Wikipedia to issue guidelines."

For those of you unfamiliar with Tom Watson MP, he played a significant role in exposing the News International phone hacking scandal according to Wikipedia, and wants to "crack open the lobby cartel".

At more or less the same time, CIPR Social Media panel member Marshall Manson emailed the panel to point us to his colleague Phil Gomes' open letter to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales pleading for dialogue "about how communications professionals and the Wikipedia community can/must work together."

All this ties nicely into the PRSA's current #prdefined debate too.

If you think PR is one-way persuasion, then get on Wikipedia and edit away despite Wikipedia's rules and simple guidelines for PR representatives. You'd also have to dump any regard for ethics in your PR definition however, particularly if you try to make such edits anonymously.

If you think PR is ethical two-way communication seeking to achieve mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics, then you respect Wikipedia's rules and others' points of view. Your ultimate goal is to help achieve the organisation's goals, so you cannot claim a NPOV. Period.

In which case the place to jump in is on the Wikipedia talk pages, and not the main entry itself (excepting the simple guidelines above). Simple as.

This raises the question, what if it doesn't get the immediate results I'd like to see on the Wikipedia entry in question? And I'm afraid the answer right now is, tough. You have to continue to engage with the Wikipedians until one takes interest; and perhaps the best way to win a Wikipedian's respect is to be a good Wikipedian yourself.

The CIPR has run training sessions on Wikipedia for a couple of years, debuting with the 2010 Social Summer series, and a statement has been issued today in response to the MP's concerns. Check it out.

Wishing you a prosperous 2012.