Conflicted on the Wikipedia draft best practice guidelines for PR

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Over the past couple of months following a high profile exposé of Bell Pottinger editing Wikipedia pages, there has been a desire in the PR industry to understand the service better and add it to it’s toolbox. In some respects this mirrors how the web has moved on from pioneers to the pedestrian.

As a communications professional I recognise that Wikipedia (like a lot of media coverage) often portrays clients in an unflattering light and can contain inaccuracies in commentary. The big challenge for communicators is that unlike newspapers that may have national reach as ‘paper of record’; Wikipedia has a global reach and a similar status for many audiences. The site is referenced in parliaments and courts, so is immensely powerful.

As a communications professional I can also understand the pressure to meddle and distort to bring content ‘on message’ by clients and have concerns about the less scrupulous or plain ignorant who would abuse everything that Wikipedia stands for.

As a consumer, I don’t want public relations anywhere near Wikipedia, any more than I would want the industry to be rewriting the Encyclopedia Britannica, exploiting education syllabuses or writing legislation.

Quotes from the discussions around this:

Given that Lord Bell said explicitly and publicly after being shown his employees editing Wikipedia in completely egregious ways (lying about their identity, sock puppeting, etc.) that he thought that they did absolutely nothing wrong, it is ludicrous to treat him with such respect. The entire document is a joke – a PR operatives fantasy of what the community might accept. Nowhere does it put forward what is the most important best practice of all: don’t edit Wikipedia article space directly except in emergency situations. Without that, I will fight this with every resource at my disposal. It’s disgusting and immoral.–Jimbo Wales (talk) 21:51, 24 May 2012 (UTC)

Best practice PR seeks to build mutual understanding and goodwill (ie, not the ‘spin’ definition). So on that basis, I’m afraid as long as Wikipedia remains a community and media through which understanding goes around comes around, you’re stuck with the constant attention of the PR profession. — Phil Sheldrake 22:25, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

More information
Draft best practice guidelines for PR | Wikimedia UK