Regular followers of the Ethical Wikipedia Marketing blog may have noticed it's been a little quiet recently. That's because I've been busy working on an 18-page e-book
about Wikipedia marketing that was just published today.
The eBook was inspired by an email from Markus Franz of the German Wikipedia consultancy Sucomo Consulting. This was shortly after astroturfing service Wiki-PR was banned from Wikipedia, exposed for deceptive practices and further ridiculed by the Wikimedia Foundation. Markus sounded frustrated that many of the German press covering the story said that marketing professionals should never edit their client or employer's page directly, even though the German Wiki has different rules that allow direct editing using special corporate accounts.
Sucomo created a comprehensive guide for marketing professionals that want to participate on the German Wiki ethically that they hope will clear up a lot of misinformation on the topic. Shouldn't Ethical Wiki create one for American companies that need extensive advice for the English Wiki? Why yes, we should. In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear from prospects and marketers is that they've spent hours searching the web and were unable to find any credible advice that sounded kosher.
Of course the Chartered Institute of Public Relations best practices guide coming out of the United Kingdom is pretty good and I recommend it. But then somebody mentioned that British Petroleum still experienced controversy even after following it, perhaps because it doesn't cover the nuances quite well enough. After all, it's not as simple as "don't edit the page directly and you're in the clear."
The 18-page eBook contains one phrase that is the ultimate North Star in guiding ethical participation and the meter stick that any marketer can measure their efforts against.
Make the same contributions a productive, crowd-sourced volunteer would make
Even though the topic of marketing participation on Wikipedia is complicated, it's also very simple. Marketers are expected not to advocate for their client's point-of-view, but to make the same contributions any other productive volunteer contributor would make. Any organization that can successfully do that, while disclosing their conflict of interest, acting cautiously to avoid the apperance of impropriety, and leaving editorial decisions up to crowd-sourced volunteers should do just fine.
I hope marketing professionals considering participating on Wikipedia will read our eBook carefully, consider it thoughtfully and that it will not only serve as a best practices guide, but will also change your perspective and understanding. If you found the e-book useful, please let us know on Twitter and help spread the word.
Which department owns Wikipedia? It’s a question I get often. Is Wikipedia social media? Not quite, but sort of. Wikipedia has usernames and discussion strings. It’s comparable to forums and social channels, but Wikipedia hosts a collaboration platform, not a networking, socializing, or information-sharing one. That platform is the back-end - a means to an end - while on social media the discussion itself is the entire purpose.
Wikipedia could be compared to traditional public relations – just that PR practitioners are collaborating with a crowd, instead of a professional journalist. However public relations is normally a means of promotion and advocacy, and the process for Wikipedia is closer to community management.
Wikipedia doesn’t fit perfectly anywhere, but somebody has to take responsibility for it. I’ve put together a prioritized list of the best department to take on the challenge, which can serve as your guide.
- Historian: Although it is uncommon, some brands that are both very large and very old have someone responsible for its corporate history. When the role exists, this is the best person to own Wikipedia.
- Online Reputation Management: The top reason to participate on Wikipedia is because it’s a top Google hit and that’s what online reputation management is all about. However, most Online Reputation Management firms do not do good work on Wikipedia and deceptive tactics that are common in reputation management are riskier on Wikipedia than elsehwhere.
- Social media: Although the third spot is a close call between social media and public relations, a professional with a social media role is more likely to have community management experience. They will be better equipped to coach the organization on being authentic, casual, and honest, as well push the organization to quell its desire to control the message.
- Public relations: For most small or mid-sized companies, Wikipedia is going to fall under corporate communications, public relations, or external communications. Someone who manages brand-level communications, as oppose to products, will be better-aligned with Wikipedia, which generally covers the company’s products only briefly.
- SEO/Advertising/etc.: Wikipedia is a “no follow” website, meaning links to the company website does not bolster SEO. Advertising firms may – in some cases – have an even more difficult time writing neutral, encyclopedic content than PR agencies. However it is not unheard of for Wikipedia to be owned by either department. One advantage of SEO ownership is that those professionals understand the concept of “black-hat” and have the technical aptitude needed to contribute to Wikipedia well.
Even clients that hire Ethical Wiki, effectively creating a dedicated expert resource for Wikipedia, must find out which department we report into and which group our funding will come from. Hopefully whether you take your Wikipedia engagement in-house or use an agency, this will help serve as a rough guide to determine roles and responsibilities.
This post was first shared on SocialFresh.
It's been a while since I provided an update on the debate within Wikipedia's editorial community on how and to what extent communications professionals should contribute.
The last time the discussion was this active, was when a Facebook group, called the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement, was lobbying Jimmy Wales to lift the informal prohibition against directly editing a client or employer's entry.
I thought it was about time we revisit the topic with a general update on where things are, especially now that there are two ongoing discussions within the Wikipedia community on a "paid advocacy" policy.
"Paid Advocacy" is a term coined by Jimmy Wales that has gained traction among the Wikipedia community, the Wikimedia Foundation and marketing professionals. It refers to Wikipedia editors, who are generally paid to advocate on behalf of their employer or client. One example is a public relations representative, who helps the company they work for communicate the company's point-of-view.
Why it's hot again
The Wikimedia Foundation published a press release last month criticizing Wiki-PR, who was recently exposed for using deceitful tactics to manipulate Wikipedia on behalf of paying clients.
In the wake of the Wiki-PR controversy, Wikipedians have revisited the discussion (yet again) on making a "paid editing" policy for how editors with a financial connection, like marketing professionals, should contribute. The two different discusssions are advertised at the top as community-wide discussions when I click on my Watchlist, which is where every editor keeps an eye on articles they care about.
As Sue Gardner said in the press release, it has been a "divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years". This continues to be the case, with reasonable arguments on both sides.
While some marketers may boast that they write neutrally and produce claims that are factual and supported by authoritative research, it is not in our job description to be neutral in the same way as independent academics or journalists. Our typical role is to communicate the company's point-of-view in a credible fashion.
On the other hand, many company articles treat the corporation unfairly, are owned by legal antagonists or are unlikely to attract volunteer contributors.
We've published research in the past that showed that the company itself is the only one likely to devote the resources to thoughtfully contribute to their own articles. A long history of misbehavior has led to a general distrust of marketing professionals, who are constantly challenged by temptation on the site.
The reason Wikipedia's editorial community struggles to create an explicit policy for marketing participation is because the appropriate conduct for a marketing professional is unique to the circumstance. Jimmy Wales' Bright Line rule of not directly editing your own employer or client's article is a good one for the general audience and the right thing for Wikipedia to communicate. However, as we saw with British Petroleum following it does not make an organization immune to criticism and controversy.
Many marketers that respect the Bright Line position Wikipedia's Talk pages as a place for marketers to engage in advocacy, as we would normally do with the press. To "make our case" or "argue for your edits," however advocacy is broadly prohibited on Wikipedia. Even from the Talk page, it is reprehensible for marketers to micro-manage the exact text of controversial material. Could you imagine going to The New York Times and arguing that they tweak the exact wording of how they covered an oil spill in order to be more neutral?
The easiest morale compass is this. Wikipedia expects us to do our best to be neutral - to mimic the contributions we would make if were not employed by the company, but were donating our time on a volunteer basis. The better the company can duplicate the efforts a volunteer editor would make, the less risk, criticism and controversy they will be exposed to. Any deviation from this may be interpreted as intentional and any intentional effort to slant Wikipedia is seen as dubious, regardless of whether the company discloses and follows the Bright Line or not.
This is a repost of the Wikipedia SignPost article "Extensive Network of Clandenstine Paid Advocacy Exposed" based on the story the Daily Dot broke in "The Battle to Destroy Wikipedia's Biggest Sockpuppet Army." If you are concerned about astroturfing on Wikipedia, please report this and similar incidences to the California and New York attorney generals.
"Let the largest Wikipedia research firm help you claim your top spot in Google search results. ... We build, manage, and translate Wikipedia pages for over 12,000 people and companies." (Wiki-PR's main page)
An investigation by the English Wikipedia community into suspicious edits and sockpuppet activity has led to astonishing revelations that Wiki-PR, a multi-million-dollar US-based company, has created, edited, or maintained several thousand Wikipedia articles for paying clients using a sophisticated array of concealed user accounts. They have managed to do so through violating several Wikipedia policies and guidelines, including those concerning conflict of interest in paid advocacy—when an individual accepts money to promote a person, organization, or product on Wikipedia—and sockpuppetry.
The investigation was likened by one external commentator to the unearthing of a "sockpuppet army"
Wiki-PR was founded in February 2011, with a physical office at 1550 Bryant St, San Francisco; the office has since moved to Texas. According to the company's web pages, it employs around 25 in-house staff, most of them in sales, and contracts remote and freelance employees like Puneet S., through separate online staffing companies such as oDesk and Elance that recruit remote workers. Wiki-PR's site includes an upbeat statement of its wish to hire potential writers, a desire repeated on Twitter by VP of sales—biker and outdoors enthusiast Adam Masonbrink—who also wants to expand his team of sales reps. These contractors are not well paid, given the evidence in an admission of the role played by one and an anonymous $9-an-hour submission for the company on the job and career site Glassdoor.
Wiki-PR's website lists five services, including crisis editing (to help companies "navigate contentious situations" without having to "worry about being libeled on Wikipedia") and page translation (which advertises that they can translate articles into 270 languages, a number possibly based on an outdated version of the list of Wikipedias).
While the company claims that "a professional Wikipedia editor will consult you on Wikipedia standards to ensure your page stands up to the scrutiny of the Wikipedia community", the community has judged many of their articles to be non-notable and deleted. To increase their customer base it has sent thousands of unsolicited emails, one of which was revealed on Wikipedia in September 2012:
- Hi SiteTruth Team,
- Shouldn't SiteTruth have a full-length, professional page on Wikipedia? Wiki-PR.com creates full-length, professional Wikipedia pages. We have software tools to manage your page in real-time.
- Would you like more information? Please reply by email or provide your contact number. It will be worthwhile. A full-length, professionally written Wikipedia page will drive sales and inform your clients about what you do best.
- Your competitors are getting on Wikipedia. Shouldn't you be on Wikipedia, too?
As one disgruntled Wiki-PR employee is reported as writing: "The warning flag was when I was told not to mention Elance or work for hire." Those who work for Wiki-PR have indeed gone to extensive lengths to hide their activities on Wikipedia. This has included altering their habitual behavioral patterns, frequently changing their IP addresses (apparently to avoid being caught by the "checkuser" tool), and bypassing the normal gatekeeping process by which editors police new submissions to the English Wikipedia. One practice appears to exploit a loophole by creating a new page as a user subpage before moving it into the mainspace, where Wikipedia's regular articles are located. This "bug" was actually first reported in 2007 with the prescient warning: "creating articles in userspace before moving them into mainspace seems to me a sneaky way of avoiding scrutiny from newpage patrollers." Checkuser has also been sidestepped through the company's use of remote and freelance employees, who are able to operate from a large number of IP ranges.
Wikipedia's long-term abuse file on Wiki-PR, named Morning277 after the first discovered account, shows that the company's employees have created and used a staggering 323 accounts, with another 84 suspected. Their clients are just as diverse: Wiki-PR's Adam Masonbrink announced on Twitter just weeks ago that the company newest clients included Priceline.com and Viacom, while a source familiar with the Wikipedia investigation told the Signpost that two music bands—Imagine Dragons, of "Radioactive" fame, and Fictionist—have contracted with Wiki-PR to maintain their articles. Our source also claimed that the company has had at least one in-person meeting with the multinational retail corporation Walmart, though we must emphasize that there is no evidence to suggest that Walmart has already used Wiki-PR's services. Other companies, organizations, and people listed in the public file include US Federal Contractor Registration, Inflection, The Wikileaks Party, and Adeyemi Ajao; Silicon Valley companies, their senior employees, and small financial institutions also feature in the file.
When Wiki-PR was in its infancy in 2011, it charged clients around $500 to write a Wikipedia article; today, it charges around $2000 or more per article, depending on the size of the client, with a monthly fee of $99 if the customer wants Wiki-PR to police new edits to an article. The raw arithmetic suggests that this is, or could be, a highly profitable concern: using a degree of speculation, the Signpost calculates that 2000 clients with only one article each at current rates would yield $4M in revenue; similarly, if all clients took up the article-policing service, this would provide a revenue stream of about $200,000 a month. However, the same source close to the community investigation confirmed that upwards of 12,000 articles may be involved; the revenue stream could thus be considerably more than indicated by these calculations.
Wiki-PR did not respond to the Signpost's telephone enquiry.
The first public results of the investigation were reported by Simon Owens of the technology website Daily Dot, who described the investigation by Wikipedia users DocTree, Rybec, and Dennis Brown (among others) as "the battle to destroy Wikipedia's biggest sockpuppet army". Owens emailed a "few dozen" companies who had articles that were created under the sock accounts, and received four replies. All declined to be named directly, but according to Owens told him that "they hired a company called Wiki-PR to make pages for them".
The replies to the Daily Dot, although a small sample, expressed dissatisfaction and surprise at the service. One client told Owens that after they noticed their page was deleted, they emailed Wiki-PR, only to receive a response that was "obviously a lie". These deletions were blamed on notability and activist volunteer administrators; the clients claimed they were never aware that Wiki-PR was breaching Wikipedia's policies to create the articles. Problems with these articles were far from limited to notability—for example, references to external websites were frequently misleadingly labeled to obscure their true origins. Links to CNN's iReport and Yahoo's Voices, their citizen journalism arms, were in at least one case labeled to appear official "CNN" or "Yahoo" sites, revealed as fraudulent only when the targets were directly audited. According to Owens:
||... while reporting this article I couldn’t help comparing the sockpuppet discovery to a large drug bust—perhaps it might take out a major kingpin, but at the end of the day it’s a relatively minor victory in what is an otherwise losing war on drugs. / According to Alexa, Wikipedia is the sixth most trafficked website on the Web. It’s the first listing in a Google search for every topic from major corporations to celebrities to all manner of controversial topics. If biased, for-hire authors have infiltrated the encyclopedia to a broader extent, [and] we should all be worried. Wikipedia is the primary source of knowledge on the Internet.
After being told of the Daily Dot's exposé of Wiki-PR, Jimmy Wales responded on his talk page, "Incredible. I've been hearing rumblings about this for a few days, and I'm very eager that we pursue this with maximum effect."
PR professionals weigh in
Historically, there has been a stormy relationship between PR professionals and Wikipedia editors, with Jimmy Wales being a vocal advocate for a "bright line" to forbid paid editing of Wikipedia. In this case there seems to widespread agreement in professional PR ranks that Wiki-PR stepped over an ethical line.
In reaction to the Daily Dot piece, Phil Gomes, senior vice president for the public relations firm Edelman and founder of CREWE (Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement), expressed his dismay at Wiki-PR’s actions:
||'Wiki PR' using the term 'PR' is kind of like referring to lancing boils as 'surgery' in that one would not claim to be a surgeon based on that skill. The [Daily Dot] article references their 'aggressive email marketing campaign.' Totally true. [I] fought them off of one of our clients last week.
CREWE operates as a Facebook group consisting of PR professionals and Wikipedia editors who discuss critical issues concerning PR and the editing of Wikipedia articles. Gomes has been vocal in the past about avoiding Wiki-PR's strategies, stating that it is imperative the PR industry "demonstrate by cooperation and good behavior that it can work with the Wikipedia community instead of taking the quick, easy-fix route." He was a major contributor to the development of a freely licensed flowchart that teaches PR firms how to avoid direct editing of articles in favor of community engagement.
The prominent British PRs body, CIPR, gave strong guidance in this area in June 2012 when it published a Wikipedia Best Practices Guidance document PDF. This guide warns against clandestine editing by companies (see Signpost coverage): "There is another interpretation of public relations, commonly referred to as "spin". If this is your mode of operation then you are urged to steer clear of Wikipedia altogether in the performance of your job … You are reminded that 'dark arts' are the antithesis of best practice public relations. Intentional deceit and anonymous or incognito activities are breaches of professional codes of conduct."
While PR industry groups like CIPR have put considerable time and effort into developing such guidelines, they have proved to be no match for the desire to harvest big profits from this volunteer site.
Alex Konanykhin of WikiExperts.us rejects not only Jimmy Wales' zero-tolerance "bright-line rule", but does not reveal his relationships with clients on Wikipedia because "that would expose our clients to being unfairly targeted by anti-commerce jihadists." In recent days, he has been an unabashed defender of his firm's editing activities in the CREWE group.
Previous coverage of paid advocacy
Efforts at paid advocacy have been greatly frowned on by the Wikimedia community, but have received support from some editors. The Signpost has reported on the evolution of the phenomenon over the past seven years. The genesis of paid advocacy is usually traced to Gregory Kohs, who founded a company (MyWikiBiz) with the express purpose of creating and editing Wikipedia articles on behalf of paying corporations. As the Signpost reported in 2006, he offered to write articles for between US$49 and $99, assuming the company met his own eligibility guidelines, which were based on those of Wikipedia. Soon after, Kohs was brought before the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee and blocked by Jimmy Wales, the site's co-founder.
The Signpost has covered issues such as Microsoft's attempt to monitor articles and "diploma mills" in 2007, the Nichalp/Zithan case in 2009, and a PR firm's edits ("The Bell Pottinger affair") in 2011. Paid advocacy received its most substantial treatment in 2012 with a series of interviews with paid editing supporters, a skeptic, and Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. On the site itself, a full conflict of interest guideline was developed in response to the perceived threat of paid editing.
The Signpost's "In the media" writer, Jayen466, reports that the story has been picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and the German internet portal gulli.com (gulli.com "Sleepers in Wikipedia: admins on the payroll?")—a tea-leaf-gazing feature that partly translates the Daily Dot coverage and partly provides commentary on what they describe as admins' temptation to make money from their position.
On the German Wikipedia, a major vote has been started as part of a paid €80,000 study on Wikimedia projects by Dirk Franke (Southpark), funded by the German chapter. Many editors of the German Wikipedia have opposed the request because Franke is being paid for it.
- Tony1 and Andrew Lih assisted in the research and writing of this story.
This Q&A with Ethical Wiki's David King was originally published on Wikipedia's community news site, The SignPost
and has been translated into German here
Editing Wikipedia anonymously as a PR rep may be illegal?
The Federal Trade Commission requires that those with a financial connection to a company provide clear and obvious disclosures regarding their affiliation. If readers presume Wikipedia's content is written by independent, crowd-sourced participants, but it is actually a corporate communication or promotion, this may be an illegal form of covert advertising that is misleading to readers. The FTC's .com disclosures guide and the findings of a German court case seem to uphold similar principles. It's hard to say how the law would be interpreted in different circumstances, but companies should proceed with caution.
Do I support the Bright Line rule that PR reps not directly edit articles?
Any organization that is acting in good-faith, should respect Wikipedia's autonomy and take the extra step of making sure their proposed changes are supported by the community. It would be irresponsible for the community to encourage public relations professionals to take a risky course of action that is an ethical and legal minefield, such as directly editing the article. Exceptions like grammar, spelling and genuinely neutral editing fall under our common sense principles, but should not be communicated explicitly. They are likely to be taken advantage of by bad-faith participants or weaken a professional's ability to push back against corporate pressures to make COI edits.
Does the Bright Line work?
Not very well, but it's not as if direct editing by PR reps has better results for Wikipedia. Editors complain that it is difficult to assess whether a PR rep's contributions are neutral and PR contributors complain that it's difficult to get anything done without bold editing.
We can fix the community's complaint by quickly dismissing requests to micro-manage the exact language of the article. Even if the PR rep is correct, these are generally unhelpful and the community has better things to spend our time on. We can address the complaints of PR pros by creating a consistent wizard-based process for routine requests that can be handled by a single editor.
Are PR editors mistreated here?
Sometimes it can look like mistreatment from the PR rep's perspective, because we are frustrated not to get our way or feel passionately about what a correct article looks like. In other cases, the harassment is genuine, but this is also a problem volunteer editors experience.
The community does not accurately assign good-faith or bad-faith to COI editors, because we do not have access to enough information on-Wiki to evaluate an editor's intentions. Some would claim that we should therefor always assume good-faith, but this is not a good use of the community's resources, especially in the most obvious cases of bad-faith. The easiest way to handle this is to provide straightforward instructions on the proper way to participate with a COI and distinguish between those that follow instructions and those that do not.
Can paid editors be neutral?
The Wikipedia community accepts mediocre contributions from everyone. Public relations professionals do not need to be top-grade editors to be welcomed here, nor do we even need to be any more neutral than the average editor.
The only thing an organization needs to do to avoid hostility, risk and controversy is prove that they are not an advocate. If they are not an advocate, any bias is accidental and inconsequential and if they are, advocacy is broadly prohibited.
Not an advocate?
The normal role of a public relations professional is to communicate the company's point-of-view, but Wikipedia's expectation is that the organization attempts to be neutral about itself, including adding perspectives the employer or client doesn't agree with. The extent of which an organization and its PR rep are able to bridge this gap between their de-facto role and Wikipedia's expectations scales with the amount of acceptance they can expect on Wikipedia.
Organizations that are unable to meet Wikipedia's expectations about their role accept additional risk and other problems, because advocacy is broadly prohibited, regardless of what rules are followed, how policy-compliant the content is, or how polite they are. Strategic public relations professionals will advise clients to avoid advocacy, because this will have the best outcome for them long-term. It is even a viable strategy to over-compensate for a conflict of interest intentionally, so editors can trim-down the contentious content rather than speculate over what's missing, or whether there is cherry-picking and slanting.
What about the bad guys?
Every spammy, promotional article that slips through the cracks has three competitors looking at it and thinking "why can't we have an article like that?"
One approach is fighting against promotion on-wiki, but it's an uphill battle. The other strategy that is needed is preventing bad-faith COI edits from occurring in the first place. This can be done by educating the PR community, providing straightforward advice and by making an example out of the bad guys.
It's crazy that blatant Wikipedia astroturfing firms are operating in broad daylight like it's a legitimate business that doesn't need to hide in the shadows. I would like to see the Federal Trade Commission establish some precedence that blatantly astroturfing Wikipedia is illegal and unethical.
In a perfect world, experienced, thoughtful volunteers would bring every article up to Featured status. But in practice we have lots of articles that need to be created, are owned by POV pushers, or are just terrible in general and the PR rep is the most motivated to improve it. There are many cases where, though I may have a bias, I can be much more neutral than volunteers have been on that particular page.
I don't know at what frequency we can realistically expect organizations to take-on the unusual role Wikipedia expects of them. I turn down more than half of the business inquiries I get, because the prospect just wants something too different than Wikipedia for us to deliver the expected outcome within the scope of our ethics policy. It would help if Wikipedia was more clear about communicating its expectations.
It's contradicting that some in the PR community take it for granted that their role on Wikipedia is the traditional one of communicating the client's point-of-view, but also see no reason for controversy when acting as "just another editor." Each circumstance is different. A lot comes down to whether the community trusts a specific company and/or individual and whether that organization is able to exhibit trust-building behaviors.
This post was originally published on SocialFresh.
Everywhere I go, public relations professionals are asking for more “respect” from Jimmy Wales and the Wikipedia community.
PR pros are advocating against the “Bright Line” rule of not directly editing your own Wikipedia page and portraying the field as victims of excessively incriminating media sensationalism.
Because Wikipedia is openly editable, PR pros feel that we are entitled to contribute to the page, just like anybody else, even though the law suggests that participants on crowd-sourced websites with a financial connection (such as marketing professionals) must be treated differently.
To participate effectively and ethically, marketing professionals should prioritize building trusting and respectful relationships with editors interested in their page over short-term content outcomes, but how to go about earning respect isn’t always an obvious path. Here’s a few tips.
1. Contribute as a volunteer
PR agencies that establish internal Wikipedia expertise should have that expert commit a substantial amount of time to edit Wikipedia as a regular volunteer.
Wikipedia’s editors will have more respect for anyone willing to show this level of commitment and gaining experience as an editor will help you make more valued contributions in order to better serve your clients.
2. Be human
Trust in corporations among the general public is at an all-time low. Wikipedians, who cope every day with harmful and misleading activities by corporate interests, are even more distrusting.
Additionally, Wikipedia’s policies don’t allow for corporate usernames and each user account is suppose to represent an individual. Volunteer Wikipedians want to work with people, not corporations. Be yourself, be honest, be casual, and speak for yourself. Talk page comments approved by the legal department come off as stuffy corporate-speak and will promote distrust.
3. Shoot yourself in the foot
One of the first things Wikipedians look for in engaging with a public relations rep, is what you’re not saying.
It’s seen as a dubious form of spin, cherry-picking and misleading communications to suggest adding everything positive about the company, while “hiding” information that is counter to your objectives to improve the company’s reputation.
While the media expects public relations professionals to be advocates for their employer’s point-of-view, Wikipedians expect us to attempt to be neutral about ourselves, and that means sometimes adding content you and your employer don’t necessarily agree with.
One of the most frequent complaints we hear from clients and PR representatives is the belief that their Wikipedia page is being controlled by brand antagonists.
And sometimes they are.
In most cases, Wikipedia quickly removes content posted by editors that come to the site to push their own agenda. However, if an article isn't closely watched by experienced editors, it can fall victim to those that want to use Wikipedia as a weapon to punish organizations and people they dislike.
If you think your article is bias, consider following these four steps:
1. Consider whether the article is actually bias
Those with a close affiliation with the company often have a distorted view of what's neutral. Many will swear that the article is bias even from an impartial editor's perspective, when this is not actually the case. Take a moment to think critically about whether the article is bias by Wikipedia's standards. If the content is sourced to credible, established news organizations that say the same thing, Wikipedians will probably support the content.
2. Brand antagonists or PR-agitated
Often the company's marketing team believes an editor has it out for their organization, because the editor is acting out in an angry or frustrated way. This may be because they are frustrated with the company's prior editing, not because of strong personal feelings about the brand. It's unethical and possibly even illegal to use anonymous accounts on Wikipedia to use the site for advertising. Editors may punish you for your transgressions and pushing harder may create reciprocol pushback. Consider taking a break and trying to build a fresh start.
3. Assume Good Faith
Even if it's obvious an editor has an axe to grind, don't mention it. Wikipedia's "assume good faith" policy means we presume editors are trying to make Wikipedia better, even in the most extreme cases. Also, it can be surprising how confrontational editors can be reasoned with. Don't expect the problem to be resolved on a whim though - get ready to hash it out, sometimes over several pages of discussion. Keep in mind that Wikipedians will always frown on a PR rep badgering volunteers that are donating their time, even if the PR rep is correct. Be humble and polite.
4. Get other editors involved
You've devoted many hours and several pages of discussion with this editor and it's going nowhere. The article is still obviously bias. The next step is to get some other editors involved to enforce Wikipedia's verification and neutrality policies. In most cases where editors settle disputes, neither party will be happy with the outcome. Often the priority of other editors will be looking to find compromise, rather than do what's right. Avoid being excessively stubborn or making a huge show out of the situation. Go to a relevant noticeboard and ask other editors to chime in on the issue. Focus on one specific thing at a time that are easy for un-involved editors to understand and weigh in on.
If Wikipedia doesn't have an article about your company yet, you may want to consider creating one. This can be done ethically by going to Wikipedia's Articles for Creation
page and following the wizard-based process. Add a comment at the top of the proposed article saying that you are affiliated with the company and wait for one of Wikipedia's editors to accept or reject the proposed contributed article.
There are a few things you should consider before submitting an article for consideration:
Learn Wikipedia first
While editing Wikipedia is easy, learning how to do so well takes time. The writing style is unique. Beyond the well-known rules like citing independent sources and writing neutrally, there are commonly accepted norms for what gets included and what doesn't, especially around executives, awards, and product reviews. Often time and resources are squandered making repeatedly declined submissions without investing the proper amount of time to learn how to make a quality submission that will be accepted the first time around. Consider making the up-front investment to make sure you have a quality submission.
Are you notable?
Wikipedia's guidelines require that there be at least two significant profile stories on the company in independent sources for it to qualify for an article. In practice, the requirements are higher, more complex and nuanced. Wikipedians do look at factors like the age and size of the company and whether they are a market-share leader in the respective field. The main question is whether there is enough information in independent, credible sources to create a subsantial body of work on Wikipdia on their basis.
What does a neutral article look like?
If there is a lot of controversial or negative information about the company published in credible, third-party sources, creating an article is going to attract other editors who will add this content. It is prudent to operate under the assumption that it will get added eventually. Some companies will decide to get in front of it by creating an article anyway, with all the negative information included, as oppose to waiting for it to appear. This way you can work with editors up-front to make sure it is compliant with Wikipedia's standards of neutrality, rather than wait for angry consumers or brand antagonists to add the content for you.
Will you keep an eye on it?
After the article is created, it may become quickly outdated, subject to trolling, riddled with factual errors or tagged with problems. Keep in mind the article isn't stagnant and will change over time. If you don't keep an eye on it and engage the site's editors on an ongoing basis, you may regret it later on when the quality of the page deteriorats.
Make sure to follow social media disclosure laws by disclosing your financial connection to the company and offering content to the site's editors.
An honest, straightforward question: Can I edit my company's Wikipedia page? As of writing this, Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline
mentions the Talk page 25 times, and specifically tells public relations, social media, SEO, marketing and other professionals not to edit the page. However, to make matters confusing, there's debate within Wikipedia's editorial community on whether editors like PR professionals should be able to edit the page and a plethora of blogs on the Web providing tips and best practices
that seem to suggest it's ok to edit away. Some of them don't even mention legal and ethical requirements
to disclose your affiliation with the company and engage the site's editors.
Jimmy Wales advocates for "the bright line
," a single simple rule that marketing professionals never directly edit articles they have a conflict of interest with; a rule enforced through media humiliation for those that violate it. This has been re-inforced by best practices established by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations
and a common sense application of social media disclosure laws
. Marketing editors that edit Wikipedia pages are routinely humiliated in the media, blocked and ridiculed on Wikipedia, create contentious relationships with the site's editors and in some cases have even found themselves in legal trouble.
In general the ethical approach to Wikipedia is to leave important editorial decisions up to the site's editors, who serve the reader's best interest. Use common sense when it comes to fixing grammer, cleaning up citation errors and edits that have been clearly approved by the site's editors. When in doubt, defer to the community.
The most frequent reaction the Wikipedia community sees from public relations representatives, when a controversy is added to the Wikipedia page about their employer, are attempts to censor or drastically spin the information by directly editing the page. This has resulted in routine media humiliation for PR agencies manipulating client entries in controversial areas and volumes of blocks by administrators imposed against PR practitioners. I myself have facilitated quite a few blocks against my colleagues, when they have disrupted the community's editing and broken the site's rules.
Yet, often when the content is genuinely bias, factually incorrect or poorly weighted in the article, there is an opportunity for useful and value-based public relations collaboration. Professionals that properly engage the community can be more effective.
First thing, stay calm. You probably have strong opinions about the subject-matter and are pretty infuriated by how the press has handled it as well. Consider a few factors:
Is the company's viewpoint represented? Wikipedia's "Neutral Point of View" policy dictates that all viewpoints are represented fairly. In most cases, this means including the company's perspective if its point-of-view has been reported in credible, independent sources. See if editors will support adding the company's point-of-view, but keep in mind they will keep the content balanced with other perpsectives.
Does the controversy consume most of the article? Controversies are fun, interesting to write about, and often create strong responses among the general public, which motivates editors to donate their time to Wikipedia to write about it. This is a form of systematic bias on Wikipedia, in that the very model of Wikipedia creates a site-wide bias towards reporting on controversies. In many cases, the only way to fix this is by expanding the rest of the article with neutral, well-sourced content. Keep in mind, editors will know if you are obviously aiming to excessively fill the article to drown out the controversy.
Does the content follow the rules? Sometimes Wikipedia is subject to blatant trolling and drive-by insults. If the article just has unsourced trash, this is easy to ask an editor to take care of.
Is the content bias or are you? Often PR pros feel the controversy is bias and I have to tell them that everything on the page is neutrally-written and properly sourced. Think critically about whether the content is really bias, or if it's just a matter of perspective.
Are the editors being reasonable? Some editors may be inexperienced, bias, or just have an axe to grind or a strong point-of-view on the subject. If you feel that's the case, consider involving more editors by advertising your request for discussion on relevant Wikiprojects, the Conflict of Interest Noticeboard, and other boards.
Most importantly of all, make sure to follow social media disclosure laws, by disclosing you have an affiliation with the company and facilitating discussion and improvements through engagement with the site's editors. Controversies are a strictly hands-off zone for marketing editors and even small wording changes or corrections can be seen as dubiously manipulating the content.