|Some red tape can be a good thing.82,000
82,000 Euros have been awarded for a project led by the German Wikipedia community to figure out the best way to handle "paid editing." That's the term used by Wikipedians to describe editors paid by a client or employer, such as public relations participants. Historically, the German Wikipedia has been known to establish precedence for other language Wikis, so this may lead to global progress in the relationship between the PR and Wikipedia communities. The project aims to create more consistent and clear guidelines for ethical participation by companies and create a series of workshops and events, as well as informational pamphlets to educate marketing pros on the appropriate way to engage with Wikipedia.
The effort represents a significant change in tone. For years Wikipedia has praised its "chaos that works," boasted that it has no firm rules and urged editors with a "conflict of interest" to do their best to be neutral. For marketing professionals, it's a frustrating experience without process. Wikipedia had guidelines that encourage you to edit your own Wikipedia article, even though you will most likely get in trouble doing so.
I've adopted the habit of telling others that EthicalWiki's approach to Wikipedia ethics is based on legal guidance, not Wikipedia's rules. Not out of disrespect for Wikipedia, but because the Federal Trade Commission and precedence set by a German court ruling
set much higher standards for ethics and offer clearer guidelines. It just makes sense. Editing a crowd-sourced site as if you are another disinterested volunteer is not acceptable. But being a resource for the site's editors - offering content, requesting corrections and discussing controversies to help improve their coverage is a good thing.
Any journalist will say that good PR is useful and the same is true on Wikipedia. But Wikipedians rarely experience good PR. This is evidenced by the dozens of discussion strings concerning the damage PR editors are doing to the site's legitimacy and fears that PRs are corrupting the site. It's true. We do great PR for the media, have fantastic social media campaigns and blow-out advertisements, but one area few marketers excel is Wikipedia; the dark spot in our otherwise case-study worthy work. Out of the thousands of case-studies our industry produces each year, you'll rarely see someone boast of the quality of work they did on Wikipedia.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia does an awful job at establishing boundaries or collaborating with public relations professionals. In my view, the community needs to stop thinking of public relations as editors who just so happen to have a "potential conflict of interest" and start thinking of them as practitioners that are "trying to do their job" in a way that is respectful and ethical. While there is some room for content marketing like EthicalWiki does, offering complete articles that include the good and the bad, I think the path for most marketers that don't have five years and 11,000 edits of experience on Wikipedia is to fly support the same way we do with media. To offer first drafts, request corrections, donate images, provide sources, answer questions and incite editor participation.
Public relations aren't "replacement editors" or "paid editors"; they are representatives from the company, who support the site's editors. Any journalist will say that "good PR is useful" but they won't ask companies to write their own full-length profile stories and controversies. They will ask public relations to provide images, experts and factual corrections. The best thing for Wikipedia to do is to answer the question: "What would a journalist do?" This is a powerful North Star to guide progress in the relationship and advance Wikipedia as a project to a more sustainable, professional-quality encyclopedia, instead of a junk-yard of blatant promotionalism and rampant bias.