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The difference in doing PR on Wikipedia


Wikipedia and PRThis blog was first published on SocialFresh.

Ethical Wikipedia engagement is similar to traditional public relations with journalists. Just as a PR firm would with media, EthicalWiki offers contributed content, resources, discussion and factual corrections to Wikipedians. As it is with media, relationships, reputation and offering something of value to the medium are crucial.

The big difference?

Journalists expect PR professionals to be bias, while Wikipedia expects us to do our best to be neutral. This puts companies in an awkward position. We may have "no comment" on a subject for the media, but glazing over the issue on Wikipedia is seen as hiding information, manipulating Wikipedia and betraying the community's trust. Journalists expect us to be advocates, but for Wikipedians, advocacy raises defensive walls.

In every case the best thing for the company to do is to just work to make the article compliant with Wikipedia's standards. Companies that create bias articles with obvious omissions often have their articles corrected to the other extreme, invite risk and anger the Wikipedia community; a community that is equipped to enact vengeance on the company through negative editing. Because Wikipedia is openly editable, this leads to a sense of entitlement to control the page, but our relationships with Wikipedia editors are just as important as those with the press.

How do we build relationships on Wikipedia? Like anywhere, they're earned. Through expceptional integrity, patience, diplomacy and neutrality. Trust is the currency of most relationships and on Wikipedia it takes twice as much to earn it through honesty and transparency.

All this creates a seemingly impossible standard for the PR professional that wants to do the right thing. Wikipedia expects you to be neutral, but a half-dozen stakeholders within the company want the Wikipedia article to read like a press release, reiterate corporate messaging and omit all the less flattering aspects of the company's history. How can you do what's right, when your boss and colleagues measure success differently than Wikipedia does?

For the marketing professional that wants to do the right thing, there are at least four ways to convince internal stakeholders to be honest and neutral:

  1. Newt Gingrich's Wikipedia controversy was proof that even Talk page collaboration on Wikipedia creates risk of media exposure, if it's viewed as an attempt to undermine Wikipedia's sacred neutrality.
  2. Wikipedians will usually reward honesty and punish indiscretions. Companies that try hiding information or gaming the system can earn short-term gains, but run the risk of getting caught and attracting unwanted attention long-term.
  3. Companies that put their trust in the community will usually find them to be fair and balanced.
  4. Relationships count. Companies that want to have a long-term positive relationship with Wikipedians interested in the same topics, should demonstrate the qualities Wikipedians want.

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