New Guidance for PR on Wikipedia from CIPR
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has officially published their draft best practices guideline for ethical Wikipedia engagement by PR professionals. Officially their guidance garnered internatioanl support from the Canadian Public Relations Society, Public Relations Consultants Association and the Public Relations Institute of Australia. The thrust of their advice was to never directly edit a page.
While there was early talk on the PRSA following suite with their partners across the pond, PRSA wasn't aligned with the outcome. According to their official statement they support CIPR's efforts, but they still hope to change Wikipedia's policies and change CIPR's mind.
International agreement on best practices is validation of our approach, which is to offer content the Wikipedia community values transparently to the site's editors. This means understanding Wikipedia's content needs. The metaphor of comparing Wikipedia to any independent news and information source is compelling. Just like in PR, we can offer contributed articles, request factual corrections and discuss controversial issues, without astroturfing Wikipedia. EthicalWiki has written 5,000+ word articles without touching the page.
Not just PR
What's the next step? Public relations aren't the only ones editing Wikipedia on behalf of companies. In fact, some of the most dubious advice on Wikipedia engagement is shared among the SEO profession, yet I find the field is hungry for ethical guidance. Digital marketing, product marketing, HR, legal and governance professionals all need better information on the right approach. CIPR has taken a tremendous first leap and my hope is that they will set the tone for all the adjacent fields that are involved in corporate participation on Wikipedia.
PRSA: The odd one out
PRSA is clearly the odd one out in officially supporting CIPR's approach of not directly editing Wikipedia. We can reasonably presume this is because the PRSA got involved in supporting the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE), started by Edelman's Phil Gomes. The group's initial stance was somewhat hostile, presented by the media as a lobbying group focused on changing Jimmy Wales' mind, changing Wikipedia's policies and advocating for the open acceptance of direct editing by public relations professionals. Later on a report was published that was sharply criticized by the Wikipedia community, claiming that Wikipedia articles were factually inaccurate, according to PR professionals. One editor pointed out sharply that Wikipedia should seek to have 100% of articles to be inaccurate by our account.
Phil Gomes tried to curb this impression of CREWE in a SignPost interview. He said "CREWE long ago left behind the topic of directly editing an article." A Wikipedia editor later echoed in Ragans that he has tried to direct CREWE away from being a place to "rail against Wikiepdia" and make it an environment for learning. So it's curious that the PRSA's official statement seems to identify CREWE as a movement for change at Wikipedia. On the other hand, Gomes himself said he doesn't endorse the rule of no direct editing, suggesting "it amounts to little more than a means to dismiss serious discussion."
For most reputable companies, they can't take the risk of contributing to Wikipedia in a manner that is not supported by the site's community policies, the attitude of the community or the perspective of the site's founder. Will PRSA and CREWE come around? Since CREWE is just a Facebook group, filled with different people with different opinions, it's hard to pin point their exact position. But I think as time goes on, they will increasingly shift away from attempts to change Wikipedia policy in their favor, which are more likely to create the opposite effect, and instead learn ethical best practices Wikipedians appreciate.