Add Wikipedia editing as a communication competency or go home


Image: Giulia Forsythe
It is time to add Wikipedia to your list of communication competencies.

Yes, you should know how to create and edit an article. Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia that touts its crowdsourced nature. If you represent a company or client that pays you, though, writing and editing are, for the most part, out of bounds. Your Wikipedia competency has to include an understanding of the often labyrnthine processes for having an article changed.

The issue of marketing and PR workers editing articles on behalf of clients has been around nearly as long as Wikipedia has. The mounting revelations of misbheavior did little to curtail the practices, mainly because there was no particular mandate for communicators to abide by Wikipedia’s often confusing and sometimes contradictory policies and guidelines.

Most in the Wikipedia community don’t seem to have a problem with a paid representative making a simple factual correction. Say your client employs 15,000 people but the Wikipedia article says it’s 150,000, so you delete the extra zero; they’re mostly fine with that in Wikipedialand. At a recent meeting of Wikipedians and PR representatives, one Wikipedian said that the belief that “PR people’s shadow are never to darken the door of Wikipedia” are over. “That ship has sailed,” he said.

Substantive edits, though are another thing altogether. Like it or not, the rules are clear: If you have a conflict of interest, you shouldn’t be editing an article. I have plenty of issues with the policy in general. For example, a lot of people who aren’t paid by a client have a conflict of interest. Anybody on either side of a controversial issue (e.g., gun control, abortion) has a conflict of interest; they’re trying to promote a point of view. Yet there’s no focus on these edits that compares with the belief in the Wikipedia community that PR people are only there to help their clients sell products. A lot of PR peple want to ensure accuracy—like adding missing years worth of financial data.

Be that as it may, though, the rules are the rules and it’s up to the PR profession to figure out how to achieve the same outcomes by playing by those rules. That’s what Michael Bassik did when he ran Burson Marstellar’s digital shop. Seeing Burson staff going across the street to get online under a non-Burson account so they could make edits to client articles, Bassik introduced a — For more information read the original article here.    

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