Caught in the cross-fire; towards the close of last year, was Bell Pottinger – a popular Brtish PR company that received a redundant ‘wrap on the knuckles’ from Wikipedia editors, as it attempted to set right a few written inaccuracies about one of their clients. Not appreciative of their site being used as a PR platform, Wikipedia fired back, branding the act as “highly unethical” and “embarrassing to their clients.” Granted, it’s a dicey debate. On one hand, it sounds only fundamental for a PR professional to look after his clients best interests and ensure that what’s being said about them is factual and accurate. On the other, isn’t the whole purpose of Wikipedia to have a crowd-sourced model of knowledge that’s unbiased and truthful?
While both sides put forth some valid arguments, it’s not the debate that amuses us, but Wikipedia’s aversions to letting a PR professional anywhere near their site! In fact, we recently stumbled upon a Wikipedia page itself, which echoes exactly what we’re thinking – Companies struggle to correct faulty Wikipedia entries due to stubborn editorial staff. Apparently a whopping 60 percent of all company pages contain numerous factual errors and according to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which has carried out a survey of 1,284 public relations professionals, it’s making their lives very difficult. When respondents tried to engage editors through Wikipedia’s ‘Talk’ pages to request factual corrections, 12 percent said it took weeks to get a response – and a quarter never heard back at all. In total, only 35 percent actually got any response, either through the Talk pages or by directly editing of a client’s entry. And, of those who were familiar with the process of editing Wikipedia entries, 23 percent said making changes was ‘near impossible’, while 29 percent said their interactions with Wikipedia editors were ‘never productive’.
That’s what the article said. But here’s a thought – what if the facts and figures mentioned above are inaccurate as well? And nobody from the PRSA was allowed to make changes!
Wikipedia prides itself in being community-driven; a collectivized source of knowledge – so its member-based editing policy can often cause factual inaccuracies, especially for brands and companies. Is allowing a PR agency to edit its client’s pages –simply for the sake of getting one’s facts straight, really going against the company-policy of community driven knowledge?
As a PR agency, one should be entitled to represent the company’s facts and if that message should result in influencing the perception of the average Wikipedia user, based on the truth – then lucky them. But misrepresenting clients by manufacturing false praise online is a line that no professional should cross. Perhaps a more stringent approach, by Wikipedia editors, to enforce such a notion, would be better – rather than just shut the site down to a PR professional completely.