I recently spoke with a colleague at a well regarded lobbying firm who had been tasked with carrying out some minor PR tasks while her firm waited to engage their next PR agency. Imagine my surprise when, in a passing comment, my colleague mentioned she had been asked to update her client’s Wikipedia page with a number of materials.
As any PR pro will tell you, Wikiscanner first debuted back in 2007, making it much easier to determine the source of an entry or edit in Wikipedia. Wikiscanner exposed that many revisions to Wikipedia entries came from corporate sources, and suddenly, non-objective entries were subject to scorn from the general populace and even deletion by Wikipedia. All in all, Wikiscanner caused more than a few PR disasters as well as general embarrassment among those who were caught red handed. The majority of PR firms immediately changed their “Wikipedia strategies” to no longer edit client pages or pages related to clients. Surely no one was still doing this?
While tempting, we must never assume that non PR professionals—whether they are clients, professional colleagues, or friends—have the same PR expertise we do. What may be common knowledge to those of us in the PR industry can be elusive to others with their own separate area of expertise. Lesson learned? A thorough evaluation of PR activities is a must, lest your client “go rogue” and end up unintentionally creating a PR fiasco. Are your clients attempting to do more in house as they attempt to trim budgets? Make sure the lines of communication are open so you can provide the appropriate counsel.
Wikipedia remains as relevant as ever; Wikipedia entries are often the first result listed in a Google search, and now Wikipedia articles have been integrated into Google News results. For many, Wikipedia remains the first resource to turn to when researching a topic. And Wikipedia contributors are closely monitored; Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee recently blocked editing from sites owned by the Church of Scientology, after hundreds of articles relating to Scientology became embroiled in edit wars with critics.
Fortunately, my colleague spoke with me before editing Wikipedia entries from her lobbying firm’s IP address. And she’ll be sure to run other communications tactics by her next PR firm (or by her helpful colleagues at Ogilvy!) before moving forward. I’m looking forward to hearing from you about this issue—do you consider Wikipedia when crafting a communications strategy?