The recent debate about the difficult relationship between public relations professionals and Wikipedia (see Wikipedia, PR and CSR) has taken a step forward this weekend. My fellow CIPR members and social media enthusiasts Phil Sheldrake and Neville Hobson met yesterday with Wikipedians at Wikimedia UK‘s 2012 annual conference in London.
This is not the first conversation between the CIPR and Wikimedia – Phil invited Wikimedia representatives to talk at a CIPR Social Summer event I attended in 2010, for example – but the CIPR duo have been working with others on some new guidance for PR professionals, and yesterday they presented extracts from their draft Best Practice Guidelines for Wikipedia. This will, in Neville’s words, be:
“… a cornerstone of plans to be developed for education and awareness-raising among CIPR’s membership about Wikipedia, PR’s relationship with it and best-practice approaches to engaging with the community to address content creation and editing.”
Better still, it wasn’t presented as a fait accomplit. The draft document will be posted on a Wikimedia page so that Wikipedians can add their comments, opinions and ideas – hopefully, helping to establish some mutual good will and understanding. Once the feedback has been considered, the CIPR aims to publish “version 1.0” in June.
Straddling the PR-Wikipedia divide
As someone who has long had a foot in both camps, I am looking forward to there being some clarity about how PR people can contribute to Wikipedia. As a CIPR member, I have long been irked by the well-publicised actions of some people to ‘massage’ Wikipedia content to favour their companies or clients (I have blogged repeatedly about it – in 2007, 2009, 2011 and earlier this year, for example), often feeling ashamed at some of the misguided edits attributed to public relations people.
As a Wikipedian, I have also occasionally reverted edits that were plainly made by in-house or consultancy staff to remove negative comments or add a more ‘promotional’ tone (I have over 600 articles on my editor’s ‘watch-list’ of subjects that I monitor – on topics ranging from civil engineering and architects to football, cycling and places in south-east London).
Like, I suspect, many other Wikipedians, I don’t generally get into conversations with the perpetrators of these changes – but perhaps I should? If I explained why I felt their changes were inappropriate, then maybe they will understand their conflicts of interest and lack of neutrality – and maybe the advice might be more easily swallowed if it comes from someone who also has a PR background? What do others think?
Update (17 May 2012) – The draft best practice guidelines for PR were published by Wikimedia page on Monday 14 May, and have already attracted a large number of edits and a substantial conversation on the talk page. I have had a quick read-through, and have a few thoughts that I will add in due course.