At the London office of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations yesterday, I did a talk on Wikipedia, as part of the CIPR’s Social Summer season. As previously described, the relationship between Wikipedia and PR has been a bit tense of late, and I was invited to do this presentation to help PRs understand a bit more about how Wikipedia works, ahead of the publication (next Wednesday) of the guidance jointly developed by the CIPR and the Wikimedia Foundation.
Walk the talk
I have a foot in both camps, but I don’t think Wikipedia needs to change its policies or processes to suit PR. Instead PR people should be learning about Wikipedia – and, in my view, there is no better way than to spend time editing and improving articles on areas outside your paid professional role. Wikipedia is a hobby pursued by thousands of unpaid volunteers, most of whom are striving to create reference-quality information, and to understand how it works you really need to become part of it. And Wikipedians’ suspicions about PR and ‘spin’ might diminish slightly if they see PR people engaging ethically with the platform and becoming part of its community.
After defining Wikis and briefly mentioning other Wikimedia projects (notably, but not only, Wikimedia Commons), I covered the Five Pillars and the core content policies before briefly describing the CIPR Wikipedia guidance and then looking at the editing interface. For such a short session, it was only possible to skim the surface, but we covered a lot of ground in the discussion.
There were lots of questions about how to go about improving articles concerning organisations that people work for, and the guidance urges PR people to engage with other Wikipedia editors to get them to review any suggested changes, and I covered how conversations might be pursued through both article talk and user talk pages. It can sound (and often is) a time-consuming process, but in my experience Wikipedians are usually patient with newcomers and try to help them – particularly as the policies can seem labyrinthine and the editing interface isn’t as intuitive as WYSIWYG tools on other platforms.
We also had an interesting debate about what constitutes a reliable source. I said that blogs and company news releases were not regarded as reliable, and we then discussed whether it would appropriate to quote from the blogs of respected journalists such as the BBC’s Robert Peston. In my view, no. Blogs are personal perspectives, offering opinions, and are rarely subject to editorial oversight; better to stick to the published news reports produced by Peston, et al.
(This is unlikely to be my last input regarding Wikipedia, as CIPR has also asked me to contribute to a webinar on the topic, and I am also working on a briefing sheet for the Institution of Civil Engineers.)