Jun 27 2012

CIPR publishes Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance

As mentioned last week, the new CIPR Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance for Public Relations Professionals (version 1) has been published today (see CIPR announcement).

The guidance (to which I have made some minor contributions, and which was jointly developed with input from Wikipedians) has also been endorsed by the UK’s Public Relations Consultants Association, the Canadian Public Relations Society and the Public Relations Institute of Australia. These bodies represent significant professional groupings focused on the English edition of Wikipedia, but one English-speaking PR group is (so far) conspicuous by its absence.

There has been an ongoing debate about the relationship between Wikipedia and PR professionals on a Facebook page, Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE), featuring a lot of input from American PR practitioners and it appears the Public Relations Society of America has yet to endorse these guidelines, perhaps because some US professionals would prefer to see Wikipedia change some of its policies. (Update (4.45pm, 27 June 2012) – PRSA view summarised here).

As I have previously said, I don’t think Wikipedia needs to change its policies or processes to suit PR. Instead PR people should be learning about Wikipedia and working to create mutual understanding and goodwill between the PR profession and an often-sceptical majority of Wikipedians. Genuine PR professionals need to distance themselves from the devious past practices – the guidance talks of ‘dark arts’ and ‘spin’ – that have earned the profession a somewhat justified poor reputation in the eyes of many Wikipedia editors. PR people must also show that they can work within the constraints of Wikipedia’s exhaustively-developed Five Pillars and Core Content policies. And the best way to demonstrate this is for PR professionals to contribute to improving Wikipedia content by working directly on articles where they have no conflicts of interest, and by working indirectly, through discussion with fellow editors, where there may be a conflict.

Update (1pm, 27 June 2012) – On Twitter this morning I noticed some people summarising the CIPR position as “don’t edit Wikipedia”. That’s not accurate. The guidelines recommend engagement and suggest PR people could be editing Wikipedia articles about non-work related areas:

You are, however, free to contribute to articles related to your hobbies and interests where you do not have a conflict of interest. In fact, you are encouraged to do so, particularly as this is a great way to get to know how Wikipedia works. (p.7)

Just don’t edit articles about you, your clients, their products or services.

2 comments

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  1. Hi – I read your article with interest and whilst i agree that we need to stamp out unscrupulous practices within the PR industry, is not one of the key components of a PR’s role the management of a client’s brand reputation? Therefore, with Wiki editors taking months to make changes to pages and, in some cases, not at all – is it not incumbent on PR’s to take an active stance on what could be a slanderous account of their client and its reputation?
    After all, clients often want something done yesterday and the lack of action/time it takes for action to commence could lead to bad relations with a client and loss of thereafter should the inaccuracy within a Wiki page be significant enough.
    Just a thought!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Lee.

      The CIPR Wikipedia guidelines do mention ways within Wikipedia to fast-track changes (or requests for changes), particularly where there are damaging inaccuracies or potentially libellous statements (biographies of living people, BLPs, are treated especially carefully).

      If other editors cannot be found to make the change quickly, then PRs should tread very carefully in making any changes themselves:

      1. Set up a user account, and on the user page disclose the client relationship
      2. Make only the barest necessary changes to correct the inaccuracy or remove the libel, citing reliable independent references if possible (company news releases do not count)
      3. Use the article talk page to explain why the edits were made (again, disclosing your potential conflict of interest) and invite other editors to review them

      Clients should be aware that Wikipedia is not a marketing platform. It is a work of reference, where content should be written from a neutral Point of View.

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