Wiki me this Batman

The most valuable advice that a seasoned public relations professional can provide to a client is in the case of misrepresentation or inaccuracies in a piece of media coverage.

My first job consisted of media monitoring for a major electronics brand and one morning there was a piece in which the CEO of a competing brand dismissed my client as basically making crappy products – an allegation the client had spent a lot of (both R&D and PR) dollars to rectify.

The client was not happy and was ready to get the lawyers in – we (and by we I mean the associate director on the account) counseled them to not go too over the top and simply send a letter to the technology editor.

We spent the day drafting it, explaining our position and two days later a correction appeared assuring readers that it was not the publication’s opinion that my client made crappy products. Happy client, happy agency, happy media contact (they got an additional, exclusive interview from it later on) – sad lawyers who missed out on years of fees

I tell that story because it shows the clear process of redress in the case that a mistake is made in the media. But what happens when the mistake is in the world’s single largest, most accurate, information resource – wikipedia?

One of the first questions I asked regarding social media was whether it was ethical and/or acceptable (two completely different things) for Public Relations practitioners to edit their client’s Wikipedia entries. I was playing around with Wikipedia, searching for various things of interest and decided to see what sort of public information was available for some of my clients.

What I found was out of date and, as far as I could tell, inaccurate – and I couldn’t work out (my fault for being wet behind the ears) who the editor was that I could email to correct the article. In this case, a service that had been launched four or five months earlier was still not listed, despite both CP and Can West stories being extensively picked up.

What should I do? I could easily sign up and update the entry, citing the relevant articles and no-one would be any the wiser – I was even on my home laptop.

But I didn’t go through with it. I was new to social media and understood, all too well, the ramifications if it was some how found out that an “evil PR type” had tampered with this pure new resource.

So what should PRs do about wikipedia? With the amount of google juice it gets, a search for most companies would come up with a wikipedia entry in the top two or three results so it’s an increasingly powerful and influential resource.

I’d argue that we’re in the best place to monitor what’s being said about our clients and as such it’s our job to protect their reputation. But where is the line drawn between protecting or maintaining the brand and spinning the general public?

Should we send the URLs to the clients’ entries back to our direct contact with a recommendation? Then the client needs to register, sign in and spend time messing about with a potentially unfamiliar interface – bad for us and worse for them.

Should we create a unique user name for each client which clearly identifies us as a PR representative and use that to edit the client’s entry? But then there’s still the conflict of interests of creating an entry for money – big no-no in the Wikipedia world.

Should we add into our media lists people like Simon Pulsifer who we send news releases to? It’s a lot of work and something that needs to be done by someone with a solid knowledge of the space – usually at an expensive billing rate. I’m just waiting for the broohaha over PRs pitching (badly) to wiki-editors…

Or do we leave it to the market to update it? The same caveats apply – what if important dates/products/people are missed out? How can we correct these omissions?

It’s a tough question and I have no answers. Just more questions.

Your guide through the ethical minefield of a Wikipedia entry? Founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales via an illuminating interview on Bitemarks. Constantin Basturea has an excellent article on the subject, including a plethora of links, as well as Alex Pullin who wrote on it yesterday.

Do you represent a laptop manufacturer or retailer? Do you want your logo here? If you do, please email me!

2 Responses to Wiki me this Batman

  1. Nice post Lee.

    Definitely made me think differently about the challenges facing PR folks in cyberspace. To edit or not edit? You’re on to Shakespeare 2.0!

    Tough choice but speaking from a client perspective, I’d expect my PR firm to update Wikipedia. I’d also expect them to advise me of all the pros and cons as you remarked as well.

  2. Felicity Fagan says:

    Fantastic – really very interesting, for once

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