PR disaster

November 28, 2013

It is bad practice for university press officers to edit information about their institutions on Wikipedia (“WikiTweaks: PR staff wield the airbrush for warts and all removal”, 21 November): indeed, it is likely to cause reputational damage to the organisations concerned.

Anybody can contribute to Wikipedia, but editing in cases of conflicts of interest breaches its community rules and contradicts internationally recognised guidance published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

In June 2012, the CIPR’s social media panel collaborated with Wikimedia UK to develop a guide for the PR profession on the use of Wikipedia. This document can be downloaded for free from the CIPR website.

PR is at its best when it is used openly and honestly to foster dialogue with an audience. Any attempt to act in an opaque manner will ultimately harm an organisation’s reputation – and can cause worse damage.

Stephen Waddington
President-elect, Chartered Institute of Public Relations
Director, Ketchum Europe

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Reader's comments (5)

Is it really a PR "disaster"? Nearly every company has someone who edits Wikipedia with a conflict of interest and/or using a single-purpose account. Even the law firm (Cooley LLP) that recently issued a cease and desist letter to Wiki-PR, has been caught spiffing up their own article on Wikipedia. It can't get much more hypocritical than that, yet the story has barely been noticed: http://www.examiner.com/article/wikimedia-law-firm-fiddles-wikipedia-and-jimmy-wales-hides
I'd agree it's a disaster when organisations make edits that aren't in keeping with Wikipedia's ethos of neutrality and verifiability. But it's important for organisations to maintain accuracy and integrity of their page as custodians of both their brand and Wikipedian values.
Wikipedia articles are not 'owned' by their subjects or by any editors (it isn't therefore "their page"). A neutral point of view, verifiability and a balance of perspectives are the key. If you spot a simple typo or factual error, then it can be corrected, but if there is a potential conflict of interest, it is best to engage with other edtiors via the article 'talk' page, and to be open about one's affiliations in doing so.
Naturally I meant "their" in a referential rather than proprietorial sense.
Interesting debate sparked off by the THE story (“WikiTweaks: PR staff wield the airbrush for warts and all removal”, 21 November) and a useful reminder from the CIPR’s President-elect Stephen Waddington that “PR is at its best when it is used openly and honestly to foster dialogue (Letters: 28 November). The NUJ’s Public Relations and Communications Council couldn’t agree more, and has its own ‘ethics at work’ guidelines http://www.nuj.org.uk/documents/should-i-say-that-pr-ethics-flyer/ And while we encourage people to use quality journalism, such as the THE, for informed insights, we know that Wikipedia is an invaluable online encyclopaedia for many young people. Often it is the first, and sometimes the only independent reference point they use, and that includes when considering going to higher education. So treat it with the respect that your potential students already do. The CIPR’s guidelines http://www.cipr.co.uk/sites/default/files/CIPR_Wikipedia_Best_Practice_Guidance_0.pdf provide excellent advice on the dos and don’ts on editing or “correcting” what Wikipedia says about an institution. And if press officers (and other communications personnel) feel they are coming under pressure from management to behave unprofessionally, the NUJ is the union to join. Nic Mitchell and Phil Morcom, Co-chairs of the National Union of Journalists Public Relations & Communications Council.

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