Wikipedia and Public Relations — Strange Bedfellows?

 
I recently had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion for Social Media Week at New York’s Helen Mills Theater regarding the role of public relations in Wikipedia. 
 
Panelists Jake Orlowitz, David Somal and David Goodman along with moderator and wiki-relations guru, William Beutler, led a discussion on the roles and controversies of Wikipedia in the field of public relations.
 
The three panelists each had very different opinions on what and how exactly public relations professions or “paid agents” can be involved with Wikipedia. The panelists argued that inevitable challenges arise when entities that have certain biases are allowed to edit on an open site.
 
These biases are especially true with public relations professionals on Wikipedia.
 
Many times it is next to impossible for public relations professionals to neutrally contribute because of the inherent conflict of interest. Public relations professionals represent a company and it’s our job to protect that client’s reputation. This isn’t to say that we would do so dishonestly, but reputation management is a nuanced game and unfortunately Wikipedia tends to be a blunt object.
 
Despite these challenges, Wikipedia has developed potential solutions in an attempt to rid these biases. If wanting to edit an article, all three panelists advocated for using the discussion and talk features. These tools, which they call the Open-source Ticket Response System (OTRS), allows for volunteers who monitor Wikipedia to adjudicate and edit. 
 
While it doesn’t necessarily remove all biases, it allows for more neutral and verifiable information to be posted. With fewer biases, Wikipedia can further its aim of wanting to provide the sum of all human knowledge for all.
 
And despite what many might think, this can and should work to the benefit of most public relations professionals. Honesty and daylight are the best ways for a company to create a lasting and credible reputation. By ensuring to the best of their ability the neutrality of the page they publish, Wikipedia makes the resource more reliable, its content more trustworthy, and, by association, company pages feature on it more influential.  

Prior to joining the Spector team, Tom worked for hiSoft Technology International Ltd. (currently Pactera Technology International Ltd.) in Beijing, China and has experience in international marketing and foreign affairs. Tom holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from Michigan State University and can be reached at tom@spectorpr.com.