Ethical Wikipedia engagement is similar to traditional public relations with journalists. Just as a PR firm would with media, EthicalWiki offers contributed content, resources, discussion and factual corrections to Wikipedians. As it is with media, relationships, reputation and offering something of value to the medium are crucial.
The big difference?
Journalists expect PR professionals to be bias, while Wikipedia expects us to do our best to be neutral. This puts companies in an awkward position. We may have “no comment” on a subject for the media, but glazing over the issue on Wikipedia is seen as hiding information, manipulating Wikipedia and betraying the community’s trust. Journalists expect us to be advocates, but for Wikipedians advocacy raises defensive walls.
In every case the best thing for the company to do is to just work to make the article compliant with Wikipedia’s standards.
Companies that create bias articles with obvious omissions often have their articles corrected to the other extreme, invite risk and anger the Wikipedia community; a community that is equipped to enact vengeance on the company through negative editing.
Because Wikipedia is openly editable, this leads to a sense of entitlement to control the page, but our relationships with Wikipedia editors are just as important as those with the press.
How do you build those relationships?
How we earn relationships with Wikipedians involved in the page is different from the press. It’s done through exceptional integrity, patience, quality of work, and neutrality. Trust is earned through transparency and honesty.
All this creates a seemingly impossible standard for the PR professional that wants to do the right thing. Wikipedia expects you to be neutral, but a half-dozen stakeholders within the company want the Wikipedia article to read like a press release, reiterate corporate messaging and omit all the less flattering aspects of the company’s history. How can you do what’s right, when your boss and colleagues measure success differently than Wikipedia does?
For the marketing professional that wants to do the right thing, there are at least four ways to convince internal stakeholders to be honest and neutral:
- Newt Gingrich’s Wikipedia controversy was proof that even Talk page collaboration on Wikipedia creates risk of media exposure, if it’s viewed as an attempt to undermine Wikipedia’s sacred neutrality.
- Wikipedians will usually reward honesty and punish indiscretions. Companies that try hiding information or gaming the system can earn short-term gains, but run the risk of getting caught and attracting unwanted attention long-term.
- We really have to entrust our articles to the Wikipedia community. While there are some bad apples, most experienced editors are fair and balanced and will do the right thing. Companies that put their trust in the community will usually find them to be fair and balanced.
- Relationships count. Companies that want to have a long-term positive relationship with Wikipedians interested in the same topics, should be pleasant to work with and demonstrate the qualities Wikipedians want. Companies that dodge neutrality damage their relationship and pay the price in the long-run.