Perception Is Reality.... Or Not?
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Support The CREWE Project

It has been nearly two months since Phil Gomes wrote a blog article on the topic of how communications professionals and wikipedians can work together to create accurate Wikipedia entries.

Inspired by that post, a group of communications professionals came together to  create the CREWE, a Facebook group with the goal of discussing the topic. I joined as well!

Nearly 200 people have joined the group; many members of the CREWE are PR professionals, PR educators, and staff members of PR associations around the world. Plus, senior administrators and editors at Wikipedia have joined the group.

While the group has inspired greater understanding between long time wikipedians and communications professionals who care to engage in the community, there's much more to do, we have a series of projects we’d like to finish, including:

  • The Audit of Wikipedia articles of the Fortune 500 and FTSE 500 project.
  • Finish and develop educational materials for guidelines for PR people and people with conflicts of interest.
  • And more…..check out the group online to discover details about these projects and more.

Here’s the progress we’ve made with the first project:

The Fortune 100, FTSE 100 Wikipedia Article Audit Project

One of the Wikipedia members of the group, Robert Lawton,, developed a Google document for a Wikipedia audit of the Fortune 100 and FTSE 100. The audit project was started because many communications professionals had criticized the accuracy of Wikipedia articles without giving a number of examples in the forum, quite fairly, several wikipedians asked for more examples to review.

In an effort to prove that point the project was started.  The project includes a signup sheet for PR professionals to contact employees at Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 companies to test the accuracy of their Wikipedia entry. So far no entries have been tested.

However, Robert has developed several additional tabs that give some indication of the quality of the Fortune 100 Wikipedia article and their position on Google and Bing rankings.

Pie Chart
The Google Doc tabs describe the ratings of Wikipedia articles for the Fortune 100 companies by the quality of each article according to Wikipedia's own rating system.

Another tab describes the distribution of Wikipedia articles of the Fortune 100 on Google and Bing.

One of Phil Gomes' key points in his original blog post was that Wikipedia was on the first page of search results for nearly every company, and that ranking put great responsibility on the encyclopedia to ensure the entries were accurate and of good quality.

Phil was right about the rankings. While the quality of most articles is "B" class (44%) or below, only 2% of articles are above "B" class. 30% of articles are "start" class. Though notably, Google's own Wikipedia Article does not appear on the first page of Google results.

This research gives some credence to the suggestion by some critics (including myself) of Wikipedia that many articles are not of sufficient quality to deserve top rankings on Google/Bing.  Though I have not personally read all of the articles, therefore I’d like to see the Google Audit completed to really get a sense of how accurate the entries are for the Fortune 100.

Wikipedia Editing Educational Guides

On the second project, the editing of Wikipedia by PR professional’s guide, the aim is to produce education for PR professionals and people with a conflict of interest, assisted by many of the senior Wikipedians on the CREWE website.

I certainly have a more complete picture of what it takes to make a Wikipedia article accurate if you are a person with a conflict of interest (COI). However, there’s a lot more work to be completed on the project, and if you want to take part we continue to look for good communicators who wish to support the project.

In the meantime, here are 7 insights I’ve gained from participating in the forum.

7 Insights I’d like To Share on Wikipedia since joining the group

  1. No outside party is going to make changes at Wikipedia unless they get involved with the website, and build relationships with people on the site.
  2. There’s a strong resistance on the part of Wikipedians to changing their rules relating to COI. If you want to work with Wikipedia you have to work within their policies and guidelines.
  3. If you are new to editing Wikipedia, and you haven’t done your homework first, Wikipedians may often assume the worst, delete your edits, and even ban you! The lesson is you have to do your homework, participate and even go as far as building relationships within the community if at first your recommendations for edit are not accepted. 
  4. Jimmy Wales position that all PR editing is wrong and should never happen is not what many of the other Wikipedia editors and admins have stated in the CREWE forum. There are certainly nuances here and as a communications professional you have a few options to get an entry updated, including editing directly and collaborating with the community. Remember the goal is to build an accurate entry, and so your best option may indeed be to collaborate with the community.
  5. Talk pages can help you to make changes to a Wikipedia entry.
  6. Talk pages are not always the best way to make changes to a wikipedia entry. There have been a number of examples where talk pages have not been responded too by editors for months. Remember Wikipedia is a collaborative social wiki, but not a social network. You can use your skills in community building to gain support for your updates to entries, but you must pitch people directly once your efforts at indirect updates fails.
  7. Lastly, from reading more Wikipedia articles related to business, PR and marketing, there are some issues with the quality of the content. I think quite a few of these marketing and PR related Wikipedia articles don’t deserve the rankings on Google. This is not a Wikipedia issue, but an issue of ranking poor quality articles on Wikipedia by Google. It happens because of the overall size of the Wikipedia site and its reputation within Google. Given the Panda/Farmer updates over the last year or so, I think I can make a good argument for a change to the Google algorithm to address the issue of low quality Wikipedia articles achieving high rankings on Google.

The Value of PR People Editing Wikipedia

Why is this discussion about editing Wikipedia on the part of PR professionals important? Given all the controversy, and risk to a reputation if you get things wrong, what’s the value of PR people of working on accurate content on Wikipedia?

Here's a few I can think of:

  • Wikipedia entries about my company are inaccurate, and we'd like to improve the wikipedia entry so that it is accurate.
  • The weighting of a topic on a wikipedia media entry about my company, or client's company is disproportionate and has negative connotations for the company's reputation overall. I'd like to know how I can address this issue by getting out all the facts.
  •  I’d like to reduce the chances of causing a communications crisis if I need to make an edit to a Wikipedia entry. I’d like to educate myself on what it takes to make Wikipedia entries about my company or client’s companies accurate.

Lastly, I'm looking for support from the wider PR community; professionals, students, educators and associations. Please share the audit and education projects we are working to complete with your community.

Round-up of Wikipedia PR posts

Here’s a post on Todd Defren’s blog PR Squared about the incident that sparked the current discussion.

Mike Masnick's post on the topic in Techdirt deserves a look, partly because of Mike's review of the issues, and partly because of the active public discussion in the comments.

David King's guest post on Todd Defren's PR Squared Blog is also good in Wikipedia for Marketers: The Last Word