Should PR pros edit Wikipedia?

As the online encyclopedia Wikipedia grew in popularity, public relations professionals started monitoring the entries on their companies and organizations. Long forgotten scandals and crises suddenly began appearing again on Wikipedia and significantly increased the amount of negative content on major corporations. But what can PR pros do? Polish or rewrite the entries? I was interviewed by PR News on strategies that PR representatives can use to correct mistakes and update information without getting in trouble.

The following is an excerpt from the article “How PR Can Forge Peaceful Coexistence With Wikipedia” by PR News:

The trouble begins when a PR pro goes in and starts making wholesale changes to a company description. Marcus Messner, an assistant professor of mass communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that kind of editing draws red flags. “Minor changes are OK, but if you start editing whole paragraphs, you must have a discussion on the Talk page of your article first,” says Messner (each entry has a “Talk” tab at the top of the page).


Here are Messner’s key Wikipedia takeaways for PR:

• Monitor First: While PR pros focus on Facebook and Twitter, Wikipedia gets short shrift. Double-check sources.

• Be a Minimalist Editor: Avoid editing large amounts of content. Arguments can be made around your facts, so keep your posts short and back them up.

• Be Transparent: Pretending to be someone else on Wikipedia can only cause headaches.

Please read the complete article. Currently, this is also the dominant discussion in the group “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement” on Facebook. My research partner Marcia DiStaso from Penn State and I also recently published the following two book chapters on the topic:

Messner, M., & DiStaso, M. W. (2011). Monitoring and editing Wikipedia’s corporate scandal chronicle. Article published in Digital PR Guidebook. PR News Press.

DiStaso, M. W., & Messner, M. (2011). The collaborative crisis: Wikipedia and the corporate image. Article published in Crisis Management Guidebook. PR News Press.

We will also have an article (with Don W. Stacks from the University of Miami) on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Wikipedia in the forthcoming second edition of “New Media and Public Relations,” edited by Sandra Duhé from the University of Louisiana.

Please send me an e-mail, if you are interested in any of these articles on PR and Wikipedia.

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