Why shouldn't PR pros write Wikipedia entries?

by Shannon Paul on July 6, 2008


Face it; PR people editing/creating Wikipedia entries isn’t an evil practice.

Nine times out of ten, the entry is as innocuous as anyone else’s. We only tend to hear about the really blatant attempts to cover up bad news. And, trust me, getting caught covering up bad news is almost always worse than letting any bad news run its natural course.

PR people aren’t just hired to “spin” situations and beg for publicity. We do much more than pitch stories to bloggers and journalists; writing is one of the key elements of the job description.

Writing a wikipedia entry for a client organization is perfectly within the scope of PR practice and there are plenty of resources on Wikipedia that provide specific guidelines on how to create an appropriate entry. There’s even a Wikipedia: FAQ/Business that answers most of the concerns.

Sure, in a perfect world, historians, archivists, journalists and enthusiastic, non-biased members of the public would be the sole contributors to a pristine and unsullied democratically-created, organic document that is Wikipedia. However, I learned a long time ago that sometimes the choice exists between faulting the world for what it isn’t, on one hand or, getting to know the world for what it actually is…

The world in reality is full of companies and organizations that are notable enough to meet the Wikipedia’s notability guidelines, but may not have the rabid fan base of Nike, Interscope Records or Apple.

For example, outside of those who happen to be affiliated with such an organization, what arduous soul wants to write the Wikipedia entry for an organization dedicated to researching business uses for cement? Or, a company that has perfected plastic-based paint coatings for commercial aircraft?

Some might argue that companies like this don’t need Wikipedia entries. On the contrary, any company engaged in any type of business needs to be conscious of their first page of Google search results for the actual name of their company or organization. I have even heard some say that for all intensive purposes, the first page of your Google search results might as well be considered the real home page of your Web site.

Reasons companies should have a Wikipedia entry:

  1. Boosts number of relevant hits on the first page of Google search results.
  2. Helps establish the organization as relevant to Web-based information sharing.
  3. Strengthens business relationships with other related organizations and the communities in which they do business through links.

As someone who works in PR, I am completely comfortable with the guidelines and expectations set forth by Wikipedia to ensure that style is kept objective and consistent and that credible secondary sources are used for citations. However, what bothers me most is the ability to manage client companies’ expectations.

If a client has only a passing familiarity with Wikipedia, how can I be clear about what they can expect their Wikipedia entry to look like and convey the importance of having one. Please also keep in mind that this might be a company’s first foray into the realm of social media: how can I help make it a positive experience?

Please don’t feel like you have to be in PR to provide feedback — I would love to hear what people with a variety of experiences have to share.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

July 7, 2008 Jeremy Pepper

I partially disagree – but then again, I’ve had a Wikipedia account for three or four years with a bio and have changed entries that have nothing to do with PR or clients (no clue if the changes stuck, and not hard-headed enough to keep plugging them in).

If you respect the community, set up an account and say why you are doing what you are doing … you should be fine.

Unfortunately, most people in PR are as subtle as a freakin’ brick and have no clue how to write well to begin with, let alone how to write well and be transparent and not spin.


July 7, 2008 Ari

I blogged about corporations fixing Wikipedia entries a while back, arguing that if people can attack via Wikipedia then companies should be allowed to defend themselves there as well. Check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/65mzb4


July 7, 2008 ChrisSonjeow

I’ve looked into doing this for my own company as a PR tactic – unfortunately, I’ve found so much negative pub on it as well as maintenance, that it just never seemed to fit.

Wiki guidlines: “information that is included [in an entry] must have been published by someone other than yourself (or your company).”

So filling your entry with “unbias” information can be tricky especially if it is a lesser known entity.

My opinion is that a wiki entry should be a result of good PR rather then a method.


July 8, 2008 Jeremiah Staes

Companies that are notable should have wikipedia entries – however, that company editing that entry for anything beyond specific fact is dangerous territory and can create PR backlash; nor should you create your own entry, in my opinion.

You linked to specific guidelines in your post that Wikipedia sets, and editing your own entry is a last step and only in cases of obvious libel or unsourced attacks. They specifically say to go to the talk page then the noticeboard FIRST. That’s their specific policy, and one violates it risking the shunning of the community.

One of the top tenets of social communities is that if you’re going to be part of it, you must respect the communities’ procedure.

Although your client may have expectations, it’s not their place to edit what are, in spirit, authoritative works. Coca-cola doesn’t write the encyclopedia article on themselves.

I know quite a few people in the Wikipedia community who edit entries who find PR people editing said entries offensive and summarily delete the changes or revert them.

Look at it this way – you create a wikipedia entry for a company, and then the editors delete it for “not being notable,” and sometimes will just delete immediately it if they can tell if it’s self-created. I’d say that would be a negative experience for a client.

Agreed with Chris – a Wikipedia entry is a result of good PR, and should not be part of a “strategy.”


July 8, 2008 shannonpaul

Admittedly, I’m no good with headlines…

Maybe I should rephrase my question(s):
If I create a Wikipedia entry that meets *all* the guidelines of notability, objectivity and chock full of factual information from secondary source citations, why does it matter what I happen to do for a living?

Why does my job supposedly make me unfit for participation in this “community” if the content I contribute fits the bill?

Isn’t quality content that conforms with the style guidelines that Wikipedia has established what matters most?


July 9, 2008 Jeremiah Staes

Your justifications are ignoring the fact that Wikipedia is a community and has it’s own standards.

The reason why Wikipedia ranks so high is it’s goal for neutrality – and by definition, someone who works for the PR company or group that represents that company is not perceived as neutral in any way, despite what you think your writing skills might be.

As a representative of a company, you (as decided clearly by the Wikipedia community in almost every occasion) as a rep cannot be a good arbiter or decision maker around what is noteworthy to the public, what is unwarranted criticism, etc. The goal of Wikipedia is that the public and the community makes those decisions, not the companies.

There is a strong process spelled out as to what your role is on Wikipedia and the path PR and company representatives should take.

If you don’t follow that path, you risk ending up with a very large PR problem on your hands, and in fact can do damage to your client’s brand (and your other clients by guilt through association) by creating a strong backlash since you disrespected the community.


July 9, 2008 shannonpaul

Rather than justifying anything, I’m more concerned with trying to bridge the gap between providing a service to my clients AND respecting the Wikipedia community.

I would really like to think that this isn’t impossible.

I can’t help but think it’s more than a little ironic that there is a lot of encouragement for companies to become more transparent and engaged in online communities, but any information they’re willing to share about their organization is automatically suspect.

It’s my understanding that bias is a human affliction, not one that comes about as a result of engaging in any specific professional activity.

If I promise to play by the rules in producing objective and informative content, why can’t I be part of the community, too?


September 2, 2008 Joy-Mari

Shannon, I agree with you…also in part. And only because it is difficult for a smallish company (or their PR people) to publish something that will adhere to the Wiki guidelines.

How many small companies are mentioned by reputable news sources?

But if they [a notable company] are mentioned by a reliable third party, I think a page on Wikipedia is a great idea. Reliable citations are what makes Wikipedia great; fluff detracts from it.


July 13, 2009 bob

interesting note: it’s “for all intents and purposes”


July 30, 2009 andrew

a more interesting note: it was originally “to all intents and purposes” but “for all intents…” is now acceptable, probably due to the scale of its misuse. “intenstive purposes” remains unacecptable, and makes one look a bit silly.


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