DiStaso, Marcia Watson (2012). Measuring public relations Wikipedia engagement: How bright is the rule? Public Relations Journal, 6(2), 1-22.
Wikipedia has become almost a staple in society, and its prominence in search engines and frequency of use make it a very powerful website. This study explores the views, experiences and beliefs of public relations/communications professionals about editing Wikipedia for their company or client. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has what he believes to be a “bright line” rule whereby public relations/communications professionals are not to directly edit the Wikipedia articles about their companies or clients. Through a survey with 1,284 responses, this study found that the “bright line” rule is not working. This is because, among other reasons, 60% of the Wikipedia articles for respondents who were familiar with their company or recent client’s article contained factual errors. When the talk pages were used to request edits, it was found to typically take days for a response and 24% never received one. Plus, most of the public relations/communication professionals in this study were unaware of the rule and almost half of those who were familiar with it did not understand what it meant to them. This study provides survey results that establish a benchmark for Wikipedia engagement.
Online survey with 1,284 responses conducted with PRSA, IABC, WOMMA, IPR, and NIRI members from Feb. 14 to March 14, 2012.
1) 60% of respondents who were familiar with the Wikipedia article for their company or recent client indicated it had factual errors.
2) Only 35% of respondents had engaged with Wikipedia by either using the talk pages or editing directly (12% had just used the talk pages and 31% had directly edited). The comments on the survey indicated that engagement was so low because many were afraid of media backlash and were uncertain of what to do. Plus, of those who were familiar with the process, 23% said making changes was nearly impossible and 29% said their interactions with Wikipedians were never productive.
3) When respondents did play by the rules and made requests using the talk pages, 40% of responses took days, 12% took weeks and 24% never got a response. In fact, Wikipedians believe it is appropriate to wait an average of 2 to 5 days for a response because they are volunteers.
4) 74% of respondents who used the talk pages thought the rule should change. Requests cannot be left without responses leaving incorrect or damaging information for the public.
Implications for Practice
Given the prominence of Wikipedia use in society, content about companies and/or clients must be accurate. The current Wikipedia policies for public relations professionals are detailed and conflicting leaving the ethical public relations professional in a tricky situation if they want changes made. This study found that many public relations professionals are unfamiliar with Wikipedia policies and procedures, so it informs readers about the concerns and current state of Wikipedia engagement for public relations professionals and identifies next steps:
1) Frequently review the accuracy and balance of Wikipedia articles for your company or clients.
2) If errors are found or if content needs to be added or deleted, refer to the CREWE Wikipedia Engagement Flowchart available on Wikimedia Commons.
3) If frequent multiple edits are needed, consider joining the Wikipedia mentor program.
4) Become a member of the CREWE Facebook group to get more involved in the efforts to identify ways for public relations/communications and Wikipedia to work together for mutual benefit.
The full article is available for free at: http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Vol6/No2Wikipedia/