An Agency's Point of View
Wikipedia’s relationship with regard to communications professionals has been a complicated and controversial one. For years, it has been frowned upon to include Wikipedia as part of a marketing and communications plan. A key tenet of Wikipedia is neutrality, and marketing is seen by many as not neutral. This viewpoint has been aggravated by the fact that some firms and “professionals” have done unprofessional things on Wikipedia on behalf of their clients or companies, ignoring the site’s Conflict of Interest policy, resulting in backlash and a negative perception toward our industry’s involvement. In fact, just last year, Wikipedia’s community of editors banned hundreds of user accounts suspected of being paid to promote products or services.
But times are changing. Earlier this year, a committee of Wikipedia editors, communications agencies and professors met to answer the question: How can we all get along? And just last week, several communications agencies created a joint statement acknowledging the power of Wikipedia, admitting past wrongdoings and promising their dedication to abiding by Wikipedia’s guidelines moving forward. Several agencies have signed the statement and the Council of PR Firms has endorsed it, sharing, “PR firms should have the opportunity to contribute to Wikipedia on behalf of clients, but they should also agree to comply with Wikipedia policies.” As a member of the Council of PR Firms and long-time supporter of Wikipedia, Fahlgren Mortine is also signing this statement.
An excerpt of the pledge, encouraging public relations firms, communications groups and consultants to abide by Wikipedia’s policies of ethical engagement, reads:
Our firms believe that it is in the best interest of our industry, and Wikipedia users at large, that Wikipedia fulfill its mission of developing an accurate and objective online encyclopedia. Therefore, it is wise for communications professionals to follow Wikipedia policies as part of ethical engagement practices.
We therefore publicly state and commit, on behalf of our respective firms, to the best of our ability, to abide by the following principles:
- To seek to better understand the fundamental principles guiding Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.
- To act in accordance with Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines, particularly those related to “conflict of interest.”
- To the extent we become aware of potential violations of Wikipedia policies by our respective firms, to investigate the matter and seek corrective action, as appropriate and consistent with our policies.
- Beyond our own firms, to take steps to publicize our views and counsel our clients and peers to conduct themselves accordingly.
We are proud to be part of this groundbreaking initiative. As marketing and communications professionals, it is important for us to understand and be aware of the power of Wikipedia. Our clients’ presence on Wikipedia can have as much influence on their reputation as anything else, not only because it’s one of the most popular sites on the Internet, but also because it’s often the first place people go for online information thanks in part to its high search ranking. It is our job to act in our clients’ best interests and to help them craft enlightening content – whether that be on Wikipedia and within its guidelines or elsewhere. It is within our realm of expertise to do so.
This pledge is a step in the right direction of bridging the gap between Wikipedia and communications professionals; but still, to use the old cliché, actions speak louder than words. It is our responsibility to act as strategic and ethical counselors. As the world of communications transforms every day, it’s up to us to advise our clients how to navigate the changing waters and continue telling their stories on new and emerging channels. It will be the responsibility of both the communications industry and Wikipedians to mend the relationship and help Wikipedia become an even more powerful, informative and impactful communications tool moving forward.