Although Wikipedia’s guidelines prohibit the use of their platform as a way to advertise or promote a business or person, it has been used in that fashion almost since its inception in 2001. The fact that any notable person can have a Wikipedia page and that any person with an internet connection can edit that Wikipedia page meant that keeping an eye on your Wikipedia page was important.
Of course, at its outset, the website didn’t pull in much traffic, but, in 2014, it’s commonplace for the free encyclopedia to receive millions of hits each day.
So, the importance of monitoring your Wikipedia page is not in question. More people will learn about you or your business from your Wikipedia page than they will from your official website. That means that content you frequently can’t control is going to be the most-viewed content about you or your business.
Even so, it’s against the rules to edit your own Wikipedia page (or a Wikipedia page with which you have a conflict of interest). The penalty for editing your own page and getting caught is a potential ban on your IP address from editing anything on the website for a certain amount of time (or forever).
This has caused many people to turn to PR firms for monitoring and editing their Wikipedia pages. Because Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, a PR firm who receives payment can clandestinely alter negative information on a Wikipedia page. Of course, there are still rules against that, but it hasn’t stopped many people from employing the services of a professional Wikipedia writer. As long as that writer can source things properly and write in a neutral, unbiased tone that doesn’t sound like a promotion, then they can slide past Wikipedia’s “censors.”
Wikipedia’s Relationship with PR
It is clear that Wikipedia and PR people will likely never see eye-to-eye. Still, the platform is going to continue being exploited by PR people who want to ensure that their clients’ names are not sullied. Some have suggested that the relationship between Wikipedia and PR does not have to be a contentious one. In fact, it can be mutually beneficial as PR professionals are simply trying to add valuable (and true) content to the Wikipedia pages of their clients.
Some have called for a more open and honest relationship between the Wikipedia community and PR professionals. In fact, many community members (often referred to as Wikipedians) prefer transparency over anything else. That’s why they like it if PR professionals actually engage with the community. Many PR professionals use transparent tactics already when editing or creating Wikipedia pages and others do not.
All that being said, Wikipedia is still an open-source encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone, and sometimes PR professionals don’t have time to go through the “proper channels.” It might simply be easier to identify a negative piece of information (falsified or not) and get rid of it before it causes any damage to the client’s reputation.
It may also simply be easier to act incognito and to upload pages and make edits without consulting with Wikipedia’s editors beforehand. After all, the website can be edited by anyone, and, as long as the PR professionals work within Wikipedia’s guidelines of neutrality and notability, then they can add, subtract, or create to their heart’s content.
John Akins is a public relations specialist based in Washington D.C. He has worked for numerous public relations firms on the east coast and has a speciality for press release writing and Wikipedia editing.