[Originally posted to my Digital Public Affairs newsletter.]
Despite what academics say about the accuracy and credibility of the articles, and the writing skills of those who contribute, Google thinks Wikipedia is the Crown Jewels of the Internet. In fact, a Google search of “Crown Jewels” shows the Wikipedia article ahead of the Crown Jewel web page of the British Monarchy’s official website.
This means professional communicators need to be aware of Wikipedia as a platform for misinformation about their employers and/or clients.
But be careful! Just because a critic, activist (pro or con) or interest group can make changes apparently free from conflict of interest, representatives of an organization are generally held to a higher standard. Don’t misunderstand me. I support the need to protect a resource which aims to be a trusted and agile repository of the world’s information. However, I believe there is a danger that the trustworthiness of the site faces some serious challenges. I wrote about those not long ago. Those who don’t follow the ‘rules’ will be soundly ‘spanked’ in a very public way online.
I recommend you familiarize yourself with the Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance for Public Relations Professionals (download the PDF) and that you take the time to learn how to be a productive member of the Wikipedia community. The steps are fairly simple:
- Pick five Wikipedia articles on a variety of subjects, the more contentious, the better.
- Read the articles and become familiar with the content, language and structure.
- Review the History page for each of the five articles and become familiar with the interface. Take time to compare revisions to understand how the updates are made, when and why, and especially by whom. Notice some people are transparent about their interest in the article/relationship with the subject of the article, and others are decidedly anonymous.
- Review the Talk page of each of the five articles and become familiar with the issues/updates being discussed, by whom and the date stamps of the entries to better understand the responsiveness of the editor community attached with that particular article. Become especially familiar with the process and how people interact.
- Review the profile pages for Wikipedia members you identify as part of the previous steps.
- Create an account for yourself. Set up your own Wikipedia profile page and clearly identify who you are including your profession. Be transparent.
- Find articles on subjects of personal (not professional) interest for which you have no potential conflict of interest.
- Pick one that needs an update/correction.
- Follow the lead you discovered in the previous steps for making a change.