By Mark Tosczak
When public relations professionals were surveyed a few months ago about the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, 60 percent of the respondents said articles on their companies had factual errors.
Yes, 60 percent. Other surveys of the accuracy of Wikipedia articles on companies have also found significant problems with entries on Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 corporations.
I’m sure that PR professionals at those companies (or their agencies) would love to simply go in and edit those entries to correct those errors, but they’re not allowed. Under Wikipedia’s rules, most direct edits by PR professionals are simply forbidden. In fairness, a few less-than-ethical paid communicators have done some things they should not have. Wikipedia itself has a fairly extensive entry on this subject.
As a result of this attitude, entries about many companies are likely to have factual errors. And yet, Wikipedia pages are a favorite of Google, which tends to put them at the top of search entries. Wikipedia is also a favorite as a first stop (and occasionally, the last stop) of researchers, journalists and others looking for reliable information.
The result, unfortunately, can be that inaccurate information becomes a part of the accepted public dialogue about a company.
There is an industry effort underway to try to make Wikipedia’s edit policy friendlier to businesses concerned about the truthfulness and accuracy of their profiles on the site. Right now, though, this effort is in its infancy. The UK-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations also has published a Wikipedia best-practices document for PR professionals.
There are some things public relations professionals should be doing to minimize mistruths.
1. Make sure your corporate website (and any affiliated sites, such as blogs, micro-sites or online newsrooms) are optimized for key search terms. Search engine optimization for a corporate web presence could be several blog posts by itself, so I won’t get into details now. But suffice it to say that if you’ve not assessed your corporate SEO efforts and search results lately, it’s time to do that.
Google has made major changes to algorithm and social media has become a huge factor in search results, and if your site and your social media efforts don’t reflect these realities it may not appear at the top of search listings. And that makes it more likely that searchers will find inaccurate information on other sites, including places like Wikipedia that may be viewed as authoritative.
2. When blogs, the news media and other sources make mistakes, ask for corrections. In my own work, it seems like mistakes by journalists have become more common the past few years. This may be the result of fewer reporters and editors being asked to produce more content in less time. But now fixing those errors is more important, as they may be cited and repeated by others.
For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that in some cases, at least, it wasn’t worth asking for a correction: It might insult the reporter, it might bring further unwanted attention to something negative going on, or it might simply not be worth the trouble.
Not anymore. Information lives forever on the web; once it’s there, it’s hard to get rid of it. Getting corrections, especially online, increases the chance that when those online news stories, blog posts or whatever are used as sources by Wikipedia authors, they will have accurate information.
3. Post enough information about your company on your company website. Some corporate websites are surprisingly shallow. Just because you don’t think details of your corporate history are important doesn’t mean that others will feel the same. Better that they get the accurate information from you.
4. If you do engage with Wikipedians to ask for a correction or update, be polite, professional and straightforward. This is not the time to debate whether that nasty lawsuit from five years ago (that really happened) is “worth” posting on the page devoted to the company. Focus on verifiable factual issues, not matters of editorial judgment. That way, your requests for corrections are less likely to come across to PR-wary Wikipedia volunteers as attempts at “manipulation.”
These tactics won’t guarantee that a company’s Wikipedia entry will be 100 percent accurate. As vast and useful as Wikipedia is, its crowdsourcing model of content generation still leaves it vulnerable to errors and shortcomings. But these steps should increase your odds of getting an accurate Wikipedia entry.
Have other suggestions to help ensure the accuracy of Wikipedia entries about your business or organization? Please share in the comments.
By Mark Tosczak