The media is glutted with cautionary tales of firms that have dabbled in the ethically dubious waters of Wikipedia edits. Wikipedia has previously expressed dissatisfaction with the use of the platform by PR agencies to promote clients, and has gone as far as to produce guidelines for both contributors and article editors to ensure that their rigorous neutrality standards are upheld. This begs the question: is it worth the risk?
“I can resist everything but temptation”
On paper, having a Wikipedia page – especially one that reflects your firm in a positive light – is a plus. It provides a (theoretically) neutral landscape upon which firms can report their history, accomplishments, key events and even their reputation. On the subject of reputation, Wikipedia has overcome substantial hurdles to shed its ‘unreliable for homework’ notoriety, and has become regarded as a source of trustworthy third-party information – something which, if harnessed correctly, can be used by firms to cement their positive reputation. In addition to this, Wikipedia’s high SEO rankings ensure that your firm’s page will be appear high up on any search function, providing an additional boost and a new avenue to direct traffic to your website. However, in doing so you are opening your firm up to a slew of potential threats.
“What mighty contests rise from trivial things”
Wikipedia is no stranger to disputing any article or edit that is deemed “overly promotional” or inaccurate and has frequently waged ‘edit wars’ against PR firms seeking to promote their client (as well as those who have posted incorrect or disputed content, much to the mirth of the wider public). Their responses to these infractions can be benign, often a slap-on-the-wrist message and a reversal of the edits. Far more serious however, is the accusation that a PR agency has manipulated the truth not to promote their client, but to protect them from the reputational damage of scandals.
Upon determining that an account has misrepresented the truth to either promote, or protect a client, Wikipedia will issue a formal warning to desist with repeated offences leading to the termination of the account with extreme prejudice. In some of the more severe cases, this has been followed up by public castigation of the PR agency in question – something that is devastating to not only your reputation, but those of your agency, and the clients involved. When the dust of the ‘edit war’ has settled, the copy that Wikipedia has approved will be the only copy that is displayed on the website – an often less than glowing version of the text, with emphasis brought not only to the scandalous information in question, but to the agency’s attempts to remove it.
“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity”
A general rule of thumb to follow is that if you represent a client substantial enough to merit a Wikipedia page, chances are that a Wiki editor will create one themselves. If not, then you risk being seen as ‘over-promotional’ and ending up with neutered or unflattering content. In creating an overly-promotional Wikipedia page to boost your client’s image, or censoring negative information to mitigate reputational damage, you risk alerting the sleeping giant of Wikipedia – possibly ending up with an extremely unflattering page full of the information your client wanted to be obscured, or perhaps even deigned not to share with you. Even if you escaped Wikipedia’s wroth, the rewards are meagre compared to the hypothetical risk.
In theory; yes, a Wikipedia page can bring value to your clients. In practise; it is much more likely that you will only bring them strife.