IABC raises more awareness of PR and Wikipedia

wikipedialensYesterday, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) published its latest edition of CW Bulletin, the monthly online supplement to CW, the association’s printed monthly magazine for members.

Each edition of CW Bulletin presents articles, case studies and additional resources on timely topics in communication.

The September edition is no different, with its focus on the issue of Wikipedia and public relations:

[…] the complexity of connecting with this online collaborative community poses challenges. The debate about whether, and to what extent, PR professionals should edit their organization’s or client’s Wikipedia entries brings up ethical questions about transparency and conflict of interest. This issue of CW Bulletin looks at the situation from a variety of viewpoints: examining ethical concerns, offering guidance on how to effectively engage with the Wikipedia community, and looking at how to overcome the chasm between the PR profession and the Wikipedia community.

Almost all of this edition covers this topic. I’ve written the anchor piece and there are op-eds from Phil Gomes, founder of the CREWE community on Facebook and David Gerard, a volunteer Wikipedia editor, and many others.

The full content line-up is this:

  • Bold Steps in Connecting PR and Wikipedia by Neville Hobson, ABC: While Wikipedia is described as something anyone can edit, the reality of doing that is a challenge for many communicators. Two initiatives this year are addressing that challenge.
  • A Lesson in PR Ethics and Wikipedia by Mark Estes, ABC: Shouldn’t conflict of interest and other ethical considerations prevent PR pros from writing about clients and client companies for a venue such as Wikipedia? And other burning questions.
  • Ethical Wikipedia Strategies for Brands by David King: Examining a safe and ethical way to make improvements to content that is valuable both for the organization and Wikipedia.
  • To Edit or Not to Edit: PR firms and Wikipedia by Austin Buckley: Some best practices for Wikipedia use, as well as some general guidelines for working with the site’s editors to ensure your clients’ pages are as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
  • How Corporate Representatives Can Work Better with Wikipedia by David Gerard: Those who put in the effort to participate and engage with the Wikipedia community properly will find editors who are willing to spend their time helping them.
  • Public Relations and Wikipedia: The unnecessary impasse by Phil Gomes: Fostering an environment in which a group with access and motivation to pursue accuracy is actively discouraged from participating is not only a flawed strategy in the long term, but ultimately quite contrary to the public interests that Wikipedia professes to serve.

While CW Bulletin is aimed at IABC’s worldwide membership – over 14,000 communication professionals in 90 countries – it’s openly accessible on the IABC website for anyone to read.

.In June, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) published the first version of Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance for Public Relations Professionals, a document that sets out a formal picture on how the CIPR believes public relations practitioners should behave when it comes to content on Wikipedia.

At publication, the CIPR’s initiative was supported by the Canadian Public Relations Society, the Public Relations Consultants Association in the UK, and the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Last month, IABC publicly stated its support for the CIPR’s work in announcing the formation of a volunteer taskforce, chaired by Shel Holtz (my podcasting partner), with this objective:

[…] The task force, chaired by Shel Holtz, ABC, IABC Fellow will investigate the growing concern related to news reports of inappropriate editing of Wikipedia entries by individuals and public relations firms. The task force will support efforts to educate and share information through articles and professional development to shed light on this multi-layered topic.

I’m a member of this taskforce (and, for the sake of clarity in this post, a long-time and active IABC member).

Providing information to communication practitioners to help them become aware of all the issues surrounding this broad topic is essential. One controversial issue raised by the CIPR – that practitioners should not directly edit content in Wikipedia that is about their clients, their employer, related brands and issues, or competing organizations and associated brands when there is a conflict of interest – deserves considered, 360-degree debate.

What’s your opinion? If you’re an IABC member, log in to Memberspeak on the IABC website and join the conversation. Or in any other place where you want your voice heard.

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What if Wikipedia was a bit prettier and more usable?

Imaginative, well thought out ideas – they definitely make Wikipedia prettier – which I’m interpreting as meaning far easier to understand the structure and navigate it to the things that interest you. I’d argue that usability would be improved, too (I wonder what Jakob Nielsen would make of it?).

Huge kudos to Lithuanian agency New! who is behind it. They’re open for discussion on their ideas – only an email address on the site, though – and it will be interesting to see what people say.

Key will be the Wikipedia community, can’t wait to see what they make of it.

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The journey begins: guidance from the CIPR on PR and Wikipedia published

cipr1wikipediaguideIt’s taken quite a while but it’s finally here – Wikipedia Best Practice Guidance for Public Relations Professionals: version 1 of a document that sets out a formal picture on how the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) believes public relations practitioners should behave when it comes to content on Wikipedia.

The most controversial view clearly stated in the guidance – the concept of which has been in the doc since its earliest public incarnation as a draft made available in May – is that PRs should not directly edit content in Wikipedia that is about their clients, their employer, related brands and issues, or competing organizations and associated brands when there is a conflict of interest. (the text in bold is my emphasis).

In a press release the CIPR issued earlier today, CEO Jane Wilson makes that point clear with crystal clarity:

[…] The main theme of the guidance is quite simple – where there is a clear conflict of interest created by the relationship between the public relations professional and the subject of the Wikipedia entry, such as a client or employer, they should not directly edit it.

That conflict-of-interest qualifier is key to understanding what this guidance document is all about.

It’s at the heart of much of the public debate about PR and Wikipedia that has taken place, informally in the CREWE community initiative on Facebook spearheaded by Phil Gomes, Stuart Bruce, John Cass and many others, as well as formally as illustrated by the CIPR’s document and the people directly involved in its creation, notably Philip Sheldrake, Phil Morgan and Gemma Griffiths as well as many members of the CIPR’s Social Media Panel.

I believe the guidance document is an essential step in helping practitioners (whether CIPR members or not) gain better understanding of Wikipedia – the community itself as well as how the content creation and editing procedures work. It makes clear sense to better understand a community whose content you want to contribute to in some way, and engage with those in that community on the terms of engagement of that community.

In my view, that’s a simple step we in the PR business can easily undertake and commit to doing. After all, we’re pretty good at community-building and -engagement, are we not? If we want to change the Wikipedia system, well, offering opinion, ideas and insight into how to do that as part of the community is the way forward.

So we have guidance. The PDF document published today – which you can freely download – is a first step, probably the easiest one. I think it’s also impressive that it’s issued not only in the name of the CIPR but also in the names of other professional bodies who publicly support it and are committed to it from the outset – the Canadian Public Relations Society, the Public Relations Consultants Association in the UK, and the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Now we embark on the real journey – putting the fine words into tangible action. One area I think will take a lot of work surrounds the broad notions of conflict of interest and neutral point of view (click the links to see how Wikipedia sees those terms) and how that works in a PR context.

All of this will require education, awareness-raising, helping others understand, reaching out to Wikipedians, patience, commitment, diplomacy – and, yes, courage. I’d like to think we’ll see reciprocity from the other side of the fence, as it were. I believe that will come sooner or later.

But first, let’s get PR’s house in order in relation to Wikipedia. One step at a time.

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Add your voice to the PR and Wikipedia conversation

Here’s a plea to PR practitioners this Jubilee Bank Holiday Monday and Tuesday – give just 15 minutes of your time in contributing your thoughts to the online discussion about public relations and Wikipedia being spearheaded by the CIPR and some members of the Wikipedia community.


The discussion is focused on the CIPR’s draft Best Practice Guidelines for Wikipedia that Philip Sheldrake and I outlined in a concise presentation to the Wikimedia UK annual general meeting in London last month.

The draft document was prepared by the CIPR’s Social Media Panel. It’s intended to be a cornerstone of plans in development for education and awareness-raising among CIPR’s membership about Wikipedia, PR’s relationship with it and best-practice approaches to engaging with the community to address content creation and editing.

You can read the draft guidelines on a Wikimedia wiki, and add your opinion and comment to the talk (discussion) page.

If you read what’s currently in that page, you’ll note that there are many comments from Wikipedians – most startlingly frank – but it’s extremely light on comment from the PR community. The stalwart voices in there are primarily Philip Sheldrake and the CIPR’s Phil Morgan.

If you’re in the PR business, you surely do have opinions about Wikipedia. That’s certainly what I hear from a great many PRs, usually talking about how difficult it is to edit content, often accompanied by comment about how obscure and mysterious Wikipedia is, and how little help you get.

Well, here’s your opportunity to join a public conversation where you can address such topics, and add your voice to influence where the overall conversation goes. You have a great opportunity to influence the opinions of others and even influence the shape of eventual policy of the UK organization that represents the public relations profession in this country about PR and Wikipedia.

In the process, you might even understand more about Wikipedia and Wikipedians and what makes the whole thing tick.

If you’re put off by having to edit a wiki the Wikimedia way – not an easy task for some people especially if you’ve never done it before – the CIPR’s Andy Ross has written a most helpful 3-step guide to being part of the wiki debate that includes advice on how to set up a user account on the Wikimedia wiki and then add comments to the talk page. Very handy.

If you prefer, you can add your voice to the conversation on your own blog, if you have one; on a social network like Facebook or Google+; or any other place online where you’re comfortable talking.

There’s still time before the CIPR takes the draft and considers comments before publishing the guidance as version 1.0 later this month.

The main point is – if you have an opinion, add your voice! Thanks.

Additional reading:

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QR codes at the heart of Monmouthpedia


An interesting experiment gets its official launch this weekend when Monmouthpedia formally kicks off today.

The Welsh town of Monmouth is the focus of this Wikipedia project that aims to create physical connections between places throughout the town, and events in its history, with respective content on Wikipedia.

According to the description on Wikipedia:

[…] The project aims to cover every single notable place, person, artefact, plant, animal and other things in Monmouth in as many languages as possible, but with a special focus on Welsh. This is a different scale of wiki-project. The project is jointly funded by Monmouthshire County Council and Wikimedia UK. Monmouthshire County Council intend to install free town wide Wi-Fi for the project.

What this means in practice is that when you visit Monmouth – a town with a rich history as this Monmouthpedia infographic illustrates – you’ll encounter visual clues everywhere that let you know that detailed information about the thing on which the clue is attached is available on Wikipedia.

The ways in which the clues will be displayed are many:

    • Larger ceramic or metal plaques for places exposed to the elements for articles specific to Monmouth.
    • Smaller plastic, ceramic or metal plaques for labelling objects non specific to Monmouth, e.g. for use in the Flora and Fauna guide.
    • Labels for use inside buildings, e.g. for objects in museums.
    • Glass stickers in the windows of shops to give information on their professions.
    • In addition there will be information posters, signs, notice boards and leaflets to help people contribute and stay informed.

And the visual clues themselves? QR codes.


If you have a smartphone and a QR code-scanning app (for Android smartphones, a good one is Barcode Scanner), you just scan the code and the relevant Wikipedia page will open on your device. As free wifi-fi will blanket Monmouth, no worries about connectivity costs.

What’s especially clever is that the page you get on your mobile device can be in any one of about 25 languages. Here’s how that works:

When a user scans a QRpedia QR code on their mobile device, the device decodes the QR code into a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) using the domain name “qrwp.org” and whose path (final part) is the title of a Wikipedia article, and sends a request for the article specified in the URL to the QRpedia web server. It also transmits the language setting of the device.

The QRpedia server then uses Wikipedia’s API to determine whether there is a version of the specified Wikipedia article in the language used by the device, and if so, returns it in a mobile-friendly format. If there is no version of the article available in the preferred language, then the QRpedia server offers a choice of the available languages, or a Google translation.

In this way, one QRcode can deliver the same article in many languages, even when the museum is unable to make its own translations. QRpedia also records usage statistics.

That’s what I call imagination.

If you’re interested in how this grand experiment will develop – Monmouth has been dubbed “The world’s first Wikipedia town” – keep an eye on the website and the blog. You can also connect on Twitter: @MonmouthpediA. Follow the hashtag #MonmouthpediA.

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Your time, your place, your opportunity


In the Wikipedia and Public Relations presentation to Wikimedia UK that Philip Sheldrake and I did last weekend when we participated in the Wikimedia UK annual conference in London, a significant aspect was sharing some content from a draft document prepared by the CIPR that’s designed to help CIPR members understand more about the Wikipedia community and how to engage with them.

It’s good to see that the draft text has quickly been posted to Wikimedia and is openly available for anyone with an opinion (literally) to comment. If you have a relevant view about Wikipedia and public relations that you wish to share, this is your time, your place and your opportunity.

So, have at it!

  • Also, read Philip’s post that he’s just published with his assessment of events and backgrounds. And, see Paul Wilkinson’s post – credible views from someone who’s both a CIPR member and a Wikipedian.

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