Wikipedia and PR: Navigating a Complex Relationship

Wikipedia logo

In an interview on the FIR Interviews podcast published last week, guest Bill Beutler told Shel Holtz and I that it’s essential for the PR industry to re-engage with the principles of ethical Wikipedia engagement. His insights serve as a reminder of the ongoing evolution of digital communication platforms and the intricate relationship between Wikipedia and the public relations industry, as we explored the changes in that relationship over the past two decades and the current state of affairs in 2024.

Bill Beutler is founder and president of Beutler Ink, a digital agency with a unique focus on Wikipedia engagement, bridging the gap between the world’s largest encyclopedia and brands looking to establish a credible presence online. Bill’s journey from a political journalist to a pioneer in Wikipedia consulting sheds light on the influence and importance of collaborative online projects in shaping public perception.

Our conversation highlighted key historical moments, such as the establishment of the Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE) advocacy group, spearheaded by Phil Gomes, which played a crucial role a decade ago in fostering a constructive dialogue between PR professionals and the Wikipedia community. This initiative, along with others at that time by professional associations such as the CIPR in the UK (an initiative in which I was directly involved), paved the way for a more ethical approach to Wikipedia engagement by PR professionals, emphasising transparency and adherence to Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines.

“The Five Pillars of Wikipedia”

Beutler provided insights into the current challenges facing the Wikipedia-PR relationship, including the need for ongoing education among new generations of PR practitioners. Despite the establishment of best practices, Beutler says, there’s a noticeable trend towards collective amnesia regarding the proper ways to engage with Wikipedia, necessitating a renewed effort to educate and remind industry professionals of the ethical standards required.

One of the most intriguing parts of our discussion revolved around the impact of artificial intelligence on Wikipedia content creation. With generative AI’s growing capabilities, there’s a debate within the Wikipedia community about its potential role in article writing. However, the human element, with its nuanced understanding of accuracy and source verification, remains irreplaceable in ensuring the quality and reliability of Wikipedia entries, Beutler says.

A Call to Action for PR Practitioners

According to Beutler, it’s crucial for PR professionals to revisit and adhere to the established guidelines for ethical Wikipedia engagement. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, staying informed about best practices, embracing transparency, and collaborating with the Wikipedia community will ensure that our efforts contribute positively to the wealth of knowledge available online. We must commit to a future where PR and Wikipedia work hand in hand to enrich, rather than exploit, this invaluable resource.

You can listen to our discussion right here (or, if you don’t see the embedded player below, on the FIR website).

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[Wikipedia logo at top: Harleen Quinzellová, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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