INTERVIEW: Wikipedia Expert Discusses What PR Pros Should Know (Part Two)

Just as good as the first part...

Yesterday, we brought you part one of a riveting interview with William Beutler, founder and president of Beutler Ink.

ICYMI: PR professionals everywhere consider the matter of how to ethically edit Wikipedia about as confusing as the Riddle of the Sphinx. Clients need it. Your boss wants it. Yet few people understand how to do it. Fortunately, Beutler has been doing it for years and believes struggling with this should no longer be a rite of passage in your cube farm.

Part two of this interview promises to be as revealing as the first. Get your notepads ready:

6. Do the “Five Pillars” of Wikipedia still apply to all users of Wikipedia or just designated editors?

Wikipedia’s Five Pillars are less like the Bill of Rights and more like the Declaration of Independence. The Five Pillars are five basic tenets of what Wikipedia is all about, a kind of mission statement, as opposed to a list of rules limiting power or describing obligations. Put another way, yes! It applies to everyone!

7. How can PR agencies find a Wikipedia-certified editor?

This is a great question. It’s actually not a valid question—but that’s precisely what makes it so great. Remember that Wikipedia’s community has very little formal organization. It takes 30 seconds to create an account; however, it is very difficult to get thrown out. Users can come and go as they please, so the community is incredibly porous.

That isn’t to say there is no hierarchy, it’s just an invisible one, based on reputation, demonstrated editing skills, and knowledge of the rules. But to answer your real question: my advice for an agency would be to find a specialist to develop quality content, then help identify editors who are capable of helping, and willing to do so.

wiki button8. Explain the power an editor has to change a client’s page in order to keep it up to Wikipedia’s new standards.

My advice is always to take a hands-off approach. Be patient, be respectful, and be aware of how Wikipedians think about your Wikipedia entry. That’s because it’s not really your entry. It is a Wikipedia article like any other, but in this case, the topic happens to be about you. You can certainly have an influence on what it says, but it’s a bad idea to think that you get to determine what it says.

To take just one example, Wikipedia editors care less what you say about it than what a trade publication might say. Let’s say your company just released a product that represents a big step forward for your company. It’s important to you, but Wikipedia wants to see some acknowledgment from a third party that it is considered important to others. So you’re much better off making sure it gets covered by the trades before asking Wikipedia to add it.

Let’s say the story runs, and it says everything you wanted. Now there’s still the matter of adding it to the page. First thing, Wikipedia’s Terms of Use requires that you must disclose your “conflict of interest”. Second, you have to decide whether to add it yourself. Many Wikipedians, including Jimmy Wales, would much rather you ask another editor to consider the change. If you do that, it will probably take longer, but it also shields you from accusations of meddling.

9. Help PR professionals understand how to communicate what their brand pages should contain.

In most cases I’ll suggest thinking of Wikipedia entries as a digital version of the old print encyclopedias, but the older I get, the fewer people I meet who grew up with them. So my practical advice is to read some entries about brands that Wikipedia editors have recognized as among the best and see how these examples might apply to your own entry.

That said, any information in an article should be accurate, well-sourced, on-topic, it should be reasonably up-to-date, and it should be judicious about which details are important. Not everything is “encyclopedic”. You want it to be a useful introduction to your organization, not an exhaustive history of everything that’s ever happened.

10. Lastly, Wikipedia has stressed “writing with due weight.” What does that mean, and how does it apply to any client’s information.

The concept of “due and undue weight” is a subset of a very important Wikipedia policy called “Neutral point of view”. The basic concept starts out pretty simple, but gets complicated quickly: encyclopedias should be even-handed, since they are written for everyone, but everyone doesn’t agree on everything, so you have to make choices, and someone will be unhappy.

Maybe everyone. In practice, it’s not usually so extreme. For any subject, there may be a lot of potential information to include, but it’s best to focus on the most important things, and give less space to minor aspects. For company articles, it usually comes into play when an article is either too glowingly positive or harshly negative. In either case, the goal should be to find a proper balance.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Gideon Burton, Flickr