Study: Wikipedia Errors Damage Brands’ Reputations

Issues. We got 'em.

Most of us rightly see Wikipedia as a flawed but unavoidable source of information; the fact that some of the site’s entries are less than 100% accurate doesn’t make it any less influential.

A recent study conducted by the PRSA, however, determined that errors on companies’ Wikipedia pages can significantly damage their reputations. Some key findings:

  • 59% of those familiar with the pages of their own companies or their companies’ clients indicate that errors exist
  • 28% of respondents believe that these errors could be “reputation-damaging”, while 38% who answered yes to that question believe that such mistakes have already taken their toll on the reputation of the company/client

This project was the second annual Wikipedia study conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D. DiStaso is an Arthur W. Page Center senior research fellow, a co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee, and an assistant professor of public relations at Penn State.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales still supports the “bright line” standard requiring PR pros to request and gain permission from site administrators on the Talk pages before tinkering with clients’ entries, but even those who closely follow the rules encounter some challenges.

DiStaso surveyed more than 1,600 PR professionals and found that:

  • 40% of all PR pros engaged with Wikipedia, either through direct editing or Talk page requests
  • 33% check relevant pages monthly for updates
  • During crisis events, 45% monitor the sites each day and 23% check back each hour
  • Despite these findings, only 24% of pages for companies and clients were “created by a PR team”
  • 27% said some factual errors remained online for more than a year
  • 13% never received any response to an editorial request
  • Almost one quarter of respondents (23%) found the editorial process frustrating and “nearly impossible”
  • Only 25% of respondents were familiar with the “bright line” rule, and the vast majority think it should change

The concept of a rep using the direct edit option to scrub BP’s page still rubs many the wrong way, but this study’s findings tell us that the practice won’t end anytime soon—the industry will simply have to come up with a better set of talking points to justify it and/or work with Wikipedia’s admin team to help smooth out the entire editorial process.