There is a battle going on between the Public Relations industry and Wikipedia insiders who wish to exclude PR editors from “the encyclopedia anyone can edit”. In fact, a breakfast confab held yesterday morning by the San Antonio branch of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) declared: “It’s well-known in PR circles, that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, does not trust us. With [h]is grave misunderstanding of our profession, he has decided that PR people are biased and thus are not allowed to create or edit Wikipedia pages for our organizations or clients – even simple corrections of errors like the misspelling of the CEO’s name. So we are left with a confusing, cumbersome process to do our job when it involves Wikipedia.”
As a globally-leading website that appears at or near the top of the most important search engine query results pages, Wikipedia has (for better or for worse) become a must-watch reference page. This is especially true for any business concerned about its brand awareness and a factual presentment of its corporate history and product or service descriptions. A company that can’t be found on Wikipedia is deemed by most Internet researchers as “small potatoes” or “insignificant”. Yet on the other hand, a company that is given a disproportionately negative and unfair treatment by Wikipedia is suffering immeasurable damage to its reputation.
Paid editing not new
Businesses that understand the importance of content on Wikipedia, but don’t have the time or prowess to engage directly in the topsy-turvy editing process have been hiring experienced editors to act on their behalf, since at least 2006. That’s when MyWikiBiz was launched as the world’s first (and now longest-running) commercial operation dedicated exclusively to editing Wikipedia on behalf of clients. (Note: the author of this Examiner article, Gregory Kohs, is also the founder of MyWikiBiz.) I said of my business in 2006:
“Someone from the workaday world is likely to get very frustrated, very quickly, should they try to author their own article about their company on Wikipedia. Our editors are experienced, know the ins and outs of Wikipedia administration, and get the job done quickly.”
At the time MyWikiBiz launched, coverage of business subjects in Wikipedia was spotty and poor, and paid editing to author and improve articles was fully allowed. Indeed, a cash-for-edits “Reward Board” was fostered by the Wikipedia community itself.
Business still mistreated today
More than five years later, would-be participants in the Wikipedia editing process still find themselves bludgeoned by numerous (and contradictory) guidelines and policies that seem especially aimed at discriminating against corporate stakeholders who often just want to replace erroneous statements with facts. In response to this, a Facebook group of professional PR and communications specialists organized under a banner hoisted by Edelman agency man Phil Gomes, called “CREWE: Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement”.
Gomes ran a tight ship on the Facebook page, even banning the founder of MyWikiBiz from the discussion group, immediately after Jimmy Wales complained privately to Gomes that he felt threatened personally by me. After the media began to report on CREWE more extensively, a Wikipedia article about CREWE itself sprang up. Not surprisingly, though, that article was quickly crushed out of existence by none other than Jimmy Wales. While the article was restored in due order, it was not without hours and hours worth of bickering about whether the article should stay or go.
In some sympathetic conjunction with CREWE, a counterpart group formed on Wikipedia, called WikiProject Cooperation. This WikiProject was the handiwork of primarily two editors: David King, a self-professed expert on ethical engagement with Wikipedia, and Sterling Ericsson. Ericsson, a college student, uses the screen name “Silver Seren” on Wikipedia, which would appear to match up with a “Silver Seren” who publicly expresses a romantic affinity for men dressed in furry animal suits. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) King and Ericsson account for nearly 5 times the number of edits to the project than the third-most prolific contributor.
WikiProject Cooperation tells a beleaguered corporation that if it wants an article on Wikipedia, it has two options from which to choose. First, the company could put in a request at a page called “Articles for creation”. If that doesn’t work, the company can plug in their need at “Requested articles”. The problem is, neither of these mechanisms work very well at all.
Why QuiBids doesn’t have a Wikipedia article
The penny auction company QuiBids is an award-winning business, featured in Time Magazine, O Magazine, and numerous regional newspapers, and it runs ample amounts of advertising on national cable television. So much has been written about QuiBids (and not all of it glowing), one editor of Wikipedia proposed at “Requested articles” that there ought to be a Wikipedia article about the company. That proposal was in July 2011. Nearly nine months later, there is still no article about QuiBids on Wikipedia. So, at least for that company, requesting the article was fruitless.
What about “Articles for creation”? That pathway is also littered with failed attempts by businesses to convince Wikipedia that there should be an article about their company. In fact, since September 2008, out of the 63,564 article topics that have been proposed there, only 26 percent have ever become an actual article.
So, by following Wikipedia’s new rules for businesses seeking coverage by Wikipedia, a company might either get no response for as long as it takes a woman to gestate a baby, or a company might stand a 26% chance of getting what it wants. These are not encouraging statistics for a business.
In contrast, while I cannot disclose the identities of clients due to non-disclosure agreements in place, as the founder of MyWikiBiz, I can attest that our success rate with clients in Wikipedia is over 85 percent. Which is clear reason why businesses continue to pay outside professionals to edit Wikipedia.
Feel free to comment on what you think about paid editing on Wikipedia in the Comments below.
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