Jimmy Wales and Public Relations Face Off

by David King on Jan 16, 2012
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The last few days have been eventful for a niche community of Wikipedia editors. A Wikipedian for hire (like me) removed negative commentary about his client on Wikipedia under the guise of enforcing policy, rallied friendly editors to support him and made quite a show – enough for Jimmy Wales to condemn him personally.

That’s no surprise, Jimmy has always been a strong anti-paid editor advocate on Wikipedia and I’m sure he doesn’t have a warm spot in his heart for me either.

Meanwhile Edelman’s Phil Gomes had a rallying cry of his own – to get Jimmy to change his mind about paid editors like PR pros and allow for more open, welcomed, direct editing. Phil feels PR professionals aren’t welcome on Wikipedia. In most cases he may be right, but it depends on your behavior. PR pros aren’t the only new editors that feel the site can be intimidating and complex.

The conversation on and off Wikipedia went on for miles between established ethical paid editors, Jimmy Wales, PR pros, the PRSA, and a large number of volunteer editors with a range of stances as diverse as the wildlife in a rainforest preserve.

What will become of it all? It’s tough to tell, but there’s a few things in the works:

  1. WikiProject Cooperation
    A project page on Wikipedia with substantial contributions from myself with a mentor program, a help page, links to useful documentation and instructions for companies looking for brief factual corrections.
  2. A Facebook Group
    Called “Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement” (CREWE) started by Phil Gomes.
  3. A Move For New Policy
    Jimmy Wales is pushing hard for what he calls “a bright line.” PR professionals who aren’t familiar with dozens of relevant policies feel Wikipedia’s documentation is confusing, long and contradictory. A single rule of thumb, “never edit articles directly” may be in the works. Everything a PR pro could want to do can be done through community processes anyway, but few know how.

If nothing else, the story has made more clear than ever the lack of expertise within marketing communities on Wikipedia. Basic concepts like noticeboards, policies and other basic elements of Wikipedia were like a foreign language. Luckily, there is some initiative to improve education and the PRSA mentioned hosting something on Wikipedia at their next big social media event.

The big question in my head is, will PR professionals be humble enough to learn? In a world that prides itself on “thought-leadership” it’s unnatural to be humble, ask questions, and acknowledge you don’t have the answers. That there’s a need to learn or obtain new skills the organization doesn’t have.

“But I thought we were already amazing, you mean we’re missing something?” Yes sir.

It’s so much easier to keep knocking on the door insisting it’s Jimmy’s fault. That he just needs to let us in the door onto Wikipedia’s precious carpet with our muddy sneakers. We’ll have to pay the admission fee in sweat, experience and good manners.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Post Author

David King is the founder of Ethical Wiki, a professional services organization that helps companies improve Wikipedia ethically by offering content, requesting corrections and discussing controversies. Learn more at ethicalwiki.com or read our eBook on Wikipedia & marketing....

  • Very interesting.  The idea of a mentor program in particular is interesting from a marketing or PR professional point of view.  Are there any training programs outside of Wikipedia itself for people that want to get involved with editing Wikipedia ethically?

  • David King

    I think the Wikimedia Foundation does some kind of ethics training within their chapter organizations. There’s also a guy (Peter something) that trains Wikipedians in Residence at corporations and other institutions. In certain high profile cases like the Pottinger situation, Jimmy Wales has offered to do a presentation on Wikipedia ethics, but I don’t think that’s a routine thing.

    I don’t do training myself, because I feel like – without a proven & complete system for such training – it would only serve to give amateur Wikipedians a false sense of confidence, encouraging them to make edits that I can’t oversee to ensure they really are doing the right things. But there are others who have obviously figured out a training system that works.

  • Interesting.  I’ve been doing Internet marketing (and training) for many years now.  I’ve never really seen any kind of explanation or training on how to correctly get things changed or added into Wikipedia.  Yet, it seems like a valuable thing to know.

    I’ve never really understood why, nor have I attempted to find out.  It just seems strange to me.  There are so many explanations, blogs, papers, and classes out there to optimize Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even things like Squidoo.  

    Yet, for Wikipedia, there seems to be very little.  Am I missing something?  Is it because of the whole ethics thing?

  • David King

    It’s very ironic that it takes five minutes to get started on Twitter or Facebook, but 100 hours to learn Wikipedia.

    Yet we have so much expertise, research, training, workshops and presentations about those and none about Wikipedia.

    There’s a lot of reasons for this. The hush hush culture that’s emerged from so much publicity around covert censorship, the pure difficulty of Wikipedia in general, etc.

    All I can say is to tell your professional organizations, events groups, etc. to provide more speakers and content on Wikipedia ethics. I’ve done a few presentations for local chapters and such, but I have yet to see an informed speaker on the topic of Wikipedia at a major event.

    PS – It’s Pete Forsyth that does Wikipedia training. I’ve pinged him to see if he wants to respond. You could consider partnering with him to add Wikipedia training to your training services.