Bell Pottinger just got caught with its PR pants down as Wikipedia launches an investigation into the U.K. firm for violating the social encyclopedia’s editorial policy. According to Wikipedia, the PR agency made over 1,000 edits to its clients’ entries – using several false accounts – removing negative information and replacing it with positive content.
Very often in the PR world, clients come to us with one of two requests regarding Wikipedia – 1) We don’t have a Wikipedia page, can you help us create it? or 2) We have a Wikipedia page, and it’s not all good news, can you help us change it?
This is why at SHIFT we have a standard policy that we will not create, edit or touch our client’s Wikipedia pages. Why? Besides being unethical, it’s against the rules of the Wikipedia playing ground, which ask that content be factual, non-promotional and created and edited by sources other than those working for a company or representing a company. (And duh, we represent!)
Another reason we created this policy is because we found this was not always the case for our competition. Too many PR agencies don’t know the Wikipedia policy or worse, don’t think it’s a problem. As Bell Pottinger has come to find, it is a big problem.
Social media has created a seemingly limitless opportunity for brands to connect directly with their target audiences and with that comes the responsibility of being able to identify clear boundaries. It is our job as PR professionals to advise our clients on what is ethical, transparent and in their and our best interests. Sometimes this means saying “no” and providing counsel on the best route to online Zen. We’ve run into these same questions and complaints from clients about Glassdoor.com, Amazon.com reviews and the like.
As the PR agency, we can help to shape our client’s message and influence the perception of the average Wikipedia user through company-generated content (e.g. corporate blog), third-party interviews (media, bloggers) and conversation (Twitter chats!). It’s not our job, however, to misrepresent our clients by manufacturing false praise online.
What do you think of what Bell Pottinger did? Does your agency have a Wikipedia policy? Please let me know in the comments!
By guest blogger Amanda Guisbond, @agbond
Posted on: December 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm By Todd Defren