Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., assistant professor of public relations at Penn State University, surveyed 1,284 public relations people from the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA). Results of the survey indicate a gap exists between public relations companies and Wikipedia concerning the proper protocol for editing entries.
When respondents attempted to engage editors through Wikipedia's "Talk" pages to request factual corrections to entries, 40 percent said it took "days" to receive a response, 12 percent indicated "weeks," while 24 percent never received any type of response. According to Wikipedia, the standard response time to requests for corrections is between two and five days.
That isn't really relevant, of course. Wikipedia people work for free and not everyone checks it every day. If anyone gets a response at all, it is a bonus.
Only 35 percent of respondents were able to engage with Wikipedia, either by using its "Talk" pages to converse with editors or through direct editing of a client's entry. Respondents indicated this figure is low partly because some fear backlash over making edits to clients' entries. Respondents also expressed a certain level of uncertainty regarding how to properly edit Wikipedia entries. Of those who were familiar with the process of editing Wikipedia entries, 23 percent said making changes was "near impossible." Twenty-nine percent said their interactions with Wikipedia editors were "never productive."
Backlash is a real concern. If you ever looked at the Science 2.0 Wikipedia page, it's almost comical how poorly written it is. But if we edit it, then we could be accused of marketing. So the first paragraph, written by someone who knows little about Science 2.0, just says the network are commercial websites talking about science - which is essentially true, but missing the point of what it is supposed to be.
Those results also show that public relations people have only a rudimentary understanding of Wikipedia's rules for editing and the protocol for contacting editors to secure factual changes.
"It does not surprise me that so many Wikipedia entries contain factual errors," said DiStaso. "What is surprising, however, is that 25 percent of survey respondents indicated they are not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients. At some point most, if not all, companies will determine they need to change something in their Wikipedia entries. Without clear, consistent rules from Wikipedia regarding how factual corrections can be made this will be a very difficult learning process for public relations professionals."
Public relations people should review their employers' and/or clients' Wikipedia articles for accuracy and balance and inaccurate or misleading information should be brought to the attention of Wikipedia editors via an entry's "Talk" page - but keep in mind Wikipedia is not a free public relations tool.
"The editing of Wikipedia by public relations and corporate communications professionals is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed by everyone," says DiStaso. "The status quo can't continue. A high amount of factual errors doesn't work for anyone, especially the public, which relies on Wikipedia for accurate, balanced information."