There are countless views on this issue, including the public statements of some of the bigger names in the PR industry. The issue elicits passionate and emotional responses. At the core of the issue is an important question: “Can an organization have a voice in Wikipedia?”
Many people are saying it is simply too hot to touch, a platform with no upside. Others are saying that Wikipedia is inherently a platform for individuals, not for organizations. If you pull back from that statement, you can reach a position that social networking is by its nature an activity only for individuals.
Where does that lead us? Can an organization have a voice in Wikipedia? Within the entry that describes it? Within the entry on its patented technology? What about an organization’s employees? Can they act on their own? Can their action be separated from their role in the organization?
I have a hard time accepting the argument that an organization cannot or should not take an active voice in such descriptions and discussions. It doesn’t make sense to me that a site like Wikipedia, which purports to seek truth by combining facts from multiple sources on a single subject, would deny the one voice closest to the issue at hand.
Many professional communicators have been in this discussion with clients, talking them off the ledge, keeping them from blowing a gasket over the nature of a Wikipedia entry, or trying to create entries for online marketing.
If you use the right analogy, this is actually old hat for the public relations profession. What do you do when a journalist shoots from the hip and plays loose and fast with the facts? You talk to the writer, and you appeal to the editor. You put the facts in front of them. The more adversarial the position, the easier it is to paint the writer as an advocate and to discredit his or her position.
I am not suggesting that organizations should use Wikipedia as a platform for advocacy. That runs counter to Wikipedia’s mission and would be a mistake. But I believe that an organization has an obligation to the public to challenge and correct publicly available inaccurate information. An obligation to its patients, employees, and stockholders. And this is highly visible content. Wikipedia is one of the top 10 visited Web sites globally. It is used by more and more people as an issue primer and even an alternative and/or supplement to search. The higher the visibility, the stronger the obligation to have a voice regarding the content.
Why would that analogy not transfer to Wikipedia? If you know the rules of the game, you know you can reach out to the volunteer editors, the stewards of Wikipedia, and address the facts. This requires transparency. Individuals who edited an article on behalf of an organization must identify their role with the organization. Fortunately, the tools to guarantee transparency are built into Wikipedia itself, including editor profiles, change logs, and discussion threads.