Whatever you do, don’t get caught with your hand in the Wikipedia cookie jar. That’s exactly what happened to Microsoft when the user-generated website discovered that the tech giant had agreed to pay a freelancer to change its entry.
Wikipedia has long had restrictions to prevent campaign workers, employees, PR firms (gulp) and anyone with a conflict of interest from posting on its site. Transparency and authenticity are key here – and companies will rue the day they cross that line. Companies like Microsoft, it appears. Lots of prominent bad publicity awaits those who dare try to manipulate the public in the user-generated domain.
Microsoft claims that it engaged the freelancer to correct technical inaccuracies following heavy editing from IBM employees. The freelancer works for a tech company in Australia and has described himself as a technical standards aficionado and not a Microsoft partisan.
For those of us in the PR world, it is one of our biggest fears – not being able to control our clients’ messaging. I can understand that Microsoft may have thought for just one second about hiring someone to fix it, but to actually go through with it. . . I thought they would’ve learned from Edelman’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco.
So what can we as PR people do to ensure that our clients’ messages are accurate and consistent? That’s a big question for 2007.
Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) has one suggestion: write or commission a “white paper” on the subject with its interpretation of the facts, post it to an outside Web site and then link to it in the Wikipedia articles’ discussion forums.
Interesting, but as user-generated content becomes more and more prominent – will it be enough?