The tense relationship between the PR and Wiki communities ranked front and center at the first national WikiConference USA held May 30-June 1 at New York Law School in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood.

Wikipedians agree that PR firms have the right to correct factual errors posted on the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

A Wikipedian said the idea that “PR people's shadow are never to darken the door of Widipedia” is long gone, remarking ‘that ship has long sailed.”

Many in the audience at two May 30 sessions however were deeply skeptical about PR input.

They believe agencies are more interested in planting “shameful plugs” on the site to burnish client image, rather than pursuing truth, justice and the Wiki way.

Some snickered at the suggestion that PR firms are only trying to :do the right thing.:

Tough Call

Andrew Lih of American University, Beutler and Bassik
Photo: Sharlene Spingler

Wikipendia's David Goodman told the audience "no sharp boundary" exists to determine the difference between truth and puffery.

He defined a promotional post as one that tells readers “what a client wants them to know” about their goods or services offerings.

That contrasts, in Goodman’s mind, to an encyclopedic article that informs people about “what they want to know.”

William Beutler, a Wiki editor who runs Beutler Ink content marketing shop in DC, organized and served on the panel called “How the PR Industry Views Wikipedia.”

His four-year-old boutique shop works with companies and brands to help get stories earn approval by Wikipedia’s editors.

Burson-Marsteller is among PR firms to use Beutler Ink for counsel on navigating Wiki’s stringent guidelines, protocols and best practices standards.

B-M Out of Wiki Editing Business

Michael Bassik, who ran B-M's digital operations before moving to Miles Nadal's MDC Partners, said he ended the WPP unit's past practice of editing Wiki entries of clients.

In his view, the vast majority of PR people are unaware of Wiki’s protocols, believing they are making harmless changes to the encyclopedia.

After seeing B-M staffers across the street from its New York headquarters editing Wiki posts, Bassik ordered the hands-off policy.

Those on-the-street editors got him wondering what Wiki additions/subtractions were Burson people making in offices in London, Paris, Barcelona, Jeddah, Bangalore, Beijing, Tokyo and Sydney.

'Friendly, space policy'

Conference press materials included a sheet providing an overview of Wiki's "friendly space policy."

Organizers were “dedicated to providing a harassment-free event experience for everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression, age, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion or preferred Creative Commons license (and not limited to those aspects.)"

Violators "may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference at the discretion of the event organizers," according to the hand-out.

Wiki also defined harassment as “non-contextual display of sexual images, deliberate intimidation, stalking, unwelcome following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.”

Rule-breakers might receive a "private warning" asking for a change in behavior.

Organizers with help, if necessary, from NYLS staff or the NYPD, promised to eject serious transgressors.

Meetings attended by O'Dwyer staffers went off without a hitch.