Wikipedia editors discussing PR firms participation – Rules of Engagement in Social Media Commons

Ward Wiki's logoThe issue of PR firms’ involvement in editing Wikipedia entries for clients strikes again: the German newspaper Die Welt has recently published an article (original) featuring MyWikiBiz, a US company founded by Gregory Kohs, that is writing (for a fee) Wikipedia articles about companies.

Mr. Kohs, who was editing the clients’ articles under the username MyWikiBiz, has been banned blocked for 10 days by Jimmy Wales for being paid to add entries to Wikipedia which — says Mr. Wales — “is a serious serious no-no because of the obvious conflict-of-interest issues“. Also, the Wikipedia article edited by Kohs on Norman Technologies has been marked as AfD (article for deletion) which has started a discussion that will likely determine if PR firms will have any involvement in editing their clients’ entries in Wikipedia, and how the process should work.

Bellow you’ll find a list of links pointing to Wikipedia talk pages and discussions lists where this issue has been debated for the last couple of weeks (as well as a couple of other articles that I thought are relevant for this discussion). If you’ll take the time to read them — which I strongly recommend — you’ll see that the issue is not trivial. (I’ll post my views on this issue later.)

The problem of edits by PR firms for client — or any “pay for edit” arrangements — is not going to disappear. This is not only about using Wikipedia to promote one’s clients – it’s also about accuracy and reputation. As Wikipedia’s readership, popularity, and position in search engines results will grow, companies will become more and more concerned about the accuracy of Wikipedia’s entries and on how their reputation is affected by it, and will not stay idle if the entries on their organization, leaders, or products are inaccurate.

Of course there will always be a problem with anonymous editors. But I think there are a lot of PR firms and practitioners that are willing to abide by a code that will state clearly the guidelines to be followed by a practitioner for getting involved in the edits of clients pages.

This code doesn’t exist yet – and the discussion about it is happening, for now, without the participation of PR practitioners.

The problems raised by this case are not confined to Wikipedia. The industry should start working now on the rules of engagement on Social Media Commons — social spaces like, YouTube, digg, MySpace, and Second Life — that will allow organizations’ participation in a way that is transparent and respects the communities’ rules.

Other articles and blog entries on PR edits in Wikipedia:

Hat tip: PR-Kloster, Storryblogger & bitemarks.

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  1. Is there anywhere on Wikipedia that states people cannot be paid to edit or start entries? (Yes, I could look, but would rather ask first, then check.)

    If not, then why is Kohs banned? If you are paid to start/edit entries, does that assume the information is misleading? I edited an entry with new information based on a client. The information was accurate (sports stats, personnel, etc.), but was it cause for being banned?

    If Wikipedia bans PR firms or anyone paid to start/edit entries, isn’t that going against the purpose or the spirit of Wikipedia? You can’t start a collective knowledge vehicle and then change rules, or make them up.

    Well, if you started Wikipedia, I guess you can institute your own rules, midstream.

    This is just an example of why sources like and similar reference sites are the best vehicles for information. Or, how about the ol’ fashion Web search?

    I very rarely use Wikipedia because the information there cannot be guaranteed to be accurate. Or, at least, put forward in good faith.

  2. The account for MyWikiBiz (Gregory Kohs) — that’s me — is NOT blocked any longer. My firm is (until a more permanent, official policy develops) abiding by the agreement that Jimbo Wales offered. We post GFDL content on our own website (, and respected editors of Wikipedia who are NOT employees of are free to post these articles to Wikipedia, if they feel the content is not unduly biased in any significant way. It’s a half-hearted “solution” to a problem that I still fail to see as a real problem, but those are the parameters we’re working within. Our account was blocked for a total of ten days, and we’ve been in operation for about a month. Certain Wikipedians who are in a panic don’t seem to understand that our clients are not looking to “advertise” or “promote” their business on Wikipedia. They merely want to be fairly included in what has become a leading repository of the “public record”. It’s when opponents begin to demand proof of importance and notability that articles begin to take on a commercial tone.

  3. Interesting as always, Constantin. Do you know if they have rules for companies editing the information about themselves? Surely if I am a communications director and I edit the page about my company, then I am also being “paid” to do so?

  4. Constantin – This is a great summary of the issue, thanks for turning your lens on this and brining multiple views together. A slight correction for you, the original date of my post was actually March 3, 2006. An interesting effect I also noted after posting was that my views were the subject of some debate on Wikipedia forums. While some shared strong views against marketers being part of the conversation, most ultimately agreed that as long as the basic tenents of relevance and neutrality (among others) are followed, “corporate content” can have a legitimate place in Wikipedia.

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  6. Mike, there is a proposed policy/guideline on Conflicts of Interest addressing the question you’re asking:

    “If you fit either of these descriptions:

    1. you are getting paid to edit Wikipedia as a representative of an organization (either directly, as an employee or contractor of that organization, or indirectly, as an employee or contractor of a firm hired by that organization for public relations purposes);
    2. you expect to derive monetary benefit from editing Wikipedia, as, for example, the owner of a company you are writing about;

    then we encourage you very strongly to avoid editing Wikipedia in areas in which you appear to have a conflict of interest. Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy states that all Wikipedia articles must represent views fairly and without bias, and a conflict of interest makes it difficult to fulfill this duty impartially.”

    This isn’t about changing rules midstream: it’s about a decentralized system on Admins and editors that might disagree with other Admins/editors on their decisions (like the one made by Jimmy Wales when he banned temporarily MyWikiBiz) and about a community-driven process of establishing and modifying policies (that’s what’s happening right now with the policy on Conflicts of Interests).

    Todd – thank you for reading!

    Gregory – thank you for clarifications. I understand your clients’ need for being fairly represented in Wikipedia – but, on the other hand, I understand people who are trying to keep at bay the hype and commercialization of Wikipedia. I hope we’re going to find a solution that will preserve Wikipedia’s integrity while allowing companies a role in correcting false information about themselves and contributing accurate information.

    Niall, since a company is a “fictional person” :), employees’ edits of articles are covered by the Conflicts of Interest guideline.

    Rohit, apologies for the mistake (corrected now), and thank you for the link you provided – it’s really interesting. It proves the point that if marketers are showing understanding of community rules and willingness to follow them –like you did in your blog post– then it’s more likely to be accepted as contributors in the social media commons.

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  10. Wikipedia is a popularity contest, just like DMOZ. The editors have attitudes (ok, I don’t believe ALL of them do) and it’s sad because I bet there’s many people who just jumped on the bandwagon while there’s been nothing but hard work over the years for the creators and parties involved who had good intentions. Wikipedia is great – but when you create something that’s free for anyone to post to, you gotta run with it. OR do the opposite. Make it not free or make a review process. Of course that all requires man hours and money. Then again, moderators to a free automatic inclusion site also costs time if not money… the moderators certainly should be paid.

    I think Wikipedia will ultimately fall into the clutches of spam and control by money. Sad.

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  20. So if there is a fact error on your client’s wikipedia page & you have all the info to correct the record, is the best approach to go in to the “discussion” talk tab of the wiki entry & add in your information there (so it shows up in forum area but not on the actual wiki entry)? Being fully transparent of who you are, of course. What is the right way to do it?

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