How to turn a crisis into an opportunity for the PR industry
It was Winston Churchill who said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” For Wikimedia UK, the press coverage surrounding the issue of unethical editing of Wikipedia pages by Bell Pottinger was the moment for an optimist to step forward. For the public relations industry, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) made a statement that it intended to develop CIPR Social Media Guidelines that could help it work with PR industry professionals to clarify the position specifically in relation to Wikipedia.
As a Wikimedia UK Board Trustee I met with the CIPR in early February to confirm our willingness to support this CIPR initiative. I then met with the Public Relations Consultancy Association in March, to ask for its support and collaboration in this too.
At these meetings common threads were emerging. Most PR professionals are keen to work with open, online communities such as Wikipedia, and many already do so. However, there would be benefit in increasingly the level of understanding about the two community’s respective values, processes and needs.
It was felt that on the PR industry-side there are many Wikipedia policies on best practice for editing and on the issue of paid for editing, which many believe are too dispersed, and so not easy to find. It was felt that the belief system or culture which motivates 100,000 Wikipedian volunteers to donate their free time to creating the World’s No1 encyclopaedia needs better explaining. In a traditional commercial environment where time is billable, the nature of expectations of another’s actions is different from those in a volunteer-driven world. Being in a position to ‘think more like a Wikipedian’ and to ‘appreciate what motivates a volunteer’ would help to set support expectations at a more realistic level and lead to a deeper understanding of what the wider Wikipedia project is setting out to achieve.
In a more practical sense, it was felt that there was a need for the codification of existing Wikipedia paid for editing policies, WMUK training support in how to best use Wikipedia for PR professionals across the UK and a strong desire on the CIPR and PRCA side, to create a formal training module that could be introduced into PR training courses at university level at some time in the future.
So, a goal was set; to create a set of Social Media Guidelines for PR industry professionals. A target was agreed, to have these ready for the Wikimedia UK AGM on May 12th at the Science Museum, where they would be introduced by a representative from both industry bodies: Neville Hobson (on behalf of the PRCA) and Phillip Sheldrake (on behalf of the CIPR). Then, if this was well-received by the Wikimedia UK membership, to post the Guidelines online shortly after the AGM and to launch a Wikimedia UK-PR industry public consultation process which invited comment from both PR professionals and Wikipedians. This is a process that is now underway and will conclude later in June. I’d encourage Wikipedians to get involved and to post comments on these guidelines.
A second goal was set. That was to get the two PR industry bodies to approach their membership and ask them to get involved in the launch of Monmouthpedia the World’s First Wikipedia Town on May 19th, one week after the AGM. The idea behind this was to get PR professionals working alongside Wikipedians on a project of common benefit. It was also to show the value of the work that Wikipedians do in a fresh light to public relations professionals, thereby, starting the process of deepening the level of understanding of each others’ ways of working on both sides.
The Monmouthpedia initiative involved a number of PRCA member agencies who produced some fabulous communication support. With agencies such as Montpellier PR behind the Wikimedia UK communications team, the press campaign saw 277 news stories across 36 countries and created immense value to the town of Monmouth and to the technological innovation-driven notion of hyper-localism using multi-lingual Wikipedia pages.
Steve Virgin Board Member & Trustee of Wikimedia UK (2009-2012)
About Wikimedia UK
The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. Wikimedia UK is the Wikimedia chapter covering the United Kingdom. Their aim is to help collect, develop and distribute freely licensed knowledge by bringing the Wikimedia community in the UK together, and by building links with UK-based cultural institutions, universities, charities and other bodies. Wikimedia UK is a registered charity and is supported entirely by voluntary donations.
6) http://monmouthpedia.wordpress.com/ (online press resource)
7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/MonmouthpediA (project pages on Wikipedia)
8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/MonmouthpediA/Public_Relations (public relations messaging)