Survey: Wikipedia Errors Damage Company Reputation

September 27, 2013

According to a study published in the PR Journal, PRSA’s scholarly publication, 59 percent of respondents who were familiar with their company or client’s Wikipedia article indicated that it currently has one or more factual errors.

In addition, 28 percent of respondents claimed that their article has had at least one potentially reputation-damaging error, and 38 percent of those stated that an error in a Wikipedia article has damaged their company or client’s reputation.

The publication reports the analysis of a second annual study of Wikipedia conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., assistant professor of public relations at Pennsylvania State University. DiStaso is also co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee.

To assess their working relationship with Wikipedia, DiStaso surveyed 1,620 PR professionals who belong to a variety of organizations including PRSA, Council of PR Firms, Institute for Public Relations and National Investor Relations Institute. (The Arthur W. Page Center at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Communications funded the research.)

The purpose for conducting the studies was to explore PR professionals’ perceptions and experiences with Wikipedia. Given the popularity of Wikipedia and its prominence in search results, it can affect companies’ reputations.

DiStaso’s 2012 study results led to discussions about the effectiveness of Wikipedia’s “bright line rule.” As supported by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, the rule requires PR professionals to make requests for changes to their company or client’s Wikipedia page through the “talk pages,” instead of by directly editing them.

Improvements exist, though concerns remain

Additional findings from the study include:

  • Response rates improved, but remain too long: 13 percent said they never received a response to requests made on the talk pages (down from 24 percent in 2012), and 10 percent said that it took weeks to receive an answer (down from 12 percent in 2012).
  • Factual errors need attention: 27 percent of respondents stated that the longest they have seen a potentially reputation-damaging error remain on their company or client’s Wikipedia article was one year or more, while 23 percent said it lasted for  “months.”
  • Engagement by PR professionals has increased: 40 percent of respondents (up from 35 percent in 2012) had engaged with Wikipedia through either direct editing or through the talk pages.
  • Some viewed making changes as almost impossible: 23 percent of respondents felt that making changes to Wikipedia articles for their company or client was “near impossible” in 2012 and 2013.
  • New articles don’t typically come from the company: 24 percent of respondents indicated that their PR team created the Wikipedia article for their company or client.
  • Companies monitor Wikipedia: 34 percent of respondents stated that they monitor their company or client’s Wikipedia article quarterly, while 33 percent said that they monitored it at least monthly.
  • Wikipedia matters during a crisis: 23 percent of respondents monitor Wikipedia hourly for their company or client during a crisis, and 45 percent monitor it daily.
  • Low familiarity with the bright line rule: 25 percent of respondents were familiar with and understand the rule that requires PR professionals to use the talk pages instead of directly editing a Wikipedia article for their company or client (an increase from 21 percent in 2012).
  • The bright line rule should change: 85 percent of respondents with engagement experience, through editing or using the talk pages, believed that the rule should change.

“While the 2013 survey found some improvement in response times from Wikipedia when the talk pages are used compared to the 2012 survey, this study shed more light on the errors in Wikipedia,” DiStaso said in a release announcing the survey. “Reputations of companies are on the line, so tying the hands of PR professionals without providing an effective resolution to handling factual errors is concerning. With the goal of accurate Wikipedia content, the findings of this study indicate that the ‘bright line’ rule is still not working.”



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