Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Wikipedia and Online Reputation Management
By Toivo Mvula
The internet has given public relations practitioners many tools to use to communicate with an organisation’s internal and external publics, the media and other stakeholders.
These tools range from emails, websites, blogs, social networking sites, and search engines among others.
One tool that seems to have been largely ignored is the wiki.
Although some companies use wiki for internal communication, only about 18 percent of public relations practitioners use wiki for public relations purposes.
Wikis are websites with pages that can be edited by any visitor. Wikipedia is the most popular wiki and currently ranks high on the search results of search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN.
Hickerson and Thompson believe that wiki websites creates the potential for dialogical communication (public relations) for organisations and their publics.
However, many public relations practitioners regard wiki websites as posing a great risk for corporate reputation management.
If any person can edit a wiki page with information that is believed to be the truth about an organisation, then what influence remains for public relations practitioners?
The low use of wikis in public relations could be an indication that the risks outweight the benefits of using them to communicate and developing relationships with publics, especially the external public.
A study by DiStaso, Messner and Stacks examining Wikipedia’s implications for corporate reputation managment found that ten Fortune 500 companies Wikipedia pages was largely netural, but almost 40 percent of the content was either positive or negative.
In most cases, organisations are not responsible for creating their wiki pages on for example Wikipedia.
But internet users do not know this. The wiki pages look like they are part of the organisation because they have links to company websites and use real company logos.
Although PR practitioners are reluctant to use wikis for communication, they need to monitor what is being said about their organisations on Wikipedia and other wikis.
If any person can edit wiki pages, then PR practitioners can also edit the wrong information on their organisation’s wiki page.
This will prove to be even more difficult, especially due to the fact that Wikipedia is now even more multilingual with over 100 active language editions and reaching over 50 million users a day, which makes it hard for a PR practitioner to know what has been edited on an organisation’s page in all language editions.
Still, if they simply ignore it, internet users will regard the information as the truth.