Bell Pottinger just got caught with its PR pants down.
According to Wikipedia, the PR agency made more than 1,000 edits to its clients' entries using several false accounts. It removed negative information and replaced it with positive content. Wikipedia has launched an investigation into the U.K. firm for violating the social encyclopedia's editorial policy.
Very often in the PR world, clients come to us with one of two requests regarding Wikipedia:
1. We don't have a Wikipedia page. Can you help us create it?
2. We have a Wikipedia page, but not everything on it is good. Can you help us change it?
At SHIFT we have a standard policy that we will not create, edit or touch our client's Wikipedia pages. It is unethical and against the rules of the Wikipedia playing ground. Wikipedia asks that content be factual, non-promotional and created and edited by sources other than those who work for or represent a company.
Another reason we created this policy is because some of our competitors don't have, or follow, one. Too many PR agencies don't know the Wikipedia policy, or worse—they don't think it's a problem. As Bell Pottinger found out, it is a big problem.
Social media has created a seemingly limitless opportunity for brands to connect with their target audiences, but they must identify clear boundaries.
It is our job as PR professionals to advise our clients on what is ethical, transparent and in their best interests. Sometimes this means saying "no." We've run into these same questions and complaints from clients about Glassdoor.com, Amazon.com reviews, and the like.
As a PR agency, we can help shape our client's message and influence the perception of the average Wikipedia user through company-generated content (corporate blogs), third-party interviews (media, bloggers), and conversation (Twitter chats). It's not our job to misrepresent our clients by manufacturing false praise online.
Amanda Guisbond is a senior account executive at SHIFT Communications. A version of this article originally ran on PR-Squared.com.