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September 16, 2013

Survey Finds Errors in Wikipedia Articles have Damaged the Reputation of Companies

NEW YORK (Sept. 16, 2013) –According to a study published last week in the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) scholarly publication, Public Relations Journal, 59% of respondents who were familiar with their company or client’s Wikipedia article indicated it currently has one or more factual errors. Twenty-eight percent of respondents claimed their article has had at least one potentially reputation-damaging error, and 38% 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 statistically sound second annual study of Wikipedia conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., an assistant professor of public relations at Pennsylvania State University. DiStaso is also co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee, research editor for the Institute for Public Relations Social Science of Social Media Research Center, and an Arthur W. Page Centersenior research fellow.

To assess their working relationship with Wikipedia, DiStaso surveyed 1,620 public relations professionals who belong to a variety of organizations including PRSA, International Association of Business Communicators, Chartered Institute for Public Relations, Canadian Public Relations Society, Word of Mouth Marketing Association, Arthur W. Page Society, 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 public relations professional’s perceptions and experiences with Wikipedia. Given the popularity of Wikipedia and its prominence in search results, Wikipedia can affect reputations of companies. DiStaso’s 2012 study results led to discussions about the effectiveness of Wikipedia’s ‘bright line’ rule. As supportedby Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, the ‘bright line’ rule requires public relations professionals to make requests for changes to their company or client’s Wikipedia page through the Talk pages instead of directly editing.

Additional key findings from this study include:
  • Response Rates Improved but Remain Too Long: 13% said they never received a response to requests made on the Talk pages (down from 24% in 2012), and 10% said it took weeks (down from 12% in 2012).
  • Factual Errors Need Attention: 27% of respondents stated the longest they have seen a potentially-reputation damaging error on the Wikipedia article for their company or client was for a year or more and 23% said it lasted “months.”
  • Engagement by Public Relations Professionals Has Increased: 40% of respondents (up from 35% in 2012) had engaged with Wikipedia through either direct editing or the Talk pages.
  • Some Viewed Making Changes as Near Impossible: 23% 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% of respondents indicated that the Wikipedia article for their company or client was created by their public relations team.
  • Wikipedia is Monitored by Companies: 34% of respondents stated they monitor their company or client’s Wikipedia article quarterly and 33% monitored at least monthly.
  • Wikipedia Matters During a Crisis: 23% of respondents monitor Wikipedia hourly for their company or client during a crisis and 45% monitor daily.
  • Low Familiarity with the Bright Line Rule: 25% of respondents were familiar and understand the rule that requires public relations professionals to use the Talk pages instead of directly editing a Wikipedia article for their company or client (an increase from 21% in 2012).
  • The Bright Line Rule Should Change: 85% of respondents with engagement experience through editing or using the Talk pages felt 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,” said DiStaso. “Reputations of companies are on the line, so tying the hands of public relations 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.”

A copy of the research publication is available at:
About the Public Relations Society of America

PRSAis the largest professional organization serving the U.S. public relations community. With a mission to “advance the profession and the professional,” PRSA provides news and information, thought leadership, continuing education and networking opportunities; sets standards of professional excellence and ethical conduct; and advocates for the business value of public relationsand greater diversityamong public relations professionals. Based in New York, PRSA comprises 112 local Chapters; 14 Professional Interest Sectionsthat focus on specific industries and practice areas; and the Public Relations Student Society of America(PRSSA), which is active at more than 320 colleges and universities.



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