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A Multi-Agency Commitment to Bridging the Gap with Wikipedia

Most people see Wikipedia as the world’s biggest and most important single online source of information. Most overlook its more interesting side: It’s also one of the world’s biggest and most complex online communities

Over the years, thanks in part to the behaviour of a few bad actors within our industry, many within that community have come to view professional communicators with deep mistrust. Some within the Wikipedia community have concluded that it’s impossible to work effectively with communications professionals in way that’s consistent with the site’s principles of objectivity.

But there’s no denying that Wikipedia is a critically important force for defining and shaping the reputations of businesses, corporate leaders, government officials, third sector organisations and countless others. And there’s equally no doubt that communications professionals have access to information and updates that could contribute to Wikipedia’s accuracy.

Which is what brought together a group of representatives from the communications industry, together with individuals from the Wikipedia community and academics, to discuss whether a fruitful dialogue between our industry and the community was possible.

Through a day-long discussion, and weeks of follow up conversations, we realised that it was up to the industry to take the first step.

The result is today’s statement, in which Ogilvy, together with other agencies including Edelman, Porter-Novelli, Burson-Marsteller, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, VoceConnect, Peppercomm and Allison + Partners, reaffirms our commitment to following Wikipedia’s principles and pledges to do our utmost to ensure that employees and clients do the same.

This represents the first time (that any of us can find), where a group of agencies has expressed itself with one voice on an issue like this.

We hope that by doing so — and by backing our statement with actions in the months and weeks to come — we can begin to establish a trusted relationship with members of the Wikipedia communities. We recognise that this will take time, and we are willing to work patiently in the months to come.

Ogilvy has always been an optimistic place, and in that spirit of optimism, we hope that a useful dialogue built on trust will have value for Wikipedia, us, and our clients.

Here’s the statement in full, as published originally within Wikipedia. Some links to other key materials follow below.

On behalf of our firms, we recognize Wikipedia’s unique and important role as a public knowledge resource. We also acknowledge that the prior actions of some in our industry have led to a challenging relationship with the community of Wikipedia editors.

Our firms believe that it is in the best interest of our industry, and Wikipedia users at large, that Wikipedia fulfill its mission of developing an accurate and objective online encyclopedia. Therefore, it is wise for communications professionals to follow Wikipedia policies as part of ethical engagement practices.

We therefore publicly state and commit, on behalf of our respective firms, to the best of our ability, to abide by the following principles:

  • To seek to better understand the fundamental principles guiding Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.
  • To act in accordance with Wikipedia’s policies and guidelines, particularly those related to “conflict of interest.” 
  • To abide by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Terms of Service.
  • To the extent we become aware of potential violations of Wikipedia policies by our respective firms, to investigate the matter and seek corrective action, as appropriate and consistent with our policies.

Beyond our own firms, to take steps to publicize our views and counsel our clients and peers to conduct themselves accordingly.

We also seek opportunities for a productive and transparent dialogue with Wikipedia editors, inasmuch as we can provide accurate, up-to-date, and verifiable information that helps Wikipedia better achieve its goals. 

A significant improvement in relations between our two communities may not occur quickly or easily, but it is our intention to do what we can to create a long-term positive change and contribute toward Wikipedia’s continued success.

There are some great perspectives on this from others who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on this effort. Start with Phil Gomes, who got the whole thing started a couple of years ago. Carry on with Bill Beutler who convened our first discussion in Washington. And don’t miss Dave Coustan from Porter Novelli. I’ll update with more links as they become available.