September 2, 2014

New Survey Finds Majority of Wikipedia Entries Contain Factual Errors About Companies

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From the Public Relations Society of America Announcement:

Sixty percent of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors, according to research published today in the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) scholarly publication, Public Relations Journal. Findings from the research will help establish a baseline of understanding for how public relations professionals work with Wikipedia editors to achieve accuracy in their clients’ entries.

The research was conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., co-chair of PRSA’s National Research Committee and an assistant professor of public relations at Penn State University in State College, Pa. DiStaso surveyed 1,284 public relations professionals from PRSA, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, the Institute for Public Relations and the National Investor Relations Institute to assess their working relationship with Wikipedia. The Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State’s College of Communications funded the research.

Results of the survey indicate a gap exists between public relations professionals and Wikipedia concerning the proper protocol for editing entries.

When respondents attempted to engage editors through Wikipedia’s “Talk” pages to request factual corrections to entries, 40 percent said it took “days” to receive a response, 12 percent indicated “weeks,” while 24 percent never received any type of response. According to Wikipedia, the standard response time to requests for corrections is between two and five days.

Only 35 percent of respondents were able to engage with Wikipedia, either by using its “Talk” pages to converse with editors or through direct editing of a client’s entry. Respondents indicated this figure is low partly because some fear media backlash over making edits to clients’ entries. Respondents also expressed a certain level of uncertainty regarding how to properly edit Wikipedia entries.

“It does not surprise me that so many Wikipedia entries contain factual errors,” said DiStaso. “What is surprising, however, is that 25 percent of survey respondents indicated they are not familiar with the Wikipedia articles for their company or clients. At some point most, if not all, companies will determine they need to change something in their Wikipedia entries. Without clear, consistent rules from Wikipedia regarding how factual corrections can be made this will be a very difficult learning process for public relations professionals.”

Read the Complete Summary/News Release

Read the Full Text Article (24 pages; PDF)

Quick Comments

  • These comments are not specific to the public relations community. Wikipedia as a reference tool vs. marketing vehicle is an important topic but for another time.
  • No reference tool is perfect but what causes the greatest is concern is when someone asks for a correction, update, etc. to Wikipedia and then they don’t here back from an editor.
  • We’ve also experienced (and heard this from others) that when changes are made they’re often reverted back to the previous version because an editor (or a Wikimedia bot) has some sort of issue with the information even if the change uses data from a cited and respected source. At this point, keeping information current and accurate should be as much of a priority to Wikimedia as adding new entries.
  • As we’ve said many times, popular topics are one thing but what about entries that don’t the same amount of traffic and notice? Isn’t the information found in these entries just as important to the researcher who uses Wikipedia as a source? Traffic/popularity shouldn’t have any relationship to the currency/accuracy of the information contained in these entries. In other words, if you’re going to include an entry (any entry) Wikipedia leadership must do all that’s possible to keep it as accurate as possible.
  • More on this topic soon.
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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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