Analysis: Companies' PR plans should include Wikipedia

University Park, Pa. — Many major corporations have embraced social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as part of their overall public relations plans, and a Penn State faculty member and her colleague believe Wikipedia should be monitored as part of those efforts as well.

Because Wikipedia allows online content to be edited by anyone (not exclusively controlled by the company as is the case with other social media sites), the faculty members who conducted the analysis of pages for 10 of the most visible corporations in the United States over the past four years believe that Wikipedia can provide an important barometer of public opinion for companies.

"The findings indicate that PR practitioners must pay attention to Wikipedia," said Marcia Watson DiStaso, an assistant professor in the College of Communications at Penn State. "It generates great influence over search engine results, so it's often one of the first pieces of information find when they're looking for a company."

DiStaso and Marcus Messner, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, analyzed the Wikipedia sites for AIG, Chevron, Citigroup, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, IBM and Walmart. In one year, they found an average of 780,053 visitors to the sites -- with 1.6 million for GM and 1.4 million for Walmart.

The researchers encourage companies to embrace social media and engage in conversations in the marketplace because their analysis of how public opinion forms on Wikipedia found a significant shift in both rigor and diversity for the companies analyzed, with companies that are engaged in social media faring better.

"The tone of corporate Wikipedia articles has significantly shifted over time," DiStaso said. "The percentage of negative content increased in 2010, and the trends in topics also have shifted from what happened in the past and to a much greater focus on what is currently happening."

This study was presented at the International Public Relations Research Conference in March and will be presented at the Public Relations Society of America national conference in October.
 

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Last Updated November 18, 2010