A Wikipedia Week

Wikipedia seems to be attracting even more Pharma interest in recent weeks, particularly as a recent IMS report highlighted how much doctors and patients rely on its content.

It was a pretty immersive week for me last week regarding Wikipedia:

  • A breakfast meeting on the subject
  • Meeting up with some devout Wikipedians over Sunday lunch
  • Finding a little time to make some edits of my own (non pharma related of course)
  • Personally fielding some professional questions about this fascinating community of knowledge

I saw an excellent presentation from, Paul W , a veteran Wikipedian, with 10 years tenure, over 10,000 edits and nearly 400 articles to his name.  He is also a professional PR guy.  You could be forgiven for thinking that these 2 personas would not sit comfortably in the same room, let alone in one human shell.

Paul shared some valuable Wikipedia guidance for PR agencies, that demonstrate PR & Wikipedia are not incompatible entities, as long as the right approach is taken.

These guidelines actually make very useful reading for those in Pharma.  Page 10 is particularly interesting as it outlines the steps required when editing.  There is also a nice summary of Do’s and Don’ts.

These guidelines were created collaboratively on an open Wikipedia page, with input from the community.

Meeting ‘real life’ Wikipedians was an interesting experience.  My discussions with them reinforced the need that anyone with a conflict of interest needs to work with the community to make edits.   I met an administrator who proudly declared he had deleted over 100,000 pages.  While this deletion count seems to be a badge of honour, the motivation behind this, is ensuring Wikipedia, is of a high quality and authored from a neutral point of view.  So any ill advised attempts by Pharma to blunder in and start editing drug or disease pages will inevitably backfire.

Some of my Wikipedia recommendations:

  • Work with the community.  Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view (one of its five pillars ) The premise is that if you work for a Pharma company, then your opinion about that company, one of its drugs or disease areas, will be biased.  The solution is to work with the community to develop content, identify suitable editors who have contributed good quality articles on similar subjects, suggest articles for creation, use forms to request an edit or use the talk pages.
  • Be transparent and declare conflicts of interest  If you try to contribute under XPharmaCo it won’t work and rightly so.  Corporate or group accounts are not allowed on Wikipedia. It should be, for example, Rebecca, who, on her user page, clearly states she works for XPharmaCo, outlines her conflicts of interest and intent.
  • Be human  You need to speak like a person not a corporation.  Any attempts at corporate speak or a heavy handed approach will simply be met with contempt.  Wikipedia is not a corporation rather a community of dedicated volunteers.
  • Be bold Industry regulations are unclear when it comes to Wikipedia.  Take a clear ethical and considered standpoint.  You will need to have a plan however don’t expect clear regulatory guidance. The UK PMCPA digital guidance spectacularly misses the point, suggesting if a company starts editing Wikipedia it should ensure everything is correct.  I am afraid the community and consensual nature of Wikipedia makes this impossible to guarantee.
  • Have a go If you think Wikipedia is of interest why not try editing it yourself!  You may also want to look for volunteers in your organisation to start making edits.  Clearly these edits need to be outside of any conflicted area and the above bullet points still apply!

I look forward to hearing your opinions or examples where Pharma is currently or is planning to get involved with the Wikipedia community.  And if you have any suggested edits for this blog just let me know…



4 thoughts on “A Wikipedia Week

  1. “The UK PMCPA digital guidance spectacularly misses the point, suggesting if a company starts editing Wikipedia it should ensure everything is correct. I am afraid the community and consensual nature of Wikipedia makes this impossible to guarantee.”

    It’s the second point you make which is exactly the basis for the PMCPA comment…. i.e. Pharma companies should not attempt to try and correct Wiki.

    You fail to mention that the same PMCPA guidance makes it clear that companies can and should refer readers of Wikipedia (and I would argue other unregulated online sources of info on medicines) to approved and accurate reference information.


    1. Hi Rina,
      Thanks for commenting on this. Main thing for me and clients I speak to is the code is not clear, it sounds like you see the interpretation that companies should not try to correct Wikipedia? (if I understand you correctly) Despite what the guidance says I think companies should try to edit if they have a reason (in the right way via the community as per the post etc…) and we should accept the consensual nature of wikipedia that ‘we’ cannot have full control. Adding in reference material could work as long as it is neutral, supports the article and it is done via the community. I don’t see anyway that this could be referred to in the article directly though. I appreciate this is a big topic that could cover at least another post! I am very happy, indeed interested to talk and get your perspective on this as I find it more and more fascinating the deeper I dig… Cheers, Gary


  2. I think Gary that my concern lies in the unregulated nature of wiki. If we take the non-digital analogy of, eg an independent market research forum, where members express their opinions….Some may not be liked by others and some may have directly opposing views. What is clear though, is that once a pharma company wades in and “corrects” an opinion, that is tantamount to them expressing their position….this would be construed as plain and simple “advertising”. As EU legislation forbids companies to advertise medicines to the public, there is no other option but for the PMCPA to reflect this position….!
    Unless wiki becomes a non-public forum or EU legislation for DTC advertising changes…not sure what a pharma company can do. Working with communities is all good and well but this is still “pharma activity” and only pharma would be held liable under the Code (pt orgs and media are covered by legislation).
    Interestingly my 13 year old is not allowed by her school to use wiki when researching homework as “it’s full of lies”!


    1. Hi Rina,
      Thanks for your reply and sorry for taking so long! Yes interesting points. I appreciate the risks re advertising / promotion. Pharma companies do put balanced medical information on their own product sites eg health.gsk as a prominent one and many disease sites have treatment sections (with a range of own and other products) Companies do and are able to share factual information about their products with 3rd party sites who may choose to publish that for patients and the public. I see the sharing of information with the wikipedia community as possible? The challenge seems to be what happens to that with subsequent edits and as you say the company being deemed responsible if it is judged promotional. If I can suggest a less contentious situation is the notion of companies working with the community to correct disease pages or even their corporate pages. Less risk from a regulatory perspective but still a PR risk if done incorrectly. My next Wikipedia blog is around Pharma corporate pages! Oh yes interesting position re: your daughter’s school 🙂 Even many staunch Wikipedians that I have met while extolling its virtues would caution against relying on it as a single source. Anyway look forward to chatting in person soon!


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