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Do corporations really need blogging policies? February 9, 2008

Posted by cjescribano in blogging.
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Through some strange trick of the subconscious, my first thought one morning last week was: Does our company really need a blogging policy?

Is a blog different from any other public appearance?
I don’t know why, but it occurred to me that in a few weeks I’ll be presenting at ASTD’s TechKnowledge conference in San Antonio, and no one has briefed me on a “presentation policy” to make sure I don’t do anything too crazy there.

By the same token, companies don’t define a “training class” policy with guidelines like:

  • Don’t monopolize class discussions
  • Don’t behave like an overbearing Know-it-All
  • Don’t air your company’s dirty laundry to perfect strangers
  • Don’t be rude to other participants

I don’t think anyone has ever thought that was necessary, even though we’ve all attended classes with embarrassing participants.

And I haven’t seen anything called a newsletter or publication policy that tells me what I can and cannot publish in the industry.

Why should a blog be different?

My Answers
First of all, in a blog, there’s tangible evidence, which can be spread virally and quickly. But probably more importantly than that, the blogosphere is a totally different culture than a corporation. What many of us love about the blogosphere is that it’s the place where everyone can be heard. But that can be a scary notion for someone running a corporation. Corporations are still trying to figure out blogs, as the launching of the Blog Council last year demonstrates. Some have already done a lot; others are just starting. Perhaps in a few years when corporate blogs are as common as newsletters and Web sites, the whole idea of a blogging policy will go away. But today, when to many, blogging can seem like unchartered territory run by a bunch of wild savages, perhaps it makes sense to spell out the rules as clearly as possible. Perhaps today, a blogging policy is like those reminders that teachers give students before a field trip: “Now, remember to stay with your buddy. And please listen politely to the tour guide.” Also, it’s probably a good defense against possible lawsuits: “Well, we have a policy about that.”

Other people’s answers:

  • IBM–a month or two ago, I attended a Webinar in which two ladies from IBM talked about their approach to blogs. They mentioned that IBM does not apply a lot of rules to blogging. Instead, they tell employees to think of blogging as any other business behavior and to follow the organization’s ethical guidelines and values. Makes sense.
    That said, they do have a published blogging policy that covers issues such as: disclaimers, confidential and proprietary information, copyright laws, and overall behavior
  • The New PR Wiki lists a number of blogging policies
  • Charlene Li of Forrester offers a Blogger’s Code of Ethics

What keeps CEOs and corporate lawyers up at night?
When you think about it, what a company is really worried about is:

  • Looking bad in the industry
  • Getting sued
  • Incurring some other type of penalty, whether financial or reputational
  • Having confidential information leaked

What blogging policies cover
As I looked through a variety of corporate blogging policies, here are the types of issues that they addressed:

  • Being clear on whose opinions are represented
  • Obeying laws
  • Not disclosing proprietary and confidential information
  • Behaving properly; being respectful, especially of those who disagree with you
  • Referencing and linking to others
  • Admitting mistakes
  • Identifying when employees can blog (on company time or not)
  • Handling any media contacts

So, do we really need a corporate blogging policy?
It seems like most of these are already covered in my company’s Ethics and Information Security policies. So, now I’m back to: Do we really need a corporate blogging policy?

Also, just to see what others were saying, I Googled “Corporate blogging policy.” The first two pages of returned links were all posted in 2005 or 2006. Have blogging policies already faded away into irrelevance?

What do you think?
Do any of you know? Are corporations still worrying about corporate blogging policies?  Or have they realized, as Jay Shepard noted on his Gruntled Employees blog a year ago, that all they really need to do is remind employee bloggers to: Be professional!

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Comments»

1. Dan - February 9, 2008

I think you are asking the wrong question. The question I would first ask is: ‘does your company need a blog?’ Of course I would follow that question with – ‘Why?’ If the answer is yes and the follow-up 5-Whys support the yes, then I would say yes you need a blog policy. My point here is that before you define a policy you have to understand what it is you are doing and why you are doing it.

2. John Cass - February 10, 2008

On the date of the posts in Google, it might be we answered all of those questions a few years ago. Or that Google is ranking on relevance rather than when a blogging policy was most recently posted. The results in Google are skewed towards older posts, because they have been around longer and have more links. That’s not to say something new cannot make the top ranking but its harder to get there.

I think your point about companies using blogging guidelines as training tools is on the mark. Most people are unfamiliar with how to act in this new medium, and even bloggers need a reminder every now and then.

3. Terry Finley - February 10, 2008

How in the world did blogging ever get
so complicated? Whatever happened to
blogging just for the joy of blogging?

4. Dave Ferguson - April 4, 2008

Blogging that anyone can read gets complicated if you work for someone else, because it’s easy to state things publicly that really should remain inside the organization.

Or that the organization thinks should remain inside. (You may disagree with them, but in that case you’ll be wise to choose what to disagree about.)

I agree with the spirit of “behave professionally,” though it reminds me of the saying that common sense tells many people the earth is flat.

If you’re trying to make a case for blogging with someone who’s unfamiliar with blogging or web 2.0 stuff, maybe the best approach is to focus on what the result is in non-techie terms. when I worked in corporate jobs some years back, I was a regular participant in listservs — which I described to my boss as networking with other people in my field. I’d make a point of highlighting something I’d learned or an answer I’d gotten through that network.

Most people don’t want 3/8 inch variable-speed drills, remember. They want holes.

5. cjescribano - April 5, 2008

Hey Dave, I admit that I’m one of those loosey-goosey, trusting sorts who thinks everyone will play by the rules, which is enormously naive. And you’re absolutely right that when you’re talking about a business, you can’t ASSume that everyone is thinking about things the same way. It reminds me of a time when my daughter was a toddler, and I had a somewhat verbal understanding with a babysitter. Things were fine, until we realized that each of us had a different understanding of that verbal understanding. Sometimes, it may seem superfluous, but it really does help to write things down and make even the so-called simple stuff seem crystal clear.

6. cousinagam - April 7, 2008

I think there are many strains. One is the notion that as organizations encourage informal connections (via blogs, wikis, shared bookmarks), they get smarter. I think that’s generally true; in a way, it’s an electronic version of what effectively-networking people have done: join de facto communities of practice.

Another strain, though, is a good sense of how you as an individual who’s also an employee should act. The IBM blogging guidelines are a pretty good idea. They resemble, for example, a company rule we had when I worked for GE: if someone asked if you worked for GE (e.g., at a public event), you answered truthfully.

I participate for several years on a training-related listserv; my posts ended with a four-word tag: “My opinions, not GE’s.” I don’t know if that would have absolved me had I divulged trade secrets or maligned competitors, but as far as I know, I didn’t.


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