What Should Your Corporate Policy Be On Blogs?

blogworthycontentMany corporations, prodded by magazines like BusinessWeek talking up blogs as an important and enduring phenomenon, and by cases where companies have been embarrassed by employee blogs and responded by firing the employee, have been rushing to decide what, if anything, their policy on blogs should be. Such a policy needs to address:

(a) employees’ personal blogs that refer to or reflect in any way on their employer
(b) ‘official’ corporate blogs
(c) internal blogs on the corporate Intranet, and
(d) reading blogs as part of business research

Here’s my unsolicited, cautious, and perhaps controversial advice to businesses considering such a policy, covering all four bases:

  1. Develop a knowledge-sharing policy that covers all information communications, not just blogs: Blogs are just the tip of the iceberg of of such extra-corporate communications, which are increasingly essential to relationship building and to the exchange of useful business information among organizations, employees, outside stakeholders and experts. But casual extra-corporate communications may inadvertently divulge confidential information, contravene the law, or embarrass the company. As the line between business and personal communications and relationships blurs more and more, your policy must draw the line clearly, with clear and specific examples of what is, and what is not, appropriate. That line must balance the advantages of open sharing of information against its risks.
  2. Respect employees’ rights: Any behaviour that is inappropriate for an employee to do in any other circumstance or environment (e.g. betraying confidentiality, or holding the employer up to ridicule) is equally inappropriate on a blog. Your existingemployee conduct policy should therefore already cover unacceptable online behaviour. Beyond that, respect employees’ rights to their own opinions, and have your legal counsel make sure that your corporate policy does not violate these rights. Dissing the boss and the company publicly may reflect poor judgement, and limit career advancement, but it’s not legal grounds for dismissal or harassment. Understand that overstepping your legal grounds not only will get you into embarrassing court cases that will be PR disasters no matter the outcome, it will also drive the criticisms underground, onto anonymous blogs and discussion forums, and might drive some of your best employees out the door in the process.
  3. Insist that employees’ personal blogs stress that that’s what they are: Personal blogs should not carry the corporate logo (unless they’re those of an executive specifically approved to do so) and if any mention of the employer is made (or is readily ascertainable) the blogger should make it clear that opinions expressed are not those of the employer.
  4. Don’t have a policy on whether or not employees should or can have personal blogs: It’s not your business, any more than anything else an employee does or doesn’t do in their private life. Encouraging personal blogs is as paternalistic as prohibiting them. And counseling employees on matters of taste and discretion, or asking them to pre-clear content with you, is insulting and overstepping. Telling employees they can’t blog on company time is redundant and offensive — terms of employment should already cover this.
  5. With rare exceptions, don’t have an ‘official’ company blog: Most people are skeptical of anything they read on official company sites, and that will usually negate any value they might have in making your company appear more personable and responsive to customers. Blogs are personal and casual. Most business communications are not. Be cautious and talk to your marketing people before proceeding. Don’t forget, blogs are a significant time commitment to maintain, and a blog that is not frequently updated or not well maintained is worse than not having one at all. If you do decide to have a company blog, make sure you know who its intended audience is and that this intended audience is the group who will actually be reading your blog. Blogs (like other corporate websites) are more likely to attract potential recruits, alumni, competitors, potential allies and the media than customers. If your actual and intended audiences are very different, you’re wasting your time — and your readers’.
  6. Do experiment with blogs on the Intranet: Encourage at least the three groups who have the most to share (your company’s subject matter experts, internal newsletter publishers and community of practice coordinators) and any individuals in the company who express enthusiasm in having an Intranet blog, to set one up. Use my 12-step program to manage your Intranet blog pilot. Encourage internal bloggers to focus their content on matters that others in the company will find of interest, such as the subjects in the illustration above. Evaluate the possibility of editing or repurposing the content of Intranet blogs for use on the public corporate website, but keep in mind point #5 above.
  7. Read blogs and encourage employees to do likewise: Find the blogs and blog posts that are most valuable to your organization, subscribe to their RSS feeds, and circulate them to others in the organization. Assign your researchers and reward employees for identifying and circulating useful articles from blogs, and for bringing to your attention online comments from customers and others about your company. Reading others’ blogs can be useful to your company as a source of education, synopsis, analysis, competitive and customer intelligence. But don’t over-invest in reading blogs either: Without focus, this can be a huge time-waster, and use caution when reacting to what you read, since blogs are often not well fact-checked, and they usually represent just one person’s (often atypical) perspective.

This advice is a lot less aggressive than what you may be hearing from either enthusiasts or detractors of the blogging phenomenon. But I think it’s prudent for business not to over-react. Blogs are not going to single-handedly revolutionize business, nor do they pose new or significant threats to it. With the seven steps above, your company can explore blogs’ opportunities, mitigate the risks, and take them in stride.

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2 Responses to What Should Your Corporate Policy Be On Blogs?

  1. DOROTHY says:

    You’ve certainly put together a very informative blog. Thanks.

  2. Emanuele says:

    I work for a small/medium sized company as a learning and development professional and what i feel more challenging is selling the value of knowledge sharing and social media against the usual concerns (contents, confidentiality, blogging time vs. working time and more…)Your article is extremely useful for me in my current situation and certainly gives me more angle and some food for thought. Your 12 step programme is also great. thanks!

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