A little while back I was in a meeting at work discussing different ways to reach out to employees. We currently use a monthly meeting that has a set topic, but attendance was going down. I forget who, but at some point someone mentioned the possibility of doing a corporate blog. We discussed how we would want it to work and who would contribute, and then I “volunteered” to run the effort to get it set up.
“No problem”, I thought. I’ve had a blog for a while, read them regularly, and have good technical knowledge on setting up or writing software to support the blog. I figured the hardest part would be figuring out if we were going to host it ourselves or put it on an existing blogging site. Then I’d probably end up being one of the folks to review content before it was published.
Problem. Getting a company set up to communicate openly with the outside world requires a bit more than technical knowledge and blogging experience. I first had a meeting with our VP of marketing concerning where we wanted to host this thing and the discussion quickly turned into a “how do I control this to not ruin our corporate image” discussion. Which is fine, that’s her job to worry about that. It brought up quite a few interesting questions I hadn’t thought of and we didn’t have the answer for. Such as (theoretically speaking) “When Ryan McIntyre posts an entry on our corporate blog what do we do when we figure out Ryan McIntyre linked to a porn site through an online forum?” My knee-jerk answer is “Nothing.” What’s personal is personal and what’s business is business. Well, it’s not quite that simple. If someone is able to put two and two together and figure out that the Ryan McIntyre linking to porn is the same Ryan McIntyre working at Statera, Statera then gets a tarnished public image. You can see how these types of questions and hypotheticals can quickly snowball into a 500 page corporate policy that has to be reviewed by a team of 10 lawyers.
(Note to self: Remove links to porn sites)
I told Jess (Marketing VP) that I would do some research to see what other companies have put in place and how they’ve handled the situation and get back to her. My first stop was Microsoft for two reasons. One, we’re a Gold Partner with Microsoft and if we were to implement a policy similar to theirs I think we’d get something rolling pretty quickly. Second, their most popular blogger, Robert Scoble (or x-blogger as he’s since left Microsoft) is one of the most popular bloggers in the blogging community and highly respected. He just finished co-authoring a book on blogging as well. After a couple emails I finally got him on the phone and asked him some questions on our dilemma and tried to understand how Microsoft was addressing the same issues.
I can sum up his answers very briefly. Be Smart. Basically, any written policy just covers what’s important to a company. If a corporation doesn’t want it’s employees bad-mouthing their partners and it will terminate employees that break that rule, that should be in the written policy. If a corp doesn’t care about that and won’t automatically fire someone, leave it out. Either way, the Smart employee would not do it. The analogy Robert used was to compare blogging to public speaking, and it’s very accurate. Anything and everything you put on the internet can be related back to your company, even if it’s a public forum that you’re using to view porn on your own time (theoretically.) The three main concerns coporations have when addressing blogging are (1) Eliminating embarassing situations, (2) Limiting the leak of intellectual property, and (3) Limiting airing of dirty laundry. I’m sure his book expands on this a bit, but it’s pretty self explanatory and really just makes sense. If your Smart.
Scoble just did an exit interview with Channel 9 in which they discuss some of these topics as well, so if you have an extra 45 minutes or so, check it out. Two notes I took were related to two questions that bloggers need to be able to answer. The first is that they need to know when they post they are taking a risk. The risk is variable depending on the topic and contents, but a risk nonetheless. The second is that they need to be able to answer what they want to accomplish by posting. If they can’t address those two questions they’re in risk themselves of being surprised by a negative response, either from an employer or an individual.
So my task to set up a corporate blog now involves working on setting up a policy. Either a new policy or enhancing existing policies, or just saying our current policies already are sufficient and just re-publish them so folks read them with a blogging perspective. Since my research began with Scoble, I thought I should start my internet search on his site to see what he’s posted on the subject. He has a couple on the subject, but this one on just being yourself was the one I bookmarked. It shows the impact a blog can have, plus he has a link to the Marketing Sherpa’s article on corporate blogging. I haven’t splurged for the $5 to download that article, but looks like it might be worth the money.
My continued searching led to quite a fiew corporate blogging policies for companies like Sun, IBM and Yahoo!. I’m not going to link to them individually since I found a post comparing all of the policies and links to them on corporateblogging.info. Doesn’t look like this site is updated anymore, but the content that’s there is helpful.
I’ll need to take a look at all I’ve found and figure out what makes sense for Statera, as things relate to our existing policies. So much for technical knowledge being the only tool to accomplish this task, but I sure am learning quite a bit about corporate America and what makes it tick.