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Your Corporate Blogging Policy

Does your company have a corporate blogging policy? Does it need one? What is the downside of not having a policy? Why not ban blogging altogether? These are all good questions. The answers, at least for your company, are likely different than they would be for a different company, even for one of your competitors. The answers depend upon your corporate culture.

Corporate Culture
Is your company laid back or uptight? hip or uncool? young or old? a dictatorship or a democracy? filled with people who cannot write or seasoned bloggers? The answers to these questions often dictate how your blogging policy needs to be structured.

The Goal
The primary goal of a blogging policy is not to insulate your company from liability or to document support for employee termination. The goal of a blogging policy is to make sure everyone is on the same page as to what you hope to accomplish with your blog. Employee bloggers are not out to hurt the company and the company should not be looking to microedit every word an employee writes. What you are looking to achieve is transparency. Providing the public with useful information in a way that gives them a taste of what a great company you really are.

Radically Transparent
Blogs manage your corporate brand. If your blog is a sales pitch, a faceless top-down public relations diatribe (thanks Nate) or an anonymous regurgitation of someone else’s blog posts you are diminishing your corporate brand. If the blog is honest, informative and backed by a name, a face and a personality, you are building your brand. A blogging policy will help control your brand and, more importantly, identify small problems before they become big problems.

Case study

Like most companies with a blogging related problem, Cisco did not realize they had one until it was too late. One of Cisco’s in-house attorneys, an intellectual property attorney no less, had been hosting an anonymous blog. The blog lambasted patent trolls, those companies that buy up specious patents and threaten to sue those who will not pay them royalties. While probably not his intent, the anonymous Cisco employee began to make enemies of the people he railed against. The blogger’s anonymity even prompted a reward for anyone unmasking the blogger. Finally, the anonymous blogger’s enemies eventually discovered his identity. When they did, not only did they sue him, but they sued Cisco as well. For more on the story check out Cisco’s link here.

Lesson Learned
Not surprisingly, Cisco now has a very detailed blogging policy. One of the primary features of the policy is that all bloggers identify themselves if they are blogging about the company. Anonymity, at least in the world of blogging, often breeds contempt. So why did a company that just got sucker punched by blogging, not ban blogging altogether?

To Ban or Not to Ban
Notwithstanding the trouble Cisco got into with blogging it did not ban blogging. Instead, Cisco opted to take control of the “conversation.” Taking control does not mean dictating text. Instead, it means giving your people the tools and the guidance to do what they do best.

Rules to Live By
Cisco’s new blogging policy is founded on “common sense,” forbidding only “anonymous” online discussion of the company whether it be via blogging, social networking or wikiing. Cisco requires employees involved in online discussions regarding Cisco or its policies to identify themselves as Cisco employees, but to include the disclaimer “the views expressed on this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cisco.” Cisco’s policy allows the company to have its cake and eat it too. Cisco reaps the benefits of increased brand identity, but h9onest missteps are not necessarily held against the company.

Great, Now Where is My Template?
Based upon five years of legal blogging, I would strongly advise against using a template blogging policy. Using a template would be like using a contract template for the sale of a company. You need to look at the particular company itself to determine the best contract. Look at what the company does, how transparent it wants to be, how smart are the employees, does anyone have any blogging experience, how important online reputation is to the company and how receptive the corporate culture will be to blogging?

Microsoft vs. Apple
Similar companies often come up with very different blogging policies, and not the ones you might think. According to Robert Scoble, Microsoft takes an extremely enlightened view towards blogging, with a blogging policy that simply advises its bloggers to “Blog Smart.” Conversely, the last I heard, Apple discouraged employees from blogging at all. While I would not recommend banning blogging unless your company already had a cult-like online following, whichever path you choose, make sure everyone is aware that employees like Chez Pazienza of CNN get fired for blogging, and that companies like Cisco get sued for blog comments made by employees.

Your Policy
As to what to put into a corporate blogging policy, it all depends on your company, your employees and your goals. If you have several high profile bloggers on staff, enlist them to help define parameters. If “Blog Smart” and “Be Professional” are not sufficient to keep your proposed bloggers out of trouble, it is unlikely that a more detailed policy is going to be of much help.

Some things I would suggest, however, would be to group several bloggers into a formal group to share ideas and direction. I would also suggest not letting non-blogging corporate types dictate the substance of blog posts. Finally, here are some suggestions to think about when custom fitting your blog/wiki/social media policy:

1. Follow the rules outlined in the employee handbook
2. You are responsible for what you write
3. When in doubt, don’t
4. Do not disclose trade secrets
5. Blog in your own voice
6. Do not blog about anything indecent or profane – use dinner table etiquette
7. Provide a disclaimer that your views are not necessarily those of the company
7. Double check your posts – you can never remove a comment from the internet
8. Do not plagiarize – give credit and links
9. Do not infringe intellectual property – know copyright law
10. Do not make any false accusations or defame anyone
11. Do not be intentionally confrontational – defuse problems early
12. Be accurate – research before you write and identify sources
13. Identify and correct errors promptly and with explanation (where necessary)
12. Do not discuss vendors, employees partners or clients without Board approval
13. Do not blog anonymously
14. Issues relating to your blogging, including but not limited to placing the company in a bad light or taking time away from your job responsibilities, may result in your termination

I hope this helps. For more, you can check out CyberLaw: A Legal Arsenal for Online Business, which includes an entire chapter on blogging. Hope this helps,

Brett Trout

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