Guidelines useful in blogging

DAVID CANTON - For the London Free Press - July 9, 2005 Read this on Canoe

The phenomenon of corporate blogging is emerging as an important tool for companies to interact with current and potential customers.

A blog is a mix of online journal and website, and functions as an individual interaction rather than a formal corporate communication.

Employees might use blogs to post comments on their company's new product releases or even their thoughts on the latest movie. It can be akin to writing letters to readers.

A blog can be used as a marketing tool that shapes the public's perception of the company. A single employee can become an important contact for customers. As a result, many businesses are encouraging blogging on the job.

However, corporate blogging has its drawbacks.

Employees land in hot water with employers because of violations such as leaking confidential information, or posting information that harms a company's reputation. That could include negative comments about the competition, the publication of trade secrets or the early release of information about potential new products.

Banning work-related blogging by employees can hurt the business. Blog benefits include community building and relationship development with customers. A blog is the authentic voice of the author, which many customers are drawn to.

Many technology companies, such as Microsoft, Sun and Groove Networks, encourage employee blogs.

To avoid legal and other problems, many companies have issued blogging guidelines and policies. Apart from satisfying human resources and lawyers, guidelines help employees understand what they can and can't do.

Items that might be found in a blogging policy are:

* They are individual conversations, so employees are responsible for what they post.

* The blogger must abide by all existing rules and conduct guidelines.

* The blogger cannot disclose confidential corporate information.

* The blogger cannot post anything offensive, defamatory or abusive.

* The blogger cannot publish copyrighted material without permission.

Some may think this is just common sense and a policy should not be required. The number of instances when employees have been fired or disciplined for inappropriate blogging shows that is apparently not the case.

Part of the reason is just human nature. When faced with something new, we all too often fail to consider how it fits within the existing scheme of things. For example, a blogger who posts something inappropriate might never consider doing that in a letter or e-mail.

Another reason for a policy is to satisfy the public relations department that wants to maintain control over the company's image. Unlike traditional advertising, the public relations department can't review and control every blog post. The next best thing is to issue guidelines.

A blogging policy could be part of a company's technology use policy describing expectations about resources ranging from phones to copiers to e-mail.

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