Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Trouble with Blogging

In our previous posts, we have provided many examples of how a blog is an incredibly effective yet low-cost way to:

1) Influence the public conversation about a company
2) Enhance brand visibility and credibility
3) Establish expertise in a specific industry or subject area
4) Personalize a company by giving it a human voice

However, for many companies, the rising importance of blogging as a communications tool presents a difficult dilemma, and therefore warrants the question: Do the benefits of corporate blogs outweigh the costs?

One big concern is that blogging can leak company secrets. When employees learn about confidential and possibly detrimental company related information, there is the potential that this information may be leaked out through a blog. Another concern is that negative comments can damage a company’s image. Therefore, some companies choose not to have a corporate blog at all, some choose not to allow users to post comments and some even build a “fake blog” (flog), where all the postings and comments are created by the same person who is paid by the company to do so. As a result, the blog has the appearance of coming from an ordinary consumer but in all actuality is being written or backed by the corporation. To see the ill effects of this type of behavior look no further than the Wal-Mart/Edelman scandal in which a blog featuring a couple traveling the country by RV and camping in Wal-Mart parking lots turned out to be a fake. Unfortunately for Wal-Mart and Edelman, it was revealed that the pro-Wal-Mart blog was backed by an Edelman-financed organization called Working Families for Wal-Mart. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over too well with the public. This type of corporate behavior is the reason why many consumers believe that:

Corporate Blogs Still Suck

But before we become too critical of corporations, lets take a quick look at what Charles Savoni, principal of Newport Beach (Calif.)-based The General Counsel (a firm that places attorneys inside the offices of its corporate clients) has to say about the real-world legal risks of employee blogs. According to Savoni, there are some serious legal risks that could arise through an employee-blog-gone-wrong such as "leakage of company confidential or sensitive information, loss or misappropriation of trade secrets, defamation and privacy torts, trade libel, and possible infringement of intellectual-property rights involving copyright or trademark protections.” So the question remains: what should companies do?

Well, this brings us back to the idea that propelled this blog to existence in the first place: Bloggin’ Ain’t Easy.

To address this problem, some companies like IBM have chose to set up guidelines for employees who blog, admitting the importance of allowing them to express themselves within certain boundaries. “Businesses and organizations of all sorts are going to need to begin rethinking what official channels of communication are,” says IBM. “They are going to have to rethink what the official release of information means. There will probably be missteps along the way, but we see the risks and the learning curve as being worth it.”

Let’s take a look at IBM’s core blogging principles for employees:
· Know and follow IBM’s internal conduct guidelines.
· Be mindful of what you write. You are personally responsible for your posts.
· Use your real name and state your role at IBM when writing about IBM-related matters.
· Use a disclaimer stating that your postings do not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
· Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
· Do not leak confidential or other proprietary information.
· Do not talk about clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.
· Respect your audience. Do not use profanity or ethnic slurs.
· Find out who else is blogging about your topic and cite them.
· Do not pick fights, and correct your own mistakes.
· Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.

Until Next Time…
From March 1 to June 12 of 2006, Porter Novelli (public relations agency) and Cymfony (market influence analytics company), conducted a study with Russell Research to better understand the role that blogs play in the corporate world. Here are some interesting findings from their research that are relevant to our posts:

•Nearly three-fifths of respondents (57 percent) do not have blogging guidelines in place.

•Respondents in larger companies were much more likely to have blogging guidelines in place than respondents in companies of less than 20 employees (65 percent vs 22 percent).

•Legal reviews are avoided. While the practices around reviewing posts varied among respondents, few included legal review.

•No ghost writers. Almost unanimously, respondents told us that the person whose name is on the blog actually writes the posts.

•During the screening process, the most common reasons mentioned by respondents for not having a corporate blog(s) were the lack of staff and resources, they were considering it, or there was no executive buy in.

•The vast majority of respondents (89 percent) think that blogs will be more important in 2008 versus today.

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