Blogger Conduct: Official blogs vs. Personal blogs

While blogging has been largely accepted in most companies, there are many details still to be sorted out. One significant grey area is around what’s acceptable in corporate vs. personal blogs.

Many employees share insights and information in their company-sponsored wikis and blogs. Yet those same employees also may participate in non-work related blogs, tweets or wikis. When talking about a company-sponsored social media tool, the question becomes “on the corporate level who determines what is and what isn’t acceptable language?” We’re not talking about swearing or vulgar language, rather, we’re talking about what does an employee think they can share on a blog (whether public or private) vs. what the employer thinks is acceptable?

I recently ran across an interesting story in EContent Magazine titled “Companies Struggle with Social Media Guidelines.” The story is about a social media policy that The Washington Post recently implemented and the backlash they received from employees. Here is the explanation of the policy:

The policy covers routine issues for a media organization when it says, for example: “When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”

I realize that working for a new organization puts those employees into a unique situation since they must maintain their impartiality. But how does this apply to a typical corporation?  What rights and responsibilities do employees have when their name is attached to their company?

Another example from the EContent story is a lesson to learn from. A waiter at a posh L.A. restaurant commented on his blog, “How to Succeed as a Failure,” that a famous actress left the restaurant without paying her bill or leaving a tip. The waiter has tweeted about other celebrity issues in his restaurant, but this issue caught the eyes of the restaurant’s corporate team and the waiter was fired. The waiter had this to say about the incident:

“I have to admit that what I did might not have had my own best interest at hand. I did not think anyone, other than the 22 people following me, would read what I tweeted. That was my ignorance to the power of social media.”

The waiter lost his job but he noted that he had only 22 followers on Twitter when the incident occurred, and now he has 1,365.

I believe that if employees are writing on a company blog or wiki, then they should be required to follow their company’s basic social media  guidelines. However, as the EContent story suggests, you can attract more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.

The EContent story talks about how IBM, “a company with 400,000 employees worldwide, an estimated 17,000 of whom are bloggers and 200,000 of whom are on LinkedIn,” implemented a policy that included input from employees. Instead of simply laying down a draconian law with regards to blog and wikis, IBM solicited input from employees and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. That simple act, garnering input and making the employees feel as though they had skin in the game, made everything work smoothly.

Noted blogger Tim O’Reilly has created at Draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct which does a good job of addressing the issue of guidelines for blogging. Here are the six rules O’Reilly asks everyone to consider:

  1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
  2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.
  3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.
  4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.
  5. We do not allow anonymous comments.
  6. We ignore the trolls.

It’s a very slippery slope when freedom of speech becomes involved. As an employee do I give up some of those rights? What are your thoughts on the responsibility of the person who is tweeting and posting? What is your point of view on the topic of social media guidelines?

Rob Goodman

Author: Rob Goodman

Rob Goodman is a communications professional with more than 27 years of experience in public relations, marketing and content creation.