Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Building a Trusted Business Blog

This week’s (June 2) cover article in Business Week is an update of their popular 2005 article on blogs. I’m making a direct link to it because it’s on the home page. I took the opportunity to read BW’s Terms of Use again (last updated April 2007) and found that the policy against “deep linking” is still there. In spite of that, the authors of the cover story clearly “get it,” as far as social media is concerned and the article is well worth reading. Not so all the other editors at BW. Maria Bartiromo’s interesting interview with Chris DeWolfe of MySpace has an edited-in definition: “A click-through is a measure of user engagement with an ad.” Hardly; Eric T. Peterson has an excellent discussion of the effort going into developing a valid measure of engagement to replace click-through as a key metric.

About the time of the first article a colleague said to me that if it’s on the cover of a major magazine, it’s mainstream (before we began doing it; true of many companies). It still is. One of the “alt tags” on the cover of the print magazine captures managers’ worst fears. “Get this: One worker’s ramblings on these networks could land a megadeal or sink the company.” Overblown, but basically true. There are ways of participating in the space while maintaining the integrity of the brand and the corporation. I’ve written about examples, good and bad and about the importance of transparency. Recently one of my students brought a set of corporate policies on blogging to my attention, and this seems like a good time to review them. Thanks, Noah!

I’ve taken some of the best features of several in order to suggest what your corporate blogging policy should cover. Here are important issues:

Coverage. All employees who blog who so identify themselves are covered. Purely personal blogs, with no reference to the company, are not covered.
Privacy. Employee blogs must link to the corporate privacy policy and abide by its terms.
Write well and clearly in a way that promotes interactivity. Make the style lively and personal; write about what you know and maintain your focus. Keep the blog active. Allow both email subscription and RSS feeds. Use images freely, but be constantly aware of intellectual property issues.
Be responsive. Encourage comments and discussion. Remove only material that is inappropriate under this policy or generally offensive. Reply to comments and emails in so far as you can. Never let a negative comment go unanswered, but insist that you and your readers be civil.
Be truthful. Identify yourself and post as detailed a profile as you wish, being aware of your own privacy. Never plagiarize; quote, link and otherwise identify content created by others. Be accurate; correct mistakes promptly.
Be transparent. Include a statement that these are personal opinions and do not represent the company. If any of your activities create a conflict of interest, reveal it.
Be professional. Don’t say anything that reflects badly on yourself or your employer. Don’t say anything that is derogatory to colleagues or customers or that reveals confidential information.

Charlene Li of Forrester has a good list, updated frequently, of corporate blogging policies that you can review. As you do so, think about any special needs and requirements created by your own circumstances.

Corporate blogs should be monitored, lightly. One approach is to make the marketing communications function the oversight entity. I sugest that brand/operating managers be the monitors. RSS feeds bring new material directly to them. In a very short period of time each day they gain insight into what employees are thinking and doing. This creates an excellent employee feedback channel with the possibility of being excellent insight into what customers and others think.

Does this policy outline apply to other types of networking, Twitter (often described as microblogging, for example)? Probably. Does it apply to other types of networks from personal Flickr sites to Facebook pages to LinkedIn profiles? Probably it does; the basic issue is still whether the person is identified as an employee. Purely personal pages may still deserve mention on the grounds that everything is connected to everything else these days (less than six degrees of separation?) and personal behavior should be acceptable to one’s employer. It would be nice if we could keep personal and work life completely separate, but it’s not that kind of world.

And it’s not a reason to fail to participate in the social media ecosystem that is fast becoming the communications standard around the world.

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