Business Weblogs Are Double-Edged

I'm enthusiastic about weblogs in business. Blogs are rapidly becoming a mainstream technology, but there's lot at stake when an individual or business begins blogging to the outside world. Some organizations have a culture that allows for blogging to take place with minimal disruption, and blogging can actually enhance their conversations with the outside world. While not all businesses fall into this category, they all must deal with weblogs, even if they don't have corporate blogs of their own. The things you need to consider fall into three areas.

1. Know what's being said about your company on other people's weblogs. This is a no-brainer. If you're not using a tool like PubSub or Feedster to see what's being said about you and to monitor your company and brands, you're behind the times. Such monitoring is a simple way to get a rough gauge of what's being said in the marketplace. If there's negative buzz, you want to be able to pick up on the discussions early and get ahead of the issue.

2. Go slowly when creating official corporate blogs. I want to see more companies blog, but businesses that do so need to establish guidelines. For example, bloggers must be careful about the language they use, since what they say can have ramifications down the road. Establishing policies for company bloggers and then knowing who is saying what are critical steps. (For more on the dangers that lurk in corporate weblogs and the precautions you should take, see "Watch Your Weblog," QuickLink 50037.) Corporations are right to tread lightly.

Some companies also have very specific regulations regarding what can't be said for legal reasons. Like it or not, we live in a litigious society, and words can come back to haunt us. Blog early and blog often, but know what your company is getting into and what's being said on those corporate blogs.

3. Establish guidelines for workers who identify themselves as company employees while doing personal blogging. This is the trickiest situation of all. Independent bloggers who identify their employers on their weblogs had better know what the consequences will be at work. For example, in many industries, employees may not know that there are regulatory issues that mean certain things can't be spoken about casually. Of course, this isn't a new problem that has just arisen with the dawn of blogging; many companies forbid employees to speak with journalists or the media about the company unless they have had media training or public relations folks are present. There's a reason for that, and it's important for every business to extend its policies to include guidelines on what can and can't be said in personal weblogs. I've recently spent a lot of time with companies on this issue, and it can be dealt with fairly easily.

Employees who are blogging on their own need to remember that unless they're working at a very progressive company, they need to take it slowly. This is a case where asking for forgiveness instead of permission can get you fired. When it comes to business and blogs, you had better know the rules before you hit that Post button. I'm a big fan of the notion "ready, fire, aim" as a strategy for business in many cases. But this is one situation where that approach can cost you your job.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the Personal Technology & Access and Custom Research groups at Jupiter Research in New York. Contact him at mgartenberg2@optonline.net. His weblog and RSS feed are at http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/gartenberg.

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