How to not bungle your blog

When your company opens its doors to the blogosphere, it opens a Pandora’s box of potential threats, including defamation suits, securities law violations, misuse of intellectual property and loss of trade secrets.

The most sensible way to counter those threats is to write, publish and uniformly apply a blogging policy, says Gartner analyst Arabella Hallawell. “Companies need to update their acceptable-use, trade-secret and other policies to deal with blogs and community sites like MySpace and YouTube,” she says.

Smart Companies

These companies have well-established blogging policies:

The Basics

The companies above all have sets of core blogging guidelines, although the wording of those guidelines ranges from colorful (Sun) to straightforward (Plaxo). Those basic tenets can be summed up as follows:

  • Don’t divulge trade secrets (or what Sun calls “the recipe for one of our secret sauces”).
  • Protect confidential and proprietary information. IBM, for example, requires bloggers to ask permission to publish someone’s picture or a conversation that was meant to be private.
  • Follow financial laws that forbid discussions about revenue, future product ship dates, pending mergers, alliances, road maps, share price or business performance.
  • Respect copyright and fair use laws.
  • Don’t post anonymously (or, as IBM says, “Be who you are”).
  • Include a disclaimer saying that your views do not necessarily reflect those of your company.
  • Remember that you are legally responsible for your commentary and that bloggers can be held personally liable for any commentary deemed defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libelous.
  • Ask your manager if you have any questions regarding what’s appropriate to include in your blog.
  • Ensure that your blogging doesn’t interfere with your work. Or, as IBM’s policy states, “Don’t forget your day job.”

The Specifics

These policies contain some surprises, like reminders to “be interesting,” as well as advice that many of us have heard since elementary school (like “Be nice” and “Spell correctly”). Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Provide context to your argument. Whether you are posting in praise or criticism, you are encouraged to develop a thoughtful argument that extends well beyond “[Insert name] is cool” or “[Insert name] sucks.” Source: Yahoo
  • Put a copyright notice on your site in your name (“© 2005, John Smith”). Source: Thomas Nelson
  • Be nice. Avoid attacking other individuals or companies. You are welcome to disagree with the company’s leaders, provided your tone is respectful. If in doubt, we suggest that you “sleep on it” before posting to your blog. Source: Thomas Nelson
  • Be interesting. Writing is hard work. There’s no point doing it if people don’t read it. Source: Sun
  • Write what you know. A Solaris architect who publishes rants on marketing strategy or whether Java should be open-sourced has a good chance of being embarrassed by a real expert or of being boring. Source: Sun
  • Expose your personality. People like to know who is writing what they’re reading. But remember, a blog is a public place and you should try to avoid embarrassing your readers or the company. Source: Sun
  • Quality matters. Use a spell-checker. If you’re not design-oriented, ask someone who is whether your blog looks decent, and take their advice on how to improve it. Source: Sun
  • Know your fellow bloggers. The most successful bloggers are those who pay attention to what others are saying about the topics they want to write about and generously reference and link to them. Drop your fellow bloggers a note to introduce yourself and your blog. Source: IBM
  • Don’t pick fights. Brawls may earn traffic, but nobody wins in the end. Don’t try to settle scores or goad competitors or others into inflammatory debates. Source: IBM
  • What would your mother say? You will probably be read or heard by people who know you. Post as if everyone you know reads or hears every word. Source: Plaxo
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